September 9, 2007

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Jeremiah 18:1-11

CREATED BY GOD, we are God’s special children (Children’s Sermon, part 1)

Has anyone ever told you that you’re special? Who was it who told you that you’re special? Maybe one of your parents, or your best friend? Maybe one of your teachers at school? It feels pretty good when someone tells you that you’re special, doesn’t it? You know that they love you and that you’re important to them. And that feels good.

I won’t ask you to put up your hands for this, but I know that there are some of us who don’t hear very often that we are special. Sometimes the people that love us forget to say it. Sometimes we feel like there is no one who loves us at all. And when there’s no one to tell us that they love us, and there’s no one who tells us how special we are, we sometimes don’t feel very good at all. We might feel like we’re not very important and not very loveable.

All of us have times when we are feeling like that, and a good place to turn when we’re feeling like that is the book of Psalms in the bible. Psalm 139 is one of my favourites because it reminds me that God is the one who created me, and God made me to be special and unique and wonderful. God made every one of us, including you, to be special and unique and wonderful.

Read Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

God is the only one who knows everything about each one of us. God knows what we are thinking. God notices everything we do and everywhere we go. Even before we say a word, God knows exactly what we will say. God is the one who made each one of us, and God made us to be good, special, unique, and talented.

As you came into church today, along with your bulletin, you were given a piece of paper with a person on it and a pencil. Take it out right now. We’re going to take a couple of minutes, and I invite you to turn that person into a picture of you. Draw around it pictures of things you do well or special gifts that you have from God. And write words in the frame that describe what makes you special and unique — different from everyone else. Remember that God made you special, and God loves you very, very much!

SHAPED BY GOD, we grow into the people God wants us to be (Children’s Sermon, part 2)

Have any of you done any pottery before? A few years ago when I was living in Toronto, I took a pottery class. It was a lot of fun… playing with the clay, shaping it an molding it into all kinds of different shapes. At first, I wasn’t all that good at it, but the more I practised, the better I got. And I’m sure that if I kept taking classes and practising I could keep on getting better and making some nice pottery things.

Today I brought a couple of things that I made during that class.

Show the mug first, and talk about how it was made. Then talk about using the pottery wheel and show the bowl. Talk about how the wheel spins and you use your hands to shape the bowl.

Sometimes the walls get too thin and it crumples. Sometimes it topples over. If it gets really lopsided, sometimes the clay goes flying right off your pottery wheel because it’s spinning so fast! That makes a really big mess! When something goes wrong with your project, you have to squash the clay back into a ball, knead it to get out any air pockets, and then start over again. It takes a lot of patience and hard work to make a really nice bowl or pot or vase.

Show something made by a professional.

Are you wondering why I’m talking about pottery and showing you these pottery dishes? Well, it’s because of a story in the Bible that’s about pottery.

There was a man called Jeremiah and he was a prophet. God wanted to give Jeremiah a message to tell to all the people of Israel. Well, rather than just tell Jeremiah what to say to the people, God decided to show him what to say. So God sent Jeremiah to a pottery shop to watch a potter making clay pots on his pottery wheel.

Let’s read from the Bible, from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 18, and hear what Jeremiah saw at the pottery shop.

Read Jeremiah 18:1-6

You see, just like the potter can shape the clay into a beautiful pot or bowl or cup… God can shape us into beautiful things as well. Even if we think that there are all kinds of things that are wrong with us, even if we’ve made lots of mistakes in the past and we’re not feeling very good about ourselves… God is like a potter who can shape us into wonderful people.

Will God shape us by squashing us, and kneading us, and poking and prodding us into the right shape? Not exactly. But God has some great ways of shaping us and making us more like Jesus — the kind of people God wants us to be.

God gives us the Bible to teach us how to live. God gives us churches so that we can worship God together and learn to live like Jesus. God gives us examples in our lives — parents, teachers, grandparents, and friends who show us what it looks like to live like Jesus — and who help us to learn and grow into the shape God wants us to be.

As we listen to the choir singing an anthem about God as the potter, I invite you to think about the ways that God has been working on you to shape you into the person God wants you to be. Is there a passage from the Bible that God has used to shape you? Is there a person in your life that God has used to shape you? You can use the reverse side of your paper to right down your reflections and thoughts about how God has shaped you, or your prayers about how you would ask God to shape you.

And kids… while the choir sings, I want you to take out your play-doh, and see if you can shape some play-doh into a perfect cube. (I’ll be checking after to see if you could do it!)

Choir Anthem: “Abba Father”

Okay… let’s see your cubes! Did anyone manage to make a perfect one? Some of you did pretty well at making some really nice cubes out of your play-doh. Some of them were pretty close to perfect! But it wasn’t easy, was it? It took time and concentration to make your cubes, and perhaps even if you had all morning, they still wouldn’t be quite perfect.

Making those cubes and working on them to make them perfect can be a reminder for us of the way that God wants to keep on working on us. God wants to keep on making us better and better, more and more like Jesus — kind and loving and generous and good. Hopefully, we will let God into our lives more and more so that God has the opportunity to work on us.

One way that God does this is by giving us teachers and examples in the lives of others. One way that we can let God work on us is by taking part in educational programs and groups at the church.

Today, we take a moment at the beginning of the church school year to commission our teachers and group leaders, remembering that their work will help to shape us all into the people God wants us to be.

Commissioning of teachers and leaders.

WARNED BY GOD, we must change our ways to God’s ways (Sermon)

When I read the passage from Jeremiah a few minutes ago, I chose to stop after verse 6, but now I would like to read the entire passage that is set by the lectionary for this Sunday.

Read Jeremiah 18:1-11

We often focus on the way that God wants to shape our personal lives, and this is good and helpful and appropriate. Jesus’ message as he preached and taught around Galilee was to repent and believe in the good news and to follow him in everything we do. Jesus calls us to turn our lives towards God’s ways and to let God shape us into the people we are meant to be.

But here in this prophetic text, God’s message is not intended for Jeremiah alone. God’s message is not intended for Jeremiah to share with individuals alone. God was speaking to Jeremiah about shaping Israel. God was talking about shaping the nations.

As we hear about God the potter, shaping the nations of the world, it doesn’t sound like God has a gentle touch, carefully smoothing out a few imperfections, patiently working the clay into an even more beautiful shape… Instead, we hear about an angry and frustrated potter. God has a vision of what we are to be in the world — our countries, our nations, our churches, perhaps — but like a pot that has gone wrong, we are warped and uneven and in danger of toppling.

There is so much sin and evil in our world! And it’s not just in individuals, it’s within our systems, our governments, our policies, and our structures. We live in a world in which some people are treated better than others, based on the colour of their skin, their language or religion or culture. We don’t seem to know or remember that we are all God’s children.

We live in a world in which the greed and materialism of some lead to the poverty and oppression of others. We choose to waste the clean water that others live without. We choose to buy the cheap clothes and toys and other products made by children and adults in oppressive sweat-shops in other countries. When our economy is doing well, we watch the rich grow richer and the poor in our own city getting left behind.

We live with a government that is led by the results of polls. What do the people want? What can we give them so that they’ll let us stay in power? Is there no one who seeks good? Is there no one who wants to do what is right, but only what is popular?

We live in a world in which there is so much fear and distrust of one another that we fight over territory and take up arms against those who are different. While as individuals we struggle to forgive one another, as countries and nations we rarely consider the possibility of forgiveness, of letting the past go, of starting over and trying to live peacefully together.

The message that God gave Jeremiah was a message for the nations. It was a warning to the kingdoms that they must change. They must let God be their potter.

Actually, God says: “I, the Lord, have power over you, just as a potter has power over clay.” If God threatens to uproot and shatter an evil nation, and that nation turn from its evil, God will change God’s mind. God will keep on working with that nation to shape them into something good and beautiful and useful. But if God promises to make a nation strong, but its people start disobeying God and doing evil, then God will change God’s mind and not help them at all.

That’s exactly what was happening with Israel… they were turning away from God, worshipping idols, failing to worship and follow God, and doing all kinds of evil… God, the potter, was saying to them, “I’m going to crush you! I’m going to squash you! You’re so far off from the shape that I’m trying to make that I can’t just mold you into a pot. I’ve got to start over, and that’s going to hurt! “So listen to me,” God was saying, “I have decided to strike you with disaster, and I won’t change my mind unless you stop sinning and start living right.”

We have to let God be our potter, because that’s what God is. We have to let God shape us, both as individuals, as churches, and as nations. Let us use our voices and our votes to speak out for what is right and good and just and generous, that our country may be shaped by God into the people that we are meant to be.

May God help us as we seek to be changed. May God give us courage and determination and hope. Amen.