Based on Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 18: 1- 10
What contrast we have in the scriptures today. I have always loved Psalm 139. It is a prayer of deep awareness, a prayer that acknowledges the totality of God surrounding us, infusing us with Spirit beyond time and space. God you have searched me, you know my heart… This is a psalm of openness to the Holy One looking deep within us. Being so sure of God’s unconditional love, the psalmist can even invite God to search their heart and mind, show where they have strayed, and draw them back to a holy path.
On the other hand, the reluctant prophet Jeremiah finds himself in a society that has no intention of looking deeply at itself. The community dismisses Jeremiah as a nut-case. And why wouldn’t they? He never has anything positive to say. They’re doing all right for themselves. The economy is strong – at least for the strong in the economy; and all is well.
But Jeremiah sees signs everywhere, that things are not well – even at the potter’s house. As he walks by and sees the potter at work, building up a bowl and then mashing it back down, starting over when he sees the pot is off balance, Jeremiah thinks – that’s like God. God has fashioned us for a higher purpose and we’re not living up to it; we’re off balance.
Jeremiah knows in his heart that the political alliances the leadership of Jerusalem is making will not be its salvation. They need to reconnect with their holy purpose, they have to be open to being reshaped into something that has inner beauty and depth; something that is connected again to the God they profess to love.
Jeremiah’s story of the potter working the clay can cause some distress – being broken down, but it can also give hope for new beginnings, being reworked into something beautiful and lasting.
When I was ordained in 1987, I was given a beautiful pottery chalice (cup), as a gift from Alberta North West Conference. Although I tried to pack it carefully in my suitcase, it unfortunately didn’t fair too well. When I got it home, I saw that the base had broken. I glued it back together. Good as new – well almost. But I didn’t trust it to stand firm on a communion table and wherever I went, the church already had the cup they wanted. My lovely chalice, given to remind me that I was ordained, to Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care, found a new place on my dresser. It became a fine container for special rocks, collected from special places, and the rim was the perfect place to hang shepherd hook earrings.
About 10 years ago, someone bumped the chalice, sending it smashing to the wooden floor – too broken now even to hold shepherd hook earrings and polished rocks.
When I told my children about the broken chalice, they each, independently of the other, and from opposite ends of the country, asked for a piece of it. It was important to them. It was a part of our shared history. They had been at my ordination – Miriam at 3 years old and Aaron at 6 years old, and they wanted to hold on to a piece of that. I asked Miriam if she could tell me a bit more about why the broken chalice was important to her. This is what she said:
“It was a part of us growing up. When I would go into your room and look at your treasures on your dresser, that chalice was always there. I knew it represented your spirituality, and it was always full of treasures. And when our house was robbed (twice) it didn’t disappear! I can hold on to a piece of it and remember, it’s a part of my youth and my growing up, even when we moved around a lot, and had so many changes in our life, it’s what was always there.”
- when I cleared it with Miriam to share her story, she reached over and picked up a small cardboard jewelry box and placed it in my hand. I opened it and there was her piece of the chalice.
There can be frustration and sorrow when we’ve spent our time and energy doing stuff that doesn’t fulfill us, doesn’t sustain our spirit, when our hopes and plans crumble, when our life is other than what we believe God made us for. Yet, whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever we do, we can still be a blessing in different and unexpected ways.
That broken chalice didn’t have to sit on a communion table, in order for it to be recognized as sacred. That broken and mended earthen vessel always held treasure.
And isn’t it so, with us? Wounded healers, cracked pots, broken and beautiful… never the perfect mother, or lover, child, or husband, never the perfect congregation – always some flaw in our nature, wounded in body, mind, or spirit; always some kind of death before resurrection, but still capable of holding and being a treasure.
You know, despite the base being broken, the vessel – the part of the chalice that holds the treasure, is whole. It just can’t stand on its own. It needs a little support – just like we do, from time to time. We need to support and hold each other up in community – knowing none of us is perfect, but praying that God will work with our imperfection, like the potter works with the clay. (At this point, I set the broken base in a clear glass jar, which held it perfectly – this is what we used for communion later in the service.)
May God, Infinite and Intimate, shape us into vessels of healing, compassion and light in our broken world.
There is a powerful song that speaks eloquently of our flawed and broken lives, but how we still present them to God who redeems everything – nothing is wasted. The last verse says, “And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” .
I first heard Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on a cassette tape, in a car, on the streets of Vancouver about 15 years ago. It’s a good thing, I wasn’t driving the first time I heard it; my friend Lynne was, and she knew that my life was `kind of in the toilet’ at that time. “I think you need to hear this”, she said. I’m so glad I did, though of course it reduced me to tears. Cohen’s Hallelujah is a prayer of confession, but it’s also a story of redemption and healing, and despite our brokenness, it’s a story of wholeness – for we belong to God who has known us and loved us from before we were born.
Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”… Please join in on the chorus.