Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 18:1-11; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

The idea of God as creator is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as the one who formed everything and despite Stephen Hawking’s recent declaration that the creation of the universe did not require God has little bearing on the Jewish self-understanding that God has made us.

One of the great 70’s renewal songs, Abba, Father, speaks of humanity as formed by God’s ‘hands’ as a pot is formed by the potter. It is meant to be comforting and I like it, but that imagery is far from God’s word provided through the prophet Jeremiah.

The potter does not redo the vessel but shapes a new one and God says that the time is fast approaching when the nation will be destroyed for its transgressions—if they do not turn from their evil and goes on to point out that any other nation or kingdom can be created and thrive in righteousness or suffer the same fate.

The passage ends with a dire warning—‘I am the potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your way and amend your ways and your doings.’

Our ways—the way we go through life and what we do, our doings continues to be of concern to God. An economic recovery based on laying off most of the work force and destroying the home-based fabric of our very society is a continuing concern and people are rightly concerned and angry.

But when the anger is projected on those around us who are not the controlling factor, we show ourselves to be wallowing in the simple solution.

Let share an example: remember when the unwed teenage mother was the cause of all of our ills in America not too many years past. Today the object of our anger seems concentrated on those who are in this country whether they are illegally here or have approved visas or resident status.

Again, the American economy seems to making it only because illegals work for practically nothing without any safeguards in the agricultural and other manual labor sectors.

The concern this Labor Day Sunday should be how we can recreate justice for all who are in this country and establish fair labor practices again.

When Paul appeals to Philemon for the safe restoration of his relationship with the slave Onesimus, he prays that the good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.

It seems to me that every ministry and mission we take on should be voluntary and not something forced and yet the secular world has intruded into the sacred to the extent that I sometimes I think that people are reluctant to act voluntarily but are quick to complain if they feel they are being forced.

I can see why guilt and fear of lost salvation seem to be in such widespread use within Christian assemblies to keep people in line or to get them living and giving in particular ways.

That may be a church thing—church as human organization—but it is not a God thing. God through Jesus calls us to voluntary action but as Jesus tells the crowds in today’s gospel reading, one better count the true cost before embarking on the work of being a follower.

He greatly exaggerates, possibly to thin the ranks of those who aren’t completely committed, but the underlying message is clear to us as well. Estimate the costs and make the decision.

Jesus wants all of our hearts not half a heart. But sometimes I think participation in the life of the church community doesn’t even approach half-heartedness. And that is the greatest tragedy.

The turnaround can only come when we resolve to commit ourselves to God and make God central in our lives. There will be some adjustments but in our situation we will find true freedom and that’s what it is all about.

Amen.