Weekly Sermon (20)

Sermon – June 2, 2024

Willing Clay Vessels

June 2, 2024

Scriptures: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20), 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, Mark 2:23-3:6

There are a number of instances in the gospel accounts where we hear that Jesus was ‘angry’. And contrary to those who may use such accounts to justify their own personal lapses into similar emotions, in each and every case with Jesus, we see that it was never because Jesus had taken offense personally at something said or done to him. Rather, whenever we read that he was angered, it was always on behalf of someone who was being treated unjustly, someone who was deeply oppressed by the prevailing social or religious order of the day. It was seldom that Jesus was moved to anger, but when he was, it was always for the sake of another…always on behalf of someone whom he saw as being unjustly persecuted or oppressed.

And such was the case with our passage today from Mark’s gospel. We see Jesus greatly angered towards the Temple Authorities who were seeking to judge and condemn him for extending healing love and grace to one sorely in need of it on what happened to be the Sabbath.

Jesus was upset that the ‘form, and not the substance’ of the faith…the way the faith was practiced by the Temple authorities left no room for the extension of God’s love towards one in need. He was angered because their faith practice had become far too rigid, far too legalistic…focused far too heavily on ‘correct and proper’ religious behavior, and not at all on sensitivity towards one in need of healing, or openness to the Holy Spirit in the moment.

In truth, I think that Jesus was angered that day because these strict faith adherence policies, which by the way, his whole ministry seemed to be aimed at, left no room for the extension of true Godly love whatsoever. Rather, for those in authority, their faith had pretty much become solely a means of control…a way in which they exerted and retained power over the faithful. Numerous times in the gospel accounts Jesus rebels against this severe reduction of the faith from a practice of forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and love…to simply a following of rigid and inflexible faith rituals. For Jesus, faith was never intended to be a rigid system ensuring control over the many by just a few.  Rather, faithful living out of faith was meant to offer the opportunity for relationship between an individual and God.

The Christian faith started out as a movement seeking to spread the good news that God was available and accessible to each and every soul in need or seeking after God. Over time however, it has become greatly burdened with ritual, politics, and worldly concerns related usually to money or resources, making it more of an institution, rather than a movement of passionate believers.

But that is our call…to find our way back to the passion of our relationship with God, to stand tall and proud that we hold this treasure in our own little clay pots. A treasure that comes to us and dwells within the depths of our soul as the abiding presence of our God as Spirit. It is the same pricelist gift that Paul refers to in our passage from second Corinthians.

The life of faith which Jesus lived and taught, and in which we believe, holds that each and every one, in a moment of need, is able to find and receive guidance and instruction from the Holy Spirit…that Spirit of Holiness resident within the hearts of all those who are truly humble enough, and truly willing enough to carry it forth.

Lately I have been reflecting on this idea of the need for willingness in faith…the need for each one of us to be willing to accept the Lordship of the Holy Spirit over our individual lives…especially in times of struggle, confusion, or just plain lack of clear vision of understanding. So often I find that many turn to God only when there are big problems or big challenges…and not so much in the daily small problems or difficulties we may face. We hesitate it seems…not wanting to be a bother when whatever we are up against seems small, or even perhaps quite personal, in which we may feel we bear some portion of responsibility. However, it all starts with one being willing to actually believe that our God of love is really that interested in a relationship wherein all of our life, each of our days is worthy of daily conversation.

But back to the beginning of our conversation, with Jesus there that day…back to how we are supposed to behave and act as those who have this ‘treasure’. Much like Jesus, we too have every right, even an obligation to stand up for those around us in need, or who are victims of oppression…and yes we can even be angry at times towards those who are responsible. But ultimately, we need to find a way both to relieve the oppressive forces and somehow draw into the fold of God’s love, even those who once were the cause of harm or injury to others.

But how? By being willing to stand in the gap between those in need and those causing harm…extending God’s love to one, and prayerful correction towards the other. But at times, that can be a big ask…standing up to powers and principalities can be both intimidating and even at times, pose a risk to oneself. But isn’t our God worth it?

Willingness…willingness to risk living out our faith in a faithful manner must be a part of how we approach both faith and life.

I remember that my dad used to preach about this idea of ‘willingness’ quite often…so many times I remember hearing him say from right here, ‘If we all can be just a little willing’. In fact, I heard it so often that I became in the habit of turning off at that moment and losing focus…sitting there in the pew distracted, through many of his Sunday morning sermons. And as a result, I am not sure I ever really heard what he was trying to get across.

But I see now, that a lack of willingness, or hesitation to be willing to submit to the Spirit on a constant and continual basis, is potentially the greatest obstacle to a true fullness of life in our Lord. Willingness to enter into a relationship with God through the power of the Spirit, always precedes any sort of relationship. Surely God reaches out towards us all the time, but unless and until we are willing to open our hearts to the inflow of the Spirit, that closeness just can’t gain any real traction.

For in truth, God would never, and will never force us to accept the Spirit’s earnest entreaties of love towards us…we are free to deny them, or to ignore them, for if we were forced to accept God’s love, if we were made to do it…then it could never truly be love. After all, who among us really thinks it is possible to force someone to love them? Well neither does God…

So, dear dad, you truly were right to focus on this critical point in beginning and building a lasting relationship with our God of love. We need to find at least the smallest of openings, the slightest willingness to imagine that our God loves us as much as the scriptures say that he does. For that little bit of willingness is the first, and most critical step towards fulfilling our true created purpose, towards becoming a clay vessel that truly is useful to the Master Potter by whose hand we were fashioned.

We are nothing more than a handful of stardust…but we were each formed into a precious vessel, with a holy purpose written into our future before we were even born…and if we are willing…then we can begin to find the pathway, and the guidance that comes from a close relationship with the Spirit of God’s love, which will begin to center each of us in the blessed will and purpose of our God.

So, in looking at Jesus’ reaction towards those critical of him there that day as he reached out in love to one in need, and in looking around at the many and varied challenges we all are facing today…I think it is time that we each looked within once more, to see if there is a way we might find…

…even more willingness to reach out, even when it may be uncomfortable or inconvenient…

…even more willingness to listen, even when we feel sure we already know what is going to be said, and may have even decided how we feel about it…

…even more willingness to offer whatever resources we have in order to assist the one before us in need…

…and finally, even more willingness to daily, minute by minute, moment by moment enter into an ever closer and more genuine relationship with our God…

…for that is surely God’s desire…and that is the truest reflection of the divine image and purpose contained that was present within that first handful of common, ordinary stardust.

…just a little willingness…that’s all…in fact, that’s everything!


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