4th September 2022 – Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – ‘Out of the Impossible’

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22 09 04 The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

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Image © The Rev’d Sarah West | visiolectio.com

The Readings

Jeremiah 18. 1 - 11

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.

Luke 14. 1, 7 - 14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Beth

Out of the impossible, the possibility of new life begins.

Jeremiah is sometimes, unfairly l think, known as the moaning prophet, the prophet who weeps and mourns. The prophet who see disaster coming, warns of the impending doom, and then is there to remind people just exactly why it happened, when it did, and who was to blame. Definitely a cup half empty kind of a guy.

Certainly the book of Jeremiah, as we find it in our bibles, does contain all that. It begins before the great exile into Babylon with warnings of impending doom. But then the book of prophecy travels with those into exile and explores how faith continues in a foreign land. And then moves, to look to a future, when the people of God are restored.

The book of Jeremiah that we have inherited is one of the more contested books of the bible. Thousands of hours have been given to the study of Jeremiah, and thousands of pages of commentaries set out the case for who this eccentric prophet was. When did he live, where did he live, can we actually know who he was prophesying to?

Now the trouble with the book of Jeremiah, as we find it in our bibles, is that it seems to be a collection of manuscripts from different ages and places. For all the study, and there has been a huge amount, for all this study, theologians and biblical scholars have not come to any clear agreement about who Jeremiah was because, it seems like either Jeremiah was not actually one individual, or he had the ability to travel across time, or wrote texts in such a weird and disparate way so as to make it look as though they were not written in remotely the same location or time frame.

In the place of these disagreement, scholars have moved on from asking, who was this one person Jeremiah, and where and when did he live? To instead asking the question, what is this book of prophecy telling us? Why have these seemingly disparate texts been brought together to form one book under the name Jeremiah?

Perhaps, there is something about Jeremiah, something perhaps in the words of his calling, and the words of prophecy God gives him, that meant later manuscripts, which followed the same were gathered and edited together under the book of his name.


Almost as though the later history of God’s work, during the exile and beyond, was understood through the words of the original Jeremiah, who had seen and told, and prophesied what would happen all those years earlier. And so, scholars have moved to read the book of Jeremiah, not as a story of that one single prophet, but as a story of God’s word to his people through exile and beyond.

And so, we need to turn to the beginning. The book of Jeremiah begins with a dramatic telling of Jeremiah’s calling to be a prophet. In chapter 1 it says
9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

This is Jeremiah’s call. If you want to sum up the prophetic ministry that God gave Jeremiah this is it. This is the word given to Jeremiah as a child, and this is the word repeated throughout his ministry. You can see these words repeated throughout the book and as we just heard they appeared in our reading today.

Jeremiah’s call at the start of the book is constructed from six infinitives, set out in pairs:
to pluck up (lintosh) and to pull down (lintots),
to destroy (leha’abid) and to overthrow (laharos),
to build (libnot) and to plant (lintoa).

Four of these six Hebrew words, the ones translated as, to pluck up and pull down to build and to plant sound similar in Hebrew. They create a kind of rhyme, a wordplay, a memorable phrase. These four verbs are then repeated throughout the book of Jeremiah, in different contexts and times, to reinforce and remind the people of God about the Jeremiah prophecy; to pluck up and pull down to build and to plant.

Let’s be clear, the image here is not one of digging up a plant and moving it to a different or better position. This is not about transplantation, if it had been about transplantation different Hebrew words would have been used.

It is the image of something ending and something else beginning. Interestingly, although this prophecy is repeated throughout the book, only repetitions of pluck up and pull down, build and plant are included. The verbs ‘to destroy and to overthrow’ are not echoed throughout the book in the same way. Leading some scholars to believe that later editors may have added these verbs later on. Perhaps they saw the need to reinforce that something was definitely ending and not just moving or being transplanted elsewhere.

Whether they did this, or why they did this, we cannot know. Perhaps they felt the extra words were needed as an antidote to our human compulsion to move on too quickly to the building and planting phase. The temptation to focus our attention and energy there, whereas this word of prophecy, properly understood, was always as much about endings as it was about beginnings. It was never about struggling to hold on to what was and rebuild as soon as possible. Rather it spoke of a God who works newness out of nothingness.

Out of the impossible, the possibility of new life begins.
In our reading this morning the image of breaking down and remaking is depicted in the image of the potter at his wheel, taking the spoiled vessel, breaking it down and reworking it into a new vessel.

Some of the language in our reading can seem troubling. The voice of God appears to state that God is the primary mover, actively bringing judgement and destruction, or turning back and instead choosing to bring blessing. To our ears it can sound like a whimsical God, unconcerned with the plight of humans, a mythical God turning his power to annihilate without care. Do the sins of the people deserve this treatment? And is this judgement the cause on the oncoming doom.

Throughout the book of Jeremiah this phrase, to pluck up and pull down, to build and to plant, is repeated. It is returned to and grappled with and understood in different ways in different places and with different people.
These repetitions act as reminders within the text, as the people try to make sense of what is happening and where God is in that.

We can see this phrase repeated chapter 12, then in chapter 17, in chapter 18 (which we just read) then in chapter 24, 31, 42 and finally in chapter 45. In most cases these sections offer images and descriptions of what is ending, and what possibility lies open for the future. What is also clear in each of these passages, is that in all that is ending, and in all that may come to pass, God is present.

Present in difficulty, present whether they had brought the difficulty on themselves or not, present even when their wrongdoing had left them in the wrong place, present in exile, present in hoping and longing for something different, present in restoration and future growth.

Out of the impossible, the possibility of new life begins.

How hard it was for them to hear that. And so they reminded themselves what Jeremiah had said. That God would pluck up and pull down, and that God would build and plant. It was not one or the other, it was both.

How hard it is for us to hear that.
Much has changed in our culture over the last 40 years. Various Christian commentators have talked about our post Christian, post Christendom culture being akin to the experience of exile.

Across our country we see communities divided, our politics are in turmoil, hate crimes figures are on the increase, and climate change threatens to have devastating effects on the world in coming years.

On top of this perhaps things in our own lives, with illness and unexpected events, have also left us feeling out of control.

What would Jeremiah want to say to us?
Out of the impossible the possibility of new life begins

How hard it is for us to hear that.
And yet we hear this same pattern again and again not just in Jeremiah but across the stories of our faith.
Out of chaos God creates
After flood God renews
In slavery God builds a nation
In exile God forms new communities of faith
Jesus jokes that we must die and be born again, and it is a joke, because even if it was possible, no adult would choose to make themselves that powerless, taking on the nature of a fetus, putting themselves in the control of others.
New life comes from God, and God alone. We cannot make new life happen ourselves. Only God brings life from death and creates out of nothing.

Our faith has always been as much about endings as beginnings. Christ calls us to remember him in the breaking of bread, his body broken. And as we gather around Christ’s table today, we gather around the one who shows us that however impossible it seems, this is the place where new life begins.


The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

Lord our God, we pray for all people in need at this time, remembering especially the people of Ukraine still under attack, and those in Pakistan suffering horrendous floods. We pray that international organisations and national governments will do everything possible to support and help them at this time. We have also become aware that many of our fellow citizens are suffering great hardship at this time, and ask that their basic needs will be met by all those helping to run Foodbanks and Clothing banks, as well as help from our government.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide that all Christians may work together to show your love and care for all your people. We give you thanks for our partnership with St John’s and St Mark’s, and for all who assist with our worship and work to maintain St Mary’s as a living active church, serving our community.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our City and community of Walkley, giving you thanks for the resumption of the annual Horticultural Show held in our hall yesterday, bringing many people together to show off their produce and other skills. We pray for the work of Regather who will be distributing the fruit, vegetables and other food to those in need.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time or drawing close to death, also for those caring for them, whether family members, care workers or hospital staff. We give you thanks for their devoted work. In a moment of silence we remember those known to us in special need of our prayers and entrust them to your comfort and healing grace…………….

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We commend to your tender mercy all who have died, those we have known and loved many years ago, and those who have died recently. We pray for all who mourn the loss of family and other close friends, and in silence remember those we have lost and continue to miss………..

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, John, Mark and all your saints, we dedicate ourselves to your service and commend ourselves to your unfailing love.

Merciful Father,
Accept these prayers                                                                                                          
for the sake of your Son,                                                                                                                                                            
our Saviour Jesus Christ.