God of all the clay of the earth: in you we live and move and have our being. Guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Just a few short weeks ago, we were gathered to celebrate Mackenzie’s baptism. On that day, I offered a Bible verse for Mackenzie and her parents and godparents to take with them. Today, we are celebrating Sett’s baptism. To mark this day, I wanted to offer you, Sett, and you Beth and Amir, her godparents, the “Prayer for guidance” that I opened my sermon with. It's from the Book of Alternative Services, one of our Anglican prayer books, and I adapted it especially for today's reading from Jeremiah.
I wonder what caught your attention when you heard the reading from the prophet Jeremiah this morning? Perhaps you felt a few things in tension with each other. When we consider this image of God as potter, we might think of God who tenderly cares for creation, the image of God that we explored during the Children’s Talk: God at the potter’s wheel, gently turning their clay.
When we pay attention to the actual words from our first reading, though, particularly the last line, this image of a gentle God is maybe disrupted a little.
“Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you" God warns. "Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.”
Who is this God?
Perhaps the first thing we can say about this God is who they are not. They are not the manager who gives their employees a task and then when the employees arrive at work prepared to give their presentation they discover that their employer has done it all already. This God is not a micromanager. This God has given their employees, their creation free will—the ability to give themselves to some ways of being or others, the choice to trust pathways that lead to life and wholeness or to walk the way of those that lead to death and fragmentation.
I wonder if we might also think of this God in the context of the season of creation, a season on the church calendar that we observe in this harvest month from September through to the first weekend in October. What if the potter in Jeremiah's prophecy were the earth itself? What if the earth were sending an urgent message to all who find themselves thrown on her wheel “at a time when the body of the earth is broken again and again”?* What if the potter were the earth warning that her hands, her body will eventually give way if the creatures of the earth fail to safeguard the integrity of creation? Thinking of the earth as potter, helps me to put that last line from Jeremiah in a bit of a different light.
I am reminded of the people of St Clement of Alexandria in the Northern Philippines, our sibling parish which I will soon visit with greetings from all of us here at St Clement’s in North Vancouver. The Mountain Province in the Philippines is no stranger to earth that gives way: mudslides are common, often an after effect of earthquakes which have already wreaked havoc on the land. Of course, we are no stranger to climate crises here in our own province of British Columbia. Wildfires, landslides, floods—what used to be cataclysmic once-in-a-lifetime events are now something we have come to expect annually.
How, then, do we heed Jeremiah's warning from the Master Potter, Mother Earth?
A few days ago, Sett, Beth, Amir, and I met in the garden here at St Clement’s to chat about baptism and in particular, the role of godparents. We were talking about what we find compelling about the Christian faith, what it is that feels attractive, sticky about the Christian way. Sett spoke about the care for the land that she has witnessed and taken part in while a member here. She spoke of how caring for the land is an act of recognition that God is living in and among all of creation.
I was struck by this comment. I suppose what we do here at St Clement’s to care for this small piece of earth can sometimes feel something of a drop in the bucket. But, there’s that image of the potter at the wheel again. Jeremiah doesn’t say, “Build a tower, mighty and immovable, so you can stand tall above the earth.” He says, “Come, go down to the potter’s house”—this small, seemingly insignificant piece of land.
During our conversation in the garden, I also asked Sett’s brother, Amir, how he felt when Sett asked him to be one of her godparents. Amir smiled and said, “It felt odd.” This is because you, Amir, are Sett’s younger sibling. It is the job of the younger brother to keep the older sister curious and humble. Sett has chosen wisely; and in choosing someone younger to fulfill a role that is traditionally filled by someone older, she has demonstrated for our whole community the importance of turning to younger voices to fill important roles in our common life.
Finally, it was Beth, Sett’s second godparent, who spoke of her role in Sett’s life as making sure Sett’s faith “doesn’t fizzle”, helping you, Sett, to “remain passionate for Christ.” Beth is someone I have come to know as a kind of Jeremiah. She makes sure we don’t get too complacent in our ideas or images of God, ideas that might lead us to think we’re off the hook, that what we do on this earth doesn’t really matter. Your life and your witness to the Christian faith has significance, Sett. Beth will be sure to keep you alive to that fact.
May all of us witnessing Sett’s baptism this day be reminded of the God who gave way that Christ might come among us, living and moving in our being, so that we may not forget God, but may remember that what we do on this earth has significance, that we are ever walking in her sight. Amen.
*Salal + Cedar, Eucharistic Prayer, accessed online at https://salalandcedar.com/resources/liturgical-resources/