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Time to Begin…Again!

Dr. Bruce Lancaster

January 3, 2016
Jeremiah 18:1-4

A reading from Jeremiah

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

This is how the Bible starts: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

This is how the Bible ends: “And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”

From first to last, the Bible says God creates and makes new.

This is where I think we sometimes misunderstand Genesis.  We get the idea that long ago everything began and after that, the world simply rolled on in its habit of orbiting the sun: why? Well, that’s the way it’s always been!

But once we realize that God didn’t stop there, that that first verse, “God created!” is a theme throughout the biblical story—that in the midst of orbit after orbit, God is rolling up the divine sleeves, stirring the creative juices, and declaring with fresh determination: “I make all things new…time to begin…again.”

So it is for you and me as we make ready to orbit and begin…again!

The late Mattie Stepanek called this challenge a “Momentous Reality” and wrote about it in one of his poems:

The next century, the next millennium
Is being made, now, today, each second.
We could be working towards
World peace, living as one spirit.
Or, we could be working towards
Disaster, chemical and nuclear wars…
We must be brave going into the future.

“We must be brave going into the future.”

There is a certain ‘fear’ about the future—what might happen…what tragically does happen…

I looked up headlines from January 3, 2015, a year ago—these were the first to come up: Weather was creating havoc across parts of the nation—snowstorms then, floods today; Obama looks past GOP in promoting his 2015 agenda; Man dies in officer involved shooting…

Is it going to be the ‘same old same old’?

Like Lily Allen’s song: I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear?
‘Cause I’m being taken over by the Fear

I think we often hesitate to move on because we are so afraid of failure, but I happen to believe the chief sin of life is not failure but low aim.

To make the point even stronger—we aim so low, it’s like we’re crawling around on our bellies—and you know what God said about those kinds of creatures!

If you aim low and expect little, I can guarantee you that is what you will get 100% of the time.

The fact is, so many of the things we do without even thinking  about it are rooted in failure; for example, learning to walk.

We all fell down a lot when we were learning to walk—we failed at first, but as we were encouraged, as we were helped, we kept at it—wobbling around, plopping down, getting up and going back at it.

Jeremiah learned this lesson when he stopped by the potter’s shop in old Jerusalem one day.  He tells us about it—how the clay kept crumbling in the potter’s hands, probably some grit in the clay, something not right.

So, smashing the clay down into some formless lump, “the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.”

The point is this.  The potter could have pitched out the crumbly clay and begun with fresh, started from scratch.

But instead, the potter said, “Stubborn though this lump may be, I intend to make something beautiful of it yet.”

And with that he began again putting moistened hands to the task—the potter’s transforming touch!

God is the patient potter forever reworking our gritty clay.

Instead of the same old same old, God sees it as time to begin…again.

What about you and me?

As I drove in this morning, I passed the Hole in the Wall on Guadalupe—and on the billboard were the upcoming acts for the week: Monday, somebody’s name; Tuesday, somebody’s name; and on Wednesday, it said ‘Same Old Thing’!

Is that our week, our year?

You see, rearranging life’s furniture, adjusting your geography, changing channels on our emotional system is just a matter of old continuings—it has nothing to do with new beginnings!

The biblical story shows how God takes off in a different direction—beginning again doesn’t mean trashing the old, it means transforming it.

Like Mattie Stepanek said as he closed out his poem:

Even though the future seems far away,
It is actually beginning right now.
And while we are living in the present,
We must celebrate life every day;
Knowing that we are becoming history
With every word, every action, every moment.
Because we, today, are the history of tomorrow.
We must ask ourselves each day
What we are doing that may have
An influence on the future.
It really won’t be for many years that
The future will indicate if something we said,
Or if something we did or did not do,
Had an impact on a single individual,
Or if it trickled out to touch the whole world.

C.S. Lewis once said that “every time we make a choice we are turning the central part of ourselves into something different.”

He’s right—our choices shape us, mold us, direct us.  Our choices involve the fundamental decisions and commitments upon which our life is built.

God promises to begin again, and let it be our prayer that God’s transforming work is not simply with us, but within us, cleansing and reshaping our bent lives, our misshapen motives, our faltering faith.

As Alden Solovy  says at the end of his prayer, “To Bend Light”:

Creator of All,
Every moment a new year begins.
The flow of fresh light from heaven
Touches our hearts.
Something lost.
Something gained.
Let it be for blessing.
Let it be for healing.
Let it be for shelter.
Let it be for wisdom and strength.
Let us be, in this moment,
Your messengers of kindness on earth.

And may that be our prayer at this time to begin…again.