A sermon by Michael Vollbrecht for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (9/8/19)
While I was preparing for this week’s sermon, I came across some quotes, powerful pieces of guidance that I think can be so applicable to our lives. Here are a few of them:
“It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.”
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” ”Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.” Amen.
So, these gems, are they in the Old or the New Testament? Do you find them in Genesis, in Psalms, or in Luke? Probably, if you change the words around a bit, you’d find similar advice in those books. But no, these quotes come from none other than those most wise of books, one of the most widely read on earth and certainly one of the most popular. That’s right, all of these quotes come from Harry Potter.
I came across these quotes, and then started re-reading the books, because really there’s a lot of theology, and philosophy, and just plain good advice in them…in fact maybe we should do a Lenten study on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, anybody with me? Anyway, I discovered these quotes while doing an online search about potters. This week’s Hebrew Bible lesson is about God as a potter, shaping and molding the clay, a good image of ourselves, in fact. We can imagine God shaping and molding us, as well. So when I put in “clay, potter, shaping” quotes, hoping to get something nice to say about God, the article that came back was “36 Inspirational Harry Potter Quotes for a Braver You.” Not exactly what I was looking for, but you know what? Let’s role with it. Or fly with it. Anybody got a Nimbus 2000 handy?
After all, our Hebrew Bible reading in Jeremiah this morning begins with movement. “Come,” says the Lord to Jeremiah, “go down to the Potter’s House, and there I will let you hear my words.” God wants Jeremiah to see a living example of what it is like to be God. So Jeremiah heads down to the Potter’s House. I imagine him peeking through the window and watching the potter, seeing the potter’s clay encrusted hands working a cup, or a bowl, maybe a small pot, and as he watches this small pot begins to lose it’s shape, it takes on something that doesn’t quite look like a small pot, and so I imagine Jeremiah sees the Potter maybe stick his tongue out a bit on the side of his mouth, biting down a little bit, ready to begin again. He reshapes and reworks this small pot, the bible tells us, as seemed good to him. And God says to Jeremiah, “Can I not do with you just as this potter has done?” Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you In my hand.” And while God is speaking to the whole house of Israel, to the entire nation that has been turning its back against God, I see this as not only a cautionary tale against forgetting God’s providence, but as a reminder that at any moment these clay pots, these vessels, yes… US… can be reshaped and remolded and recreated into the image the creator has for us.
God uses the imagery of clay vessels to describe us, human beings, and our human condition. God knows that while God has many good things to offer us, too often do we ignore them, too often do we fill ourselves with things that do not build us up, do not help us, do not guide us and our community, our world, to a better way of living. Yet, while we choose to fill ourselves with these not-so-good things, God continues to shape us, to mold us, to prepare us in the way God has intended. What is miraculous about God as a potter, what I find most interesting, is that God actually changes God’s mind about how the vessel should be formed. We see in the passage from Jeremiah that depending on how the people respond to God’s message, God will, quote, “change my mind” about them. In the Hebrew Bible there are lots of curses, lots of threats that God gives to the people. But with some exceptions, the great majority of those threats go undone. Why is that? Because the message of God is always one of relationship, reciprocity, and covenant. As the Israelites begin to change, as we begin to change, God’s mind changes against us, as well. We are given, time after time, opportunities to do better, to see differently, to change.
I know, personally, there are many things I wish I could change about myself. Too often do I feel that God has abandoned me, that I will always be “broken,” that my clay pot of a heart and mind has been filled with anger, frustration, irritation, confusion, and hurt. So much so at times that I feel that I am full to cracking. And once or twice in my life I have cracked, just a bit. I’ve been too full of sadness, too full of pain and suffering, too full of regret or shame or disappointment. And yet, God the potter works with these cracks. What is that Leonard Cohen quote? “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
The Japanese word Kintsukuroi means ‘golden repair.’ Kintsukuroi, also called Kitsugi, in case this is the first time you’ve heard of this, is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mixing lacquer and powdered gold or silver to fill the cracks. This results in striking lines cast within the broken, or no longer broken, pot. The vessel is forever marked by these cracks, but it is whole again. The
Japanese have a term for this philosophy of repairing broken things, it’s called “wabi-sabi,” an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Christy Bartlett, in her book Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics, writes that “there is no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated….” What this means is that in the broken pottery we have an example of our own lives. We are susceptible to breaks, knocks, shattering…and once mended we are never truly the same, are we? We carry those with us, but these cracks do not need to define us, rather, they shine light on a part of who we are, what we’ve been through, and how strong we have become.
This is illustrated well by the poet Indhumathi Nagarajan, who writes:
Broken / By too many people/ In too many ways / She picked up the pieces with grace. / Gluing them back to where they belonged, / She marked with gold the countour of the fissures. / Her scars now shown as proof for what she survived / And how much she loved herself / Enough to mend her back again. / She is a walking Kitsugi.
Our world needs a bit of golden repair these days. And not just from our government leaders, not just from those in power, but for all those who are suffering. In fact, I wonder what would become of our world if more people became walking Kitsugis? If more people repaired their broken places and lived because of, not in spite of, what they had been through? There is strength in having made it through to the other side and the good news is that if you are struggling to get there, if you are uncertain how to mend, how to repair your broken places, God the Potter stands ready to reshape, remold, and revision you into the beautiful vessel you have always been, and always will be. Besides, walking around mended by gold…that’s pretty swanky, right? God’s healing is pretty cool, I have to admit.
What are you putting into your clay vessels? What messages are you responding to in this world today? If you closed your eyes and tried to put a color to it – what color would you be? Light and bright? A dark, melancholy of a color? Green? Blue? Perhaps putting a color on it doesn’t work, and you might think of it this way: Where am I getting my messages from in the world today? A 15 minute sermon on Sunday and 8 hours of breaking news on Sunday afternoons? Damaging, hurtful discussion on social media? Angry, judgmental talk radio? What are you being filled with? What images are put before you that color your world? I sometimes wonder if these colors themselves have weight to them – as if white and gold are light and free flowing, but the blackness of hatred, frustration, and fear pours into our clay vessels and expands them, too much, until they break. But remember, God always stands ready with the materials of Kitsugi, ready to mend and to repair. And there’s no time like the present to stand before God and say, “shape me. Mold me. Guide me.” Clay vessels, after all, are not formed without the guiding hands of the potter. How will you let God the potter work with you, mend you, heal you? And how will you let that healing change your world?
This is the start of the academic year, but also the start of our church programming year. This year, we will be about putting more heart into our bodies, more gratitude into our lives, more presence of God into our moments, more soul into our everyday lives. I look forward to sharing new quotes with you, even if they come from Harry Potter, and inviting you to look at life through a different lens. Our world wants us to believe that our mistakes define us, that once we are broken we cannot be put back together again. But that’s simply not true. May we always be willing to heal those places within us that need healing. May we always be ready to allow God to mend the cracks, and let us then walk boldly forward knowing that all that has happened to us has been for good: because what has happened to us has shaped us, and made us who we are today: children of a good and loving artist: the divine Potter, always at work at the wheel.
“36 Inspirational Harry Potter Quotes for a Braver You,” https://brightdrops.com/harry-potter-quotes. Accessed September 6, 2019.
Wikipedia contributors. (2019, August 13). Kintsugi. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:12, September 6, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kintsugi&oldid=910719112
Indhumathi Nagarajan, “Broken.” https://www.yourquote.in/tags/kintsugi/quotes