Friday, March 27, 2009

Form and substance

I'm preaching on Sunday and thinking about how to approach the text from Jeremiah since "God's Promises" is the theme we've been doing at my home congregation during Lent. It's the first reading we've had in the Hebrew scriptures from the Prophets (the rest were "historical" accounts ... note the quotes as I believe the historicity isn't a literal one).

I took a class on Amos and Hosea at LTSG from Dr. Jack Lundbom. Dr. Lundbom wrote the Anchor Bible Commentary on Jeremiah ... so he knows a few things about this guy. Jeremiah is the prophetic voice of the fall of Judah, the deportations and exile in Babylon. He's the voice crying out for God in the midst of national disaster. In a way, Jeremiah's prophecies and preaching are a roll up of Amos' prophecies crying for social justice, Hosea's speaking God's yearning for renewed relationship with Israel (and the social justice thing too), and Isaiah's condemnations of Israelite apostasy and yearning for restoration. In Jeremiah, you get the whole thing ... and even some of his own frustrations at God for putting him up to this task of prophecy (which gets Jeremiah into a whole lot of hot water with the authorities).

On Wednesday, the reading from the Daily Office was from Jeremiah 18:1-11 where he is told by God to go down to the potter's house. Jeremiah does this and watches the potter fashion a vessel that does not work out the first time he makes it. So the potter gathers up the clay, smushes it back into a ball and starts over - this time creating a vessel that is good and pleasing. God tells Jeremiah that Israel is like the clay in the potter's hands. Morover, all nations are like the clay and can be refashioned at anytime to something pleasing to God.

This gets me thinking about form and substance. The potter works the substance of clay into a form - a pot, or bowl or some other vessel. When the throwing of the pot doesn't work out, the potter destroys the form but not the substance. The clay itself (the substance) is not destroyed when the form it takes (the vessel) is.

When we experience destruction in our lives, is it destruction of form or substance? There is a significant difference. The form something may be destroyed only to be reworked into something better and more enduring. The substance of what is being worked retains its essence.

Richard Rohr (one of my favorite spiritual teachers) talked about the destruction of the false self in his meditations this week. The false self is like the vessel - it is a form we create about ourselves, but it isn't the real substance of who we are. Our Christian faith is grounded in our becoming more real and that doesn't happen without the destruction of the false self. Our false self is the vessel that needs smushing so that something more real of the substance created by God can take its place.

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