In the Jeremiah passage we have a shot put across our bows as we encounter a potter and the clay with which he works. If what he has made is flawed then he merely crushes it and from the resultant lump creates something new. There are two sides to the coin and on one there is a recreation from the flawed - the image of a turning from wrong being the path to restoration. The other side of this coin speaks of God responding to a misshapen and corrupt nation - which He will crush.
I think it is important to see that justice means both reward and penalty. It is amazing how people want a God who merely acts to approve and applaud; a God who is never noticing and responding to the wrong bits. Lines get drawn and when we consciously decide to cross them then consequences follow. Justice means never turning a blind eye whilst mercy means sending salvation (in the shape of Jesus, the Christ).
So we have been made aware of the consequences of our wrong acts and the response from God when we experience a change of heart and turn from them and this leads us so very nicely into our Philemon reading - a masterclass in love, grace and knowing you have more than a bit of influence and position and knowing how to use it!
Philemon is a 'good' Christian and Onesimus is a bit of a failure. Paul is speaking on Onesimus' behalf, interceding for him with Philemon. First he blows sunshine in Philemon's general direction - 'biggish him up and giving him a bit of praise - and then he reminds Philemon who it is who is asking. He's pulling rank and leaving no wiggle room at all: Onesimus needs to be forgiven and given a place of trust.
"Forget the former failings and errors and bring him back into the fold," says Paul - a real-life example of what Jesus does for us as He intercedes for us with the Father and commands those who would condemn us to back down. As Paul makes a stand for Onesimus, so too does Jesus make a stand for us - every minute or every day. What a wonderful thought that is.
So we have judgement and restoration - a pleading for the guilty to be regarded as 'useful' as Paul 'justifies' (that means pronounces innocence) Onesimus and one more passage that is a real challenge because of the word 'hate' features large in it!
Jesus (the 'love everyone bloke') is telling people that they need to hate; that surely can't be right, can it?
Let's look at this passage in a different translation (the English Standard Version):
"Anyone who comes to me must hate their father and mother.
They must hate their wife and children.
They must hate their brothers and sisters.
And they must hate even their own life.
Unless they do this, they can’t be my disciple.
Whoever doesn’t carry their cross and follow me can’t be my disciple."
The word used for 'hate' in the Gospel reading (in the Greek) is misei (coming from the word 'miseo') is exactly what is says; and that makes for a tough read, some context, and more often than not, a bit of toning it all down and telling people that its not what it seems.
I have heard people say it is an error in translation, because God 'hates' nothing - but it isn't!
I have heard people tell me that this passage is about hating the sinful world and somehow the family got brought in by mistake! It's a bit daft to cast doubt upon the Bible in our hands because to be honest much of what we preach is supported by what we call 'internal; evidence' (meaning the Bible supporting itself) and 'external evidence' (archaeology, contemporary documents and the like). To negate one element is to weaken the whole.
So what is this passage about? It's about having two masters (coming very soon) and how we will love one and hate the other. It is about deciding which camp you are in; making a choice and nailing our colours to the mast.
I once worked with a woman who though nice was also quite nasty a lot of the time! She was what those who liked her called 'single-minded' - I won't tell you what those who didn't like her called her! - she lived for her ministry and trampled anyone and anything that got in her way. People admired her for her commitment and zeal. It would be true to say that she loved the things which she felt committed to and hated those things that weren't. That is what we have before us today.
'Let the dead bury the dead' - a phrase my dad liked from the Gospels - don't let the demands of the world, the social conventions and the like get in the way of following Jesus: Get you path straight and your commitments sorted.
This is what we have today: it is 'take up your cross and be willing to die' time! Just as we are told to hate our lives, we are told also that we must hate their family too. If we love our lives and our family then we are prone to hold back and not fully commit. There is a part of us that looks back and looks out and weakens our commitment and drains our courage.
If we love a cause to the extent that it is everything, then all outside of that one thing is not our love and if we don't love it then what do we do? What word describes the very antithesis of love?
Yes indeed: It is hate.
So what Jesus is calling us to do is to hate the distraction in exactly her same way He calls us to hate sin: A term we use but really I guess few of us hate sin, but we dislike it and want to separate ourselves from it and hate the effects of it. Well hear we are being called to do that too - to set aside the things that weaken and to put all of our eggs into the one basket - Jesus!
Remember sin separates and repentance invites compassion, forgiveness; a remodelling and remaking.
That there is someone who intercedes for us just as Paul interceded for Onisemus.
That we need to put off the distractions and dissipations and follow Jesus, being willing die with Him and for Him should it be demanded.
A tough week with some trouble, joy and confusion - just like life really :-)
God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit upon your Church in the burning fire of your love: grant that your people may be fervent in the fellowship of the gospel that, always abiding in you, they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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.
Then the word of the Lord came to me:
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, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith towards the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them,
‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Post Communion Prayer
Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy;
and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall,
keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful,
and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.