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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 23- Proper 18 - Year C
Jeremiah 18:1-11 Psalm 1; Luke 14:25-33
"The Potter and The Clay"



READING:  Jeremiah 18:1-11 Psalm 1; Luke 14:25-33 
SERMON :  "The Potter and The Clay"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or23sn 797000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
   
   Sources:  The Sermon is based on one by Rev Beth W. Johnston, 
   Sermon Ideas 4U, Sep 6, 1998; and on comments by Fayetta Clark
   (fayetta@wcta.net) on a message by Gordon Ramsay, Kippax Uniting
   Church, Canberra, Aust. (glramsay@ozemail.com.au), September 4 1998
   on Jeremiah.  The Eucharistic Prayer is based on the Prayer of
   Hippolytus.
  

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

            
* WORDS OF WELCOME & CALL TO WORSHIP
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Blessed be God, creator of heaven and earth.                        
P  Glory be to the Lord!  
   He is the source of light and life for all creation.
L  God calls us to new life in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
P  We give thanks to God for his gracious love and his gift of salvation.


THIS WEEK AT ST. ANDREW'S
- Welcome and Announcements  
- Birthdays and Anniversaries  
- Special Matters  
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


MUSIC AND SILENT PREPARATION


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Almighty God, Creator, Mother and Father of us all, unto whom all hearts
are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid:  Cleanse
the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, that we
may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your Holy Name.  Grant to us
the joy of your presence, the wisdom of your word, and the wholeness of
your eternal love -- through Christ our Lord.  AMEN.


* HYMN:  "Breathe On Me, Breath of God"                            - VU 382


THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY BAPTISM: 
- Statement Concerning The Sacrament 
- Presentation and Promises of Parents
- Congregational Promise 
- Unison Profession of Faith: The New Creed (front of VU or 918)
- Blessing of Water and Baptism
- Presentations and Concluding Prayer 


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Let us pray - Dear Lord God  - bless we pray Dylan -- and all your
   little ones - help us as brothers and sisters - to keep the vows we
   have made to you   and to one another   and bless your church -
   that it may be - what you want it to be   we ask in Jesus' name.  
   Amen

   And in the words Jesus taught us....  Our Father who art in heaven,
   hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth
   as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive
   us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and
   lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine
   is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen

       
* HYMN:  "Would You Bless Our Homes and Families"                  - VU 556


A READING FROM JEREMIAH 18:1-11
   (NIV)  This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: {2} "Go
   down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." {3}
   So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the
   wheel. {4} But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his
   hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed
   best to him. {5} Then the word of the LORD came to me: {6} "O house of
   Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. 
   "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house
   of Israel. {7} If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is
   to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, {8} and if that nation I
   warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it
   the disaster I had planned. {9} And if at another time I announce that
   a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, {10} and if it does
   evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good
   I had intended to do for it. {11} "Now therefore say to the people of
   Judah and those living in Jerusalem, 'This is what the LORD says:
   Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against
   you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your
   ways and your actions.'

L  This is the word of the Lord
P  Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 1 (Voices United 724)


A READING FROM LUKE 14:25-33
   (NIV)  Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he
   said: {26} "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and
   mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his
   own life--he cannot be my disciple. {27} And anyone who does not carry
   his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. {28} "Suppose one of
   you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate
   the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? {29} For if he
   lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it
   will ridicule him, {30} saying, 'This fellow began to build and was
   not able to finish.' {31} "Or suppose a king is about to go to war
   against another king.  Will he not first sit down and consider whether
   he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him
   with twenty thousand? {32} If he is not able, he will send a
   delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for
   terms of peace. {33} In the same way, any of you who does not give up
   everything he has cannot be my disciple.

L  This is the gospel of our risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN:  "Spirit of the Living God"                                - VU 376
                 

SERMON:  "The Potter and The Clay"

   O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in
   the thoughts that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants
   listen.  Amen.

Around the world today in many churches there have been potter's wheels
set up, clay has brought into the church, drop clothes thrown down, and
potters have started practising their art - with water, clay, wires and
knives, and of course their hands.

I don't know any potters here - and because of the wedding yesterday,
would have found it difficult to set up a wheel here in any case.  But I
have brought something very much like clay - which will do.  Charlene made
up some play dough for us yesterday - and I would like to pass it around
right now.

Let us become children for a moment and get used to this play dough that I
have brought.  Share it around.  Take a small chunk.  Feel it in your
hands as you squeeze and knead it.  You can make many things with this
clay.  A "sort of round" ball, a potato with eyes, or a cube, or if we had
a lot of time a dinosaur or your pet poodle.

You may wonder what this had to do with worship but bear with me.  

Jeremiah was a prophet from a very early age and he lived about two and
one-half thousand years ago.  The people of Judah, where Jeremiah lived,
had entered into some rather un-healthy and useless political alliances
and the long and short of the story was that they were conquered and sent
off as refugees into exile.

Jeremiah was faithful to the truth of God but he suffered imprisonment
because the people, and especially the king, did not want to hear his
message.  

The prophet Jeremiah had a vision, a message from God.  It involved him
getting off his knees and going to the workshop of a local artisan, a
potter.  There he was able to see as well as hear what God's message for
the people really was.  

Now here comes the good part.  I'd like you to take the play dough and
make a miniature pot, or a bowl, or a glass.

Do you like it?  

Now maybe it doesn't suit you.  What do you do?  

Do you throw it in the garbage and ask me for a new lump of play dough? 
or do you squish it up and start over?

You START OVER, of course!
  
Indeed you can make many pieces of pottery or art with this play dough and
use it over and over (if you keep it in an airtight container). 

A potter works in much the same way.  

She takes a lump of clay and sits at the wheel.  The wheel goes round and
round and the pot takes shape.  The scraps are thrown into a bucket. 
Sometimes, for no apparent reason the pot collapses and it is reshaped and
the potter starts over.  

After another try or still another try the pot is ready for the kiln.  
The extra pieces in the scrap pail are not garbage though.
They are mixed together and put on the wheel to make another pot.  

Nothing is ultimately a failure, nothing wasted.

When Jeremiah first related the vision he had of the potter and the clay,
a vision that God gave unto him,
he was trying to tell the people that this is how God relates to them.

That message is as much for us as it was for Israel in the time of
Jeremiah.

God wants us to become beautiful and useful vessels, 
not to carry water or hold food,
but to carry the good news of his love and call and care and purpose.

Sometimes things go wrong.  
   - sometimes we, through no fault of our own go astray, 
   - sometimes it is because of a conscious choice we have made,
   - Sometimes it is because habits and behaviour patterns have
   overwhelmed us,
   - sometimes it is because of values and beliefs we have clung to for
   years, values and beliefs that deny God - things like the importance
   of worldly success,
but regardless of the reason we have gone astray,
God is always there wishing to re-shape and re-make and re-new us,
indeed to reshape and renew the creation itself.

You see, we believe that the creation is good.  That from the beginning
God has known us and called us good.  God calls us to follow in ways that
lead to life and wholeness but when it does not work out or when we stray
from this plan God is still there to help us to start over, with a clean
slate.  

To use the analogy of the potter, God forms us back into the shapeless
lump of clay and asks us to allow him to shape us into a beautiful and
useful vessel.

This process may not always feel good to us - the clay.  

The process the clay goes through for the air to be removed and the bits
and pieces of whatever to be absorbed is not an easy one - as anyone who
has potted well knows.  It is work for the potter - and undoubtedly it is
work for the clay.  The clay is pounded, thrown, and battered - until it
is pliant - the defects removed - the material easy to work.

Such working might be thought of as a bit like the challenges we face in
life,
   those things which take the wind out of us, deflate us, overwhelm us,
      the criticism that we receive from those who love us,
          the guilt that we feel in the heart of our hearts because of
          things we know God doesn't like.
But remember, out of this, battering, this pounding, this cutting,
   when we surrender ourselves to it in the way God wants us too  
   when we learn from it in the way that the Spirit is leading us,
something very wonderful can arise.

This message of the potter and of the clay is a beautiful message because
it tells us that we always have another chance
   that when we failed
   that when we have lost the beauty that we once had,
   that when we have gone off on a path that is not helpful
that God can rework us,
that God can salvage us, and make us beautiful,
and that it is God's purpose to do so.

It is a wonderful message, because it tells us that God indeed labours
over us,
   that even when things seem really difficult,
       when we are feeling assaulted
           or when we are having crosses thrust upon us,
   even when, to use the word's of today's gospel, we are being called to
   give up our families and our possessions, 
God's hands are all around us 
  seeking to do a wonderful thing for us - and to us,
- seeking to make us vessels of his love and his beauty,
- seeking to make us what we were created to be, those who live abundantly
and love abundantly.

That is in fact what happened with the people of Israel.
Disobedient, selfish, neglectful of the poor and the needy around them,
they were reworked by God during there period of exile in Babylon.
Everything they had was taken from them and they were reworked by God.

Finally, after a sufficient amount of time had passed, the people were
returned to the promised land renewed and revitalized, with a new mission,
a new focus, a new sense of the wonder of God, and of how God wanted them
to live.

From these people came Christ Jesus,
the child promised long before,
the messiah predicted by all the prophets.

From them comes the message we believe today,
a message of grace and of redemption
a message of God's love and power.

Next time you are in a potter's shop,
admiring a fine pot or vessel,
think of the process that the clay has gone through
and how the potter has struggled with it to make it so beautiful,
and give praise to God for his love for you and for me,
give praise to the Potter for his work over the clay.

Blessed be the name of God, day by day.  Amen


THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We give you thanks and praise always, O God, for your love surpasses all
and your will is ever good.  Like a potter at the wheel you created every
part of us, shaping us in secret in the hidden depths.  You read our
inmost thoughts and desires and keep your hand upon us, reshaping us as
seems good to you whenever we allow ourselves to become misshapen through
our allegiance to those who do not walk in your ways or by the acts of our
own will.  Praise be to your name for your continuous mercy and grace... 
Lord, hear our prayer....

Loving and creative God, make us the people you want us to be and help us
to follow in the path of Christ Jesus your son each day and to proclaim
your saving love in all that we say and do....  Lord, hear our prayer...

Father, we pray today for your hand of blessing to be upon those we have
named before in our sharing time - and those we name before you now in the
silence of our hearts... BIDDING PRAYER
... Lord hear our prayer....

We ask these things through Christ Jesus our Saviour, he who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy  Spirit, one God, both now and evermore. 
Amen


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

   We bless you, O God, with these gifts.  We offer them to you in
   obedience to your will.  We bless you O God, with our hearts and
   our hands.  We dedicate to you, O God, all that we have and all
   that we are.  Use us and what we are offering to you now to bring
   healing to others and greater glory to your most holy name.  Amen


* SHARING THE PEACE:  We greet those around us with a sign of peace (a
   handshake or hug) and words like "The peace of the Lord be with you". 
   This ancient tradition is an appropriate response to the peace that
   God gives to those who hear and do his word. 
            

* HYMN:  "As We Gather At Your Table"                              - VU 457


COMMUNION LITANY
L  The peace of the Lord be with you.
P  And also with you.
L  Lift up your hearts.
P  We lift them up to the Lord.
L  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P  It is right to give God thanks and praise.

We give you thanks, O God, through your beloved Servant,  Jesus Christ. 
It is he whom you have sent in these last times to save us and redeem us,
and be the messenger of your will.  He is your Word, inseparable from you,
through whom you made all things and in whom you take delight.

You sent him from heaven into the Virgin's womb, where he was conceived,
and took flesh.  Born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin, he was revealed
as your Son.

In fulfilment of your will he stretched out his hands in suffering to
release from suffering those who place their hope in you, and so he won
for you a holy people.

Of his own free choice he was handed over to his passion in order to make
an end of death and to shatter the chains of the evil one, to trample
underfoot the powers of hell and to lead the righteous into light, to
establish the boundaries of death and to manifest the resurrection.

Wherefore, O Father, we set forth before you this holy supper, following
his command, who the night he was betrayed took bread and blessed it, as
even now we do bless it O Lord, and broke it, and gave it to his
disciples, saying, "Take, eat: this is body, broken for you".   And in the
same manner he took the cup and gave it to his disciples saying, "This cup
is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, poured out for you.  As oft as
you drink it, do so in remembrance of me".... (pause)

Loving God, we pray thee to send thy Holy Spirit upon us and what we do
here that we, and these gifts, touched by your Spirit, may be signs of
life and love.  Give us the mind of Christ and help us follow his example
as we await his return in glory.  We ask it in his name.   Amen


-- The Distribution of The Elements   (in the pews)

                 
POST COMMUNION PRAYER (responsively)
L  Almighty God, we thank you for all your gifts to us.
P  We thank you for the gift of salvation
   given us in and through Jesus Christ.
L  We thank you for the indwelling of your Holy Spirit,
   and for your presence in our breaking of bread.
P  We thank you for the ministries to which you call us,
   For the service for which you equip us,   
   For the light you shine upon our path
   And for the love you place upon our hearts.
L  Help us be your faithful people,
   to joyfully spread the good news of Jesus Christ,
   and to do the works of righteousness all our days.  Amen
    

* DEPARTING HYMN:  We Are Pilgrims (The Servant Song)              - VU 595


* COMMISSIONING (unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go
   forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the
   body of Christ.


* BENEDICTION & THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace, care for one another in the name of Christ Jesus,   
and may the Spirit that was in Christ Jesus be in you, 
   enabling you to know God's will 
   and empowering you to do it in all that you do, and think, and say ... 
And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you
now and always. Amen


CHORAL BLESSING: "Go Now In Peace"                                 - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2001 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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