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Messy Beginnings

Sunday, September 8, 2019. Rev. Dr. Scott Ramsey, preaching.
Scripture Readings: Psalm 139:1-18; Jeremiah 18:1-11

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Life can be messy. Beginnings can be messy.  And God works with things that are messy to redeem and rework them.

Allison Lineberger and others in our Christian education program could tell you that sometimes I have a tough time with arts and crafts.  For some reason, they make me nervous and anxious, and I’m not 100% sure why.  It’s probably a control issue. Some of you could probably help me with this, and maybe I need some sort of forced exposure to finger-painting and scissors and glue to just get over it, relax, and have fun being creative.  That’s probably almost certainly what needs to happen.

But one art and crafts project that I have always loved is playing with Play Dough.  I love the feeling of play dough in my fingers; I enjoy rolling it, making it into those long, skinny snakes.  I love rolling it into little balls.  I like mashing it into different shapes and sizes.  And I’m betting that I’m not the only one.  It’s fun to create a shape, maybe a building, maybe an animal, maybe some sort of modern art thing that doesn’t really look like anything in the normal world.

Jeremiah 18 tells us that God likes to play with play dough, too.  Although Jeremiah didn’t know about play dough, he talked about the next best thing, which was clay.  “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”  According to Jeremiah, God is the potter, and Israel is the clay. God’s hands are upon Israel, shaping, fashioning, molding them into the people that God wants them to be. God’s hands are upon the church as a global fellowship throughout the earth.  God’s hands are upon Lewinsville Presbyterian, here in Fairfax County.  God’s hands are upon our country during this turbulent time. And God’s hands are upon each one of us, shaping us in our own lives into the people God wants us to be.

One of the things that this Potter text in Jeremiah 18 is teaching us is … that God is not afraid of getting messy. And in case you were wondering, it is not just Jeremiah 18. The entire Christian doctrine of the incarnation teaches us that God is not fussy, and does not say, “When you get your act cleaned up, then I’ll come and save you.”  Oh, no.  In Jesus Christ, God has said, “I’m going to come down, take on human flesh with all of its messy awfulness and beauty, and redeem you from the inside out. God does not stay far away in some sterile environment, waiting for us to get it all together. God comes to us, gets involved in our lives, which are – if your life is anything like mine – they can be messy.  Some people are dealing with difficult relationships in their families; others are facing a diagnosis or an illness that has set them back on their heels; others are living with an addiction to alcohol or opioids or heroin; others are in the midst of tremendous financial strain; we’re all living through this turbulent season in our life as a country and as a world. As in the story of Noah and the flood, things are messy and unruly for us.

Life can be messy. Beginnings can be messy. And God works with things that are messy to redeem and rework them.

The “Messy Church” approach to Christian education is not about making a mess in the church, although that has been known to happen from time to time in the faith formation process, and next year, during the building renovation here at Lewinsville, things are going to get genuinely messy.  But a Messy Church is a church that knows that people’s lives are messy.  Folks in our community, who need to be connected to Lewinsville, may think that their lives are too messy to come to church.  Families who are having a hard time making ends meet and getting kids to school and to practice may think that they don’t have their lives together enough to come to church.  They may think that church people will judge them for the messiness of their lives. The truth is that our lives are as messy as theirs.  A Messy Church is a church that knows that God does God’s best work in the mess of life, and so it wouldn’t occur to a Messy Church to judge others for the disorder of their lives, because we know that God is healing us in the midst of the disorder of our own.  God the Potter is in the mess, in the disorder, pressing into our lives, shaping us, forming us, molding us, day by day by day.

How does that metaphor strike you?  Do you find the image of God as a Potter, shaping you and molding you, to be comforting and reassuring?  It can be a powerful prayer practice to close your eyes, and to image the hands of God pressing your heart, forming your mind, shaping your spirit.  To surrender yourself into the hands of the heavenly Potter, who is making something beautiful and simple and useful with you.

Or do you find the image of God as a Potter to be somewhat threatening, or invasive, or too intimate? Some people would prefer that God keep God’s distance a little more, to be more of a distant observer. The thought of surrendering oneself into the hands of God can feel as though one has to give up too much control over one’s own life.

Life can be messy.  Beginnings can be messy.  And God works with things that are messy, to renew and rework them.

Where in your life do you sense God working a new beginning? Where in our common life together do you sense God working a new beginning, breaking down that which is resistant and self-absorbed, and bringing forth that which is warm-hearted and compassionate and free? May we be receptive to the sovereign, merciful hands of God the Potter. To God be all the glory. Amen.