Track 1: Reshaped in God’s Hands
Today’s Old Testament reading presents us a graphic picture of our creator God:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18:1-6)
God is the potter and we are the clay. That must mean that God is in charge of our lives when we yield to him. But a popular teaching in today’s church is that God will bless whatever we are doing as long as we have the faith that he will. In other words, we may be able to influence and manage God if we have the right formula.
The psalmist wrote in the Old Testament a very New Testament message:
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalm 2:4-9)
What the psalmist is saying that God the Father has turned over his potter’s wheel to his Son. Jesus has the right and authority to mold us as he will. In order to do that he may first have to break some of us and then remold us.
Many people were initially attracted to Jesus and followed him. But did they understand the cost to them of what that meant. In today’s Gospel message Jesus made this shocking statement:
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33)
Families are important. Jesus loved his family as he loves us all. We remember there was a time, however, when the family of Jesus wanted to stop his ministry and make him come home. From the Gospel of Mark:
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)
Members of the true family of God are the ones on the master potter’s wheel. Those who are not on the wheel may call us out. They may attempt to convince us to get off the wheel, leaving us to decide: o we love God more than anything or anyone, including our own family members?
When true Christian discipleship is involved tensions may arise. The temptation may be do whatever is required to keep the peace. But here is what the Prince of Peace has proclaimed:
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53)
There is only one master potter. Are we ready to go down to the potter’s house along with Jeremiah? God wants to mold us in his image. He is the potter, we are the clay. Or, like some, do we wish to change the image of God to our liking?
Track 2: Choose Life
This was the last chance for Moses to speak to the children of Israel. They would soon enter the promise land, but Moses would not be going with them. Nonetheless, Moses had a word from God that they should take with them. It was a vital word that rings down to they day:
Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)
The psalmist wrote about the benefits of obeying the word of God:
Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)
But, as we know, Israel did not always walk in God’s ways, observing his commandments. Because of their disobedience, Israel paid a high price. But that was the Old Covenant. What about the New Covenant? What has Jesus asked us to do? From today’s Gospel reading:
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27)
Choosing God’s way is not a casual decision. It should be a sobering one. Moses present the choice as a life and death situation. If we do choose God’s way then we must be willing to follow through on our choice. Jesus spoke of a king preparing for war:
What king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. your possessions. (Luke 14:31-32)
God makes demands on us. If we are to become disciples of Christ we must understand what those demands might mean. Many so-called “seeker churches” may want to minimize those demands. They may just scare too many church prospects away. We can talk about them later, sometime. No. Jesus is saying those demands must be considered up front. He concludes his parable of the king preparing for war this way:
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all. (Luke 14:33)
Let us consider what God gave up. He gave up his only eternal Son:
He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
God wants to give us everything. We must be willing to open our hearts and hands to him. He is saying to us: Choose life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)