Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
October 15, 2023
Recommitment: what a day of gladness and promise. We are grateful for the gifts of the last year of life in Christ and in Seekers community. We look forward to the year ahead, and to experiencing the ways Christ will be present and acting within us, between us and beyond us.
While writing this sermon, I found myself calling to mind the names and faces of those of us who’ve been on this Recommitment journey these past weeks. And I felt what a miracle it is that exactly these individuals have been linked together as members in Seekers Church today. I don’t think this is random. We are the very people who God planned and contrived to bring together here and now: I trust that this has meaning and purpose.
Just now, we have just made a public declaration of our commitment to membership. Some of us have also publicly committed to being Stewards of this community. To commit publicly is no small matter. Declarations like these are both a way to communicate something about ourselves, and also a kind of action. Speaking out to others one’s sincere commitment creates something new. By itself, it already changes things; it puts new life force into play.
Sometimes I hear people speak about commitment and intention as if they are the same thing. But I hear those two words differently. For me, when I say I intend to do something, it’s me saying that I’m favorably considering something, and likely, unless something juicier comes up, that is what I will do. But when I commit to something, I’m saying something different—I’m putting my weight down fully. I’m saying I WILL do it, not just that I have a present idea about doing it.
Commitment and annual recommitment have been essential practices for Seekers Church from the very beginning. They are the outcome of a discernment process we undertake, in our mission groups or individually, over a period of weeks. Today is the culmination of that process. Now we have Committed or Recommitted. And so now it is a new moment: it is the beginning of a year-long endeavor to embody that pledge, day by day through the year ahead.
Pondering the meaning of this new moment, I recalled a talk that Gordon Cosby gave back about ten years ago. It was given at an important anniversary in the life of the Church of the Saviour— the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Potter’s House.
The Potter’s House is the coffee house in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of D.C. that was the Church’s first mission—a ministry of radical hospitality and outreach that was at the center of the Church’s life together for decades. Around its tables were incubated the dreams and plans for many of the Church’s justice and service ministries. Together, these ministries reshaped the character of the whole Adams-Morgan neighborhood, and they remain vibrant parts of Adams-Morgan even now.
So the 50th Anniversary celebration was an important occasion. Gordon Cosby, then age 92, centered his talk on a passage from the prophet, Jeremiah. In these verses, Chapter 18, verses 1-6, Jeremiah is speaking about the word he heard from God:
The word that came from the Lord: 2 “Come, Jeremiah, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there the potter was working at the wheel. 4 The vessel that the potter was making became marred in the process , and the potter reworked the clay again, as seemed good to the potter.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, my people.
From his experience of having pastored in the Church of the Saviour for 64 years, here’s what Gordon saw in this passage:
“When we opened The Potter’s House in 1960, we had a working potter’s wheel at the front of the building. Living out the account in Jeremiah 18:6, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel,” was very important to us.
Our job, to put it simply, is to get on the potter’s wheel and let the One who designed us make us into what she intended from the beginning for us to become. The question is not how many wonderful things have happened here [at The Potter’s House]. The question is: How many people have gotten on the wheel? How many of us are still on the wheel, still being fashioned by the Master Designer? Do we look like what we should look like after so many years? Are we new creations?”
For Gordon Cosby, getting on the Potter’s Wheel was the choice to cease conforming ourselves to the realm of this worldly culture, allow ourselves to step into a new realm and then to live out of that realm for the rest of our lives. For him, being a part of an authentic church wasn’t an easy answer to our longing for inner peace, sure answers, or agreeable fellowship. His message was that we should know from the beginning that we were likely to experience times tougher and more painful than we’d wanted or anticipated. Here’s what he’d experienced in pastoring. He said:
..I find that most of us who have gotten on the wheel have spent most of our life since then saying, “Ouch! “
This was an “Ouch!” of shock or dismay from members first realizing that THIS was not what they had had in mind at all!
Gordon was insistent that God wants us to be fully human, AND uniquely human. He saw that seriously following Jesus was the path to becoming fully human. Jesus’ life is what fully human looks like: his way is also our way, so that we can become fully human as he was.
But each of us is also called to be uniquely human. Coming to grips with our own uniqueness is so essential because the Realm of God is devised so that there is a hunger within it for that specialness that is uniquely ours. The Circle of Life is not complete and is not fully alive without that very uniqueness.
And it is in our the experiences on the Potter’s Wheel, being stretched, and squeezed, and spun around and shaped and reshaped that we are formed and fashioned into our authentic shape. And it is because we have been raised to conform ourselves to the realm of this worldly culture that makes our re-formation and re-shaping so challenging.
At Seekers Church, during recommitment season, we are offered the yearly opportunity to speak a public yes, our declaration that we are prepared to stay on -–or to climb back on—the potter’s wheel, for the year ahead. We say Yes because we trust the witness of scripture and of our tradition that committing publicly in community is a process by which God’s people become both fully human, and uniquely human.
What does the Potter’s Wheel metaphor point to?
For sure, it requires that we “Show Up.” The potter has nothing to work with if there is no clay on the wheel. The master potter cannot shape any of us, or even touch us, if we’re not willing to show up, if we’re not willing to leave the shelter of our self-involvement to make ourselves available.
And showing up includes “Being Present.” To really show up, we have to unclench; to soften and expand; to keep breathing. The potter needs us to arrive willing to put aside our resistance. It helps to remember that the hands of the potter at the wheel are loving hands: this process has no moral judgment about it. They are discerning hands, that can judge the qualities and characteristics of the clay itself, and how to work with those exact qualities. And the hands have a genius for bringing out the beauty in each piece.
But we have to Let go of Control. If we truly want the Living God to work with each of us to bring out our authentic and unique identity, we have got to turn over control to the potter. Resisting the potter’s process is like driving a car with the brakes on: it’s going to be a jerky ride, and it’ll wear us out. In the dominant culture, letting go of control is one of our most enduring challenges.
Of course we will fall short; we’ll fall short often. We’re going to need mercy from the potter all the time for our forgetfulness and stubbornness!
That is part of why it’s essential that we are not undertaking making and keeping our Commitments and Recommitments alone, but as part of a community! We are in this process with dozens of other individuals who have just made the same declarations, and can understand and affirm what we are doing. And we can support each other, with prayer, with encouragement and with holding each other accountable for what we have committed to, and for what God has called us to be and to do with our life on earth.
To close: there is a sentence in the Call of Seekers Church that resonates for me as being at the core of what Seekers is about in the world:
The Seekers community sees itself called into Christ’s ministry of deliverance from bondage to freedom in every personal and corporate expression.
This is an essential piece of the church’s DNA. We seek to free and to empower others within the normal structure of our lives—work; family and primary relationships; and citizenship. Wherever each of us is in our individual journey, we can show up, stay engaged, be adaptable, and surrender the outcome to God.
There is a quote from a short essay that has had meaning for me:
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. …In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember who you serve, and who sent you here, and why you came to this beautiful needful Earth.
We know that the commitments we made today can become essential elements of this complicated and powerful undertaking. And if we choose to live deeply into them, I predict we’ll not only say “Ouch!”, but will also say, as honestly, “Alleluia! Thanks be to God!”