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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

We Are The Clay

We Are the Clay
Isaiah 64:1-9
 
Two ministers were standing by the side of the road holding up signs that said, “The end is near! Turn around before it is too late!” A short while later a car whizzed by, but the people in the car sneered at the clergy and yelled, “Leave us alone you religious whackos!” A few seconds later, the ministers heard the sound of screeching tires and a splash. One of the ministers turned to the other and said, “do you think we should change our signs to read ‘Bridge Out Ahead!’ instead?” 
 
The trouble with signs is that they can be misread. Many people spend time trying to decipher when the end of the world will come, or when Christ will return. They take great stock in that 13th chapter of Mark read earlier. Much of that description of the day of the Lord’s return is form typical Jewish apocalyptic imagery. The Jewish people of Jesus’ time believed that God was going to intervene decisively to reestablish the nation of Israel in strength. The people had been exiled and some had returned but were under occupation. The Jewish leaders were just puppets and had no real power of their own. Jesus says it is not for us to know when his return would happen, but that he will return was not in question. We continue to hold a fascination for when that return will happen. I wonder if that fascination doesn’t stem, in part, from our desire for God to do something about the condition of the world. We live in a time of great turmoil and fear. We are shadowed by thoughts of nuclear destruction, dirty bomb attacks, subway bombings, and other acts of terrorism. 
 
The words of Isaiah echo the desire for God to act decisively. The history of Israel is rich with examples of God’s intervention, times when God has done the extraordinary, parting the sea, the plagues against Pharoah, a pillar of cloud and smoke, wiping out those who did not follow His way, the flood in Noah’s time, helping the Israelites at Jericho. Isaiah reminds the people that God has intervened in the past, that God has shaken the foundation of the earth, the mountains would quake at God’s presence. It seems logical that God would intervene at a time when Israel needed God’s intervention the most. He says, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” God did awesome things in the past, why not now? Why doesn’t God act to show decisively, beyond a doubt that God is in control, that there is no other God? Theirs was a time of political and social turmoil just like ours is today. Perhaps our lament is just like the prophet’s, why don’t you act God? Wouldn’t this be a good time for Christ to return?
 
But the prophet also echoes another thought. He says, “There is no one who calls on your name!” Often the focus on this season is on the excitement of gatherings, parties, gift giving, decorations, shopping, ads. Shopping centers play music without words so that no one might be offended. Schools have yuletide and holiday programs devoid of any mention of God or Christ. “Oh God, there is no one who calls on your name!” Record numbers of people are growing up without knowing much about Jesus or the Bible or without stepping a foot in church. There are times and places where God or Jesus is most often mentioned as an expletive to vocalize anger or disappointment. “O God there is no one who truly calls on your name!” Many have found Christmas to be their least favorite time of the year. A man from England bid $430 on the internet for the privilege of spending two weeks in a decommissioned underground nuclear bunker to escape the stress of the Christmas holiday. His comment on Christmas was, “It’s Ok in theory, but the running around, the buying presents for people you don’t like, the family bickering, the endless turkey, and the terrible films on TV are just too much.” After only a few days in the bunker however, he emerged. Rather, he was thirsty for a beer. “O God, there is no one who calls upon your name!”
 
But the prophet had more to say. “We are the clay, and you, O God, are our potter.”   God is still molding and changing us into something we cannot fully see yet. We are always in the process of change. Life never stays the same. And therein lies our greatest hope as we begin this time of preparation for Christmas, this time of advent. The prophet echoes hope that God will intervene in astounding ways, but realizes that God intervenes in much more subtle ways. Each advent season, we prepare ourselves for the coming of God in the form of a tiny baby, helpless and vulnerable. We wait expectantly, not for an act that will shake this world and cause mountains to tremble, but for the cry of an infant. And in that cry and what followed, people were and are being led to call upon the name of God in Christ. The events of our lives are used by God to wake us up to the reality that God is in control and still very active in this world. 
 
Quite a few years ago while traveling on a rain-slicked highway, I lost control of my vehicle as I hit a body of pooled water and hydroplaned. Those few moments of a sense of utter helplessness changed the course of my life completely. It was in that reaction that I came to realize that the defenses I had built my life around were worthless. In the ensuing days and weeks of a painful restlessness and sense of emptiness, I finally turned to the God I had abandoned in the early years of adulthood. I realized I hungered for my creator and searched for that which could fill that hunger.  It was just one step in an ongoing process of drawing me back to God. Life was not the same after that, I began to pay attention to that hunger and to the God who was to eventually lead me to a new path in life. In the tears that came after I ended up safely in the median, a tiny baby cried too. 
 
We can always expect that life will change. God will continue to come to us in surprising ways, ways that open the door for Christ to come in and work with us in ways that help us to call upon the name of the Lord. He is the potter that’s shapes and forms us. We may think we need to see some form of God’s amazing power, but what we need is the cry of a tiny baby. We think we need to see God moving mountains, but what we need is the stillness of a quiet woods. We think we need to see God parting the seas, but what we need is the gentle splash of baptismal waters.  We think we need God’s terrible vengeance visited upon our enemy, but what we need is a quiet prayer for forgiveness. We think we need to see the coming of the Lord in power and might, but what we need is a head bowed and heart open to an invitation for Christ to enter our hearts.
 
We cannot anticipate what God is going to do or how God is going to answer prayer or how God is going to bring about justice in the world, because our anticipations and predictions are framed in human terms. We want to limit God’s power to change life to that which we are able to know. We think we know what God ought to be doing to bring about a better world. But God is already doing something in us and sometimes in spite of us. God is working in ways we cannot always anticipate and see.   And we are the clay with which God works. Preparation in this time of Advent means refocusing our thoughts on God, confessing our own inability to see what God is doing, and trusting that we are a vital part of God’s redemption for the world. Preparation means listening for the times the tiny baby is crying, knowing that God has arrived in the world. This is a great time to focus on our relationship with God, to call upon the name of God. Let’s take time out from the shopping and partying and decorating and endless tasks to pray. This God of ours came as a tiny baby, suffered as we can suffer, died for us, and overcame death that we might live too. There is a reason for this season, and that reason is God and who God wants us to be. 
 
We don’t need to worry about cataclysmic events that announce the coming of Christ. We don’t need to ask God to move mountains or do spectacular things to show the world he is alive and well. Our simple task is to call upon the name of God, to be reminded in this season that God came to us in the form of a baby and that baby changed the world forever.

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