Jeremiah 18:1-11 Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 Philemon 1-21 Luke 14:25-33
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
My wife and I travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador this Summer. It is an amazingly beautiful Province. Sparsely populated, the people seem largely content with life. “It is what it is” is the watchword most often heard. That philosophy of life provides them with the resilience to withstand the ups and downs of life, of which there have been many. Small in number they suffer under the economic thumb of others, the cod moratorium first and now the low price of oil. “It is what it is” is acceptance, yes, but it is not defeat, it is a pragmatic release from worry. Being amongst them, even for a while, their contentment rubs off, and makes the visitor feel like one of them. We were ‘Screeched-in’, with the proper words, we kissed the Cod and are now honourary Newfoundlanders. They are an easy people to feel close to.
Speaking of close, in our group there was a wide mixture of folks from all over Canada and the US. Most surprisingly there were people from just around the corner from our home – we had to go three thousand kilometres to meet our neighbours. That was a real surprise ! In a random group like ours, although there were people we did not know there were people we have perhaps seen or met but did not recognise. If we can be so close to strangers think how close we can be to those we know. And then think about how close we can be to God, and God to us. Listen to the Psalm as its author speaks to God on our behalf “Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways. Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether”. Isn’t that an amazingly comforting thought to abandon yourself in ? Try doing that for a moment now. We know each other in a glass darkly but God knows us intimately. Nothing about us escapes God. The good, the bad and the ugly, and we all have our ugly, but it does not matter to God. I think God may be a Newfoundlander because I am sure He sits back from time to time, looks on our antics and says “It is what it is”. Our God if nothing else is pragmatic. He told Jeremiah that, He sees what we are, accepts it and with the mastery of the Potter is able and content to reshape us until we come out right. That’s one of the reasons we come here every Sunday, to be reshaped, to be perfected.
The Psalm goes on “For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb I will thank you because I am marvellously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well. My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them”. God made us from scratch and wrote us into the Book of Life. We are there, we are saved, but we may need, we do need, a little reshaping now and then. Life’s lessons are the reshapers. Jeremiah relates the changing conditions of whole nations, nations that go through many rigours to become God’s people. Jeremiah spoke in a time when salvation belonged to the nation as a whole, we know through the revelation of Jesus Christ that indeed God although concerned about nations is deeply concerned about us as individuals first. The Psalmist says as much. When something good happens, we are being reshaped. When something bad happens we are being reshaped.
Onesimus the former slave of Philemon is a case in point. It appears that Onesimus may have stolen something from his owner. Being a slave is no fun and being a thief he fled, somehow landing up with Paul, who was in prison. Maybe they met in jail. Jail was probably one of the worst things that could happen to a slave, things looked dire for Onesimus, but God had a plan for him, he put him in the way of Paul, who taught him the redemption to be had in Jesus, and then Paul sent him back to Philemon, a Christian, to be given his freedom. Onesimus must have gone through many ups and downs. What drove him to steal in the first place we do not know. But his fear, his flight, his uncertainty about life led him to redemption, with Christ and with Philemon. For him it might be appropriate to paraphrase “It was the worst of times it was the best of times”. We need to keep that in mind as we go daily through the good, the indifferent and the bad. It is not always possible for us to understand what’s happening or what earthly benefit something can have. But we are not solely looking for earthly benefit. I hope when you get up every morning you are looking for a higher prize. I am sure the potter’s clay was quite content with its shape first time round. It didn’t want to be smacked down, slapped around, sprayed with more water and then spun like the Dickens, but it actually benefitted from the experience. That’s us as we meet the vagaries of life. Perhaps a little “It is what it is” could help us on our life’s journey.
All of that is about things happening to us, external forces operating on us and our lives. But let not us not be ignorant of Jesus’ lesson to us today about things we can control. We need to make conscious decisions about our lives and our salvation. Jesus says when deciding to do something figure out the outcome. No good building a house and not be able to put a roof on it. No good knowing you are going to lose, whatever it may be, a battle, a lawsuit, an argument, a trust. Figure out the consequences because you may have to swallow some pride and make peace with your adversary. Jesus too may be saying “It is what it is” use your judgement and accept what it tells you, because whatever the circumstances, good or bad, God loves you, and is wanting you to be what He hoped you would be when He first conceived of you. Amen.