Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (12 August 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor
The Canon Pastor reflects on how we can shape our greatest creation: the life and character we pursue.
Rhythmically kneading clay at the pottery studio where I am a member, another member came alongside. After a few moments of companionable silence
as we both worked our respective lumps of clay, he asked, ‘So what are you making today?’
‘Not sure yet’, I answered, ‘though I’d better decide soon’.
I think I’ll always like to leave the option of a little spontaneity but I admire those skilful potters who can conceive of a design, then execute it perfectly.
For now, I’m still somewhat of a beginner with a ‘I hope it will be a jug but it may turn into a vase, perhaps even a flat plate’ sort of approach.
But my friendly companion is right – if you hope to create something significant it’s appropriate to give it some thought.
Prompted by our reading from a letter written to early Christians, let me ask you, as I ask myself, about the most significant and near at hand thing we will ever shape: the lives we are creating.
I don’t mean the less interesting stuff; the kind of life style you’re pursuing.
I mean the really interesting question: the life and character you’re creating.
When the people who work alongside us, or for us, look at our lives what do they see modelled? Or the children we bring up, what are we handing on to them?
When some vocal people, including some politicians and leaders, are disdainful of others, bitter, wrathful and malicious, we can allow them to set the downward tone. Would that they might build up rather than tear down, protect rather than misuse others, and challenge us to follow our best rather than our worst instincts.
We can let them set the tone – or we can be those whose lives point to a different way.
Travelling on the motorway here in the UK my eye sometimes lands on the question posed on the back of some lorries or trucks: ‘How’s my driving?’
Does anyone ever ring the number given? Perhaps the real difference is made because the driver knows that the question exists. Maybe I should try journeying with the internal question ‘How’s my living?’
The writer to the Ephesians sets out imperatives for living well. In the passage we heard, specific areas are highlighted; truthfulness, anger, honesty, speech and love – plenty to be getting on with!
The first thing to notice is the expectation that what we say we believe should affect our lived choices and actions. Faith is lived in a wide arc of aspirations and hopes and faith is worked out and lived in practice.
It is lived choice by choice, action by action, conversation by conversation, in how we speak, act and love.
And these don’t only have an external impact, but create our inner character bit by bit. You may know this story:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
How do we feed the one wolf, that our lives might be lived well?
As a novice potter I know the best way to learn is to spend time with an experienced potter – to watch the way they respond to and shape the clay and then to follow their moves until those actions become familiar and fluid.
There is something in this for life and faith. Our letter writer says: ‘Be imitators of God, as beloved children and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us’.
We are to be kindred and imitators of Christ. To watch Jesus closely and to hold on to what we see.
One way to do this is to choose one of the gospels and read it watching for how Jesus lived his life, the qualities which gave his life such depth and lightness.
We’ve heard Jesus say of himself, ‘I am the bread of life’.
We can ask ‘what might this mean and how might this shape our living?’
Henri Nouwen noted that four times in the gospels Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it away.
Nouwen saw in this a pattern which echoed the very life of Jesus. One who was taken by and set aside for God, who was blessed by the Father, whose brokenness brought us healing and who gave himself away for us.
Soon we will be invited to come receive bread, the body of Christ.
As we receive him, might we open ourselves to God’s shaping?
That our lives might reflect Christ’s pattern.
This can seem daunting; rightly we are all too aware of the gulf between the pattern of Christ’s life and our own.
Yet there is a wonderful image in the Hebrew Scriptures which depicts God as a potter at work on a wheel. When the clay being worked loses its shape and integrity this potter does not give up but beginning again carefully reshapes it.
So God can do with us – and with our human communities.
In days when right-wing protestors ransack a bookshop in London and harass its staff, when politicians claim the cover of humour to disparage members of their own citizenry for their own ends, what standards we will hold them and ourselves to? The world hungers for models of authentic living.