Creation Time 1, Pentecost 16, Year C
Readings: Jeremiah 18:1–11; Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18; (Philemon 1–21); Luke 14:25–33
Last week, on Labour Day weekend, as we thought about work we heard statistics from the International Labour Organization. The ILO confirms what we have suspected: the share of national income going to working people in developed nations has been going down for forty-five years. Last week I used the analogy of food on a global plate or table—it’s been shifting from the crowded end, where most people live, and work, to the other end, where the smaller number of owners is already well off.
Today is a response from the Christian tradition. Today we have set up a table here in our midst. The meal we share is richly symbolic. Everybody eats at this table, everybody gets the same serving, and no one is left out. That’s a radical symbol when you stop to think about it. This is our vision for the world. No, check that. It’s not our vision. We inherited it from others, and we can no more possess it that a person can possess beauty, or love.
Our tradition is that at the table, love and justice are mingled. They blend together, like bread and juice. It is a loving thing to offer food to others. It is a just thing to ensure that everyone eats, and that everyone has a fair share.
When you look around, you realize we don’t actually do this. We have set our world up differently. Jeremiah points out to the people of his time that they have done the very same thing. You people are the clay, he warns them. Or, rather, he hears God warning them. And God comes off as pretty severe. Repent, or I’m going to repent of the good I want to do for you. In fact, it doesn’t need big threats from God, or the holy. We know now that societies that aren’t fair don’t work and don’t last. It doesn’t take divine wrath to bring them down.
This realization, that change is not dependent on a wrathful god, always fills me with hope. We don’t need superhuman powers of persuasion. We need to keep breaking bread in the midst of a community, and the community needs to keep showing how this sacrament is the model of human life that works. Struggling with a growing income gap? Look here. Sick and tired of discrimination, inequality, injustice? Listen to this. Eager for a way of being that feels whole, real, sustainable? Taste this. It’s beautiful. And simple.
But not easy, Jesus says. The commitment involved is not casual. Can you imagine the reaction when he lets loose with this zinger. Hate your family if you want to be my disciples. What? We all heard it earlier. It’s tempting to let it go in one ear and out the other. The gospel of Matthew gets to this saying and thinks, oh-oh. So Matthew’s version says you have to love Jesus more than your parents or your child. That’s easier. Thank goodness. It would have been hard to be around this person in some ways. Very extreme. Very challenging. Hate my family? Are you serious?
What a potter does with a lump of clay on a wheel, is three things. Centering. The clay needs to be centred on the wheel. Kind of like people. Opening. The potter uses her thumbs in the middle to start to create an opening. Unless it’s opened, it can’t receive anything, hold anything. Raising. The potter starts to draw the clay up, and out, turning it into its final shape, whatever was in the mind of the creator. We need to be malleable, able to be shaped. There’s a design in mind for us: centred, opened, raised, so that we can bear bread to those hungry for change, and wine to those thirsting for peace.
How can a prophet break through to us? A story about a potter? A re-invention of a symbolic meal? This is not just a short walk to the front of the church for a tiny bit of bread and drink we’re about to take. This is a different world we’re talking about, a different world we’re already tasting. This vision needs all of me, all of us. This vision is exciting. Lasting, satisfying, fun.
What am I saying? Maybe you should just eat the bread and not get too excited. We can’t really take on the whole world. We can’t change it. Can we?