NEWS from the National Council of Churches, USA
Contact NCC News Service: 212-870-2252  |  E-mail news@ncccusa.org   |  Most Recent Stories   |  NCC Home

'Messed UP, But In The Master's Hands' --
Sermon Preached by the Rev. Thelma Chambers-Young at
Opening Worship Nov. 4, 2003 -- NCC Annual General Assembly

2003 Assembly Theme: In the Master’s Hands: Remold, Renew, Rebuild

Our Theme comes from the book of Jeremiah, one of the longest books in the Bible. The book reveals for us critical periods in the life and times of Israel. It is a book filled with laments, divine oracles, judgments, prophetic speeches, and symbolic actions. Our theme text is representative of one such symbolic action. Chapter 18 upholds the sovereignty of God, yet it elevates human responsiveness.

We see in the theme text (Jeremiah 18:1-6) divine Justice open to, or tempered by human repentance or response. Judgment is correlated with human action and or in action. One writer has said that in Jeremiah “there is a dynamic of deed and consequence...”

Thus, we see that God can change God’s mind. However, it is important to note that throughout the bible, whether in Exodus, Jeremiah, Amos, or Jonah, when God changes God’s mind it is in favor of humans. That is

That is, God changes God’s mind from and intent for destruction to intent to save. From intent do harm to intent to do good. When God changes God’s mind it is always for our good rather than our ruin.

Time does not permit a thorough exegesis of the selected periscope and its inclusive verses 7-12, therefore, I would like to lift one verse, verse four in your hearing. It is my intent, like Jeremiah to leave a message of hope. But it is up to us. Hope or doom.

“The vessel the potter was making of clay was marred (spoiled), (messed up) in the potters hand, and the potter reworked (remolded) it into another vessel, as seemed good to the potter.

The verse gives us some important information to note. First the vessel was a work in progress, it was not complete. Secondly, the vessel was in the potter’s hand, although spoiled it was in the potters hand. And third it was remade into a vessel that the potter was pleased with.

I’d like to share briefly with you form the topic: “Messed UP: But In the Master’s Hands.”

As far as I can see from the text it’s OK to be marred, messed up if you will, if you are still in the potter’s hands. In reading the selected passage, by the time you reach verse six, it might appear to be a message of doom-but in verse four, I found a message of hope. Hope for the future, hope for our churches, hope for the Council, and hope for our nation.

In the parable the clay represents Israel and the potter God-but our theme song reminds us that we are the clay. While it may appear that we are headed for destruction or disaster, there is still time. As the potter’s wheel continues to turn, there is hope.

The potter, the master craftsperson, does not set out to make a flawed pot, but sometimes it happens. The potter plans a thing of beauty; yet, sometimes it is marred, messed up. But thanks be to God, it is still in the master’s hands.

When the potter noticed with expert eye and experienced tactile perception that the vessel was marred, messed up, if you will, the potter did not discard it but reworked, and remolded it. Though messed up, the vessel still had merit for the master. That gives me hope.

That realization was most meaningful for me, a ray of hope. The vessel, though messed up, the vessel was in the master’s hands. Are we not in many respects “messed up”?

God has a purpose and God has a plan. If we are yet in the Master’s hands there is still hope. As individuals, as churches, as a council, and even as a nation, we are valuable to the master. Though scratched, scarred, blemished, defaced, and even what may appear as utter ruin-marred, messed up, but if we are in the master’s hand there is still hope.

How do we know if we are in the Master’s hand? I’m glad you asked. I stopped by this afternoon to answer that specific question. To share what the Holy Spirit revealed to me in that regard.

First, if we are to be in the Master’s hands, we must be mindful of the marginalized. We must take notice of those less fortunate than ourselves. Our thoughts should be the thoughts of Christ. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Do our thoughts resemble the thoughts of Christ when we think of the marginalized?

But being mindful alone is not enough. Many people are mindful, we have good thought. Secondly we must be motivated by the mandates of the Master, the commandments that were left for us to follow. Not just the thou shall nots, but the thou shalls as well. “Love your enemies; Do good to those who misuse you.

In the Bible the rich young ruler thought that he was truly motivated by the mandates of Christ. After all he had kept all of the commandments. But he found that when asked to give up his possessions, his privilege if you will, he was not truly motivated by the mandates of the Master. How many of us are like him? We are quick to name the things that we do not do and the things that we do, but when asked to give up our privilege….

Thirdly, if we are in the hands of the master, we will be moved to make a meaningful difference. Like the Master, we must be compassionate. We cannot see need and ignore it. If we are in the Master’s hands we will be compelled by compassion……..

That’s really the end of my message. I know it’s not profound, not prophetic, it may not even be pleasing, but its what the Lord gave me to share. But there is a bit more and I’ll sit down.

As I hurry to my seat, allow me to admonish you, not to give up. No matter how bad it looks, don’t throw in the towel. Give out but don’t give up. Because I believe that some of us are still in the Master’s hands.

Some of us are mindful, some are still motivated, and some are moved to action. That means that we are malleable in the Master’s hands. We can be remolded, renewed, so that we can rebuild a new nation……

There is one other ray of hope that shines through verse four. That is, the master does not fashion a vessel to our liking; not to my liking, not to your liking, but one that seems good to the master….

The vessel that is formed pleases the potter. And we must remember that the potter uses what we might discard….

What we might consider worthless, ugly, useless, unwanted, The Master finds of worth…No wonder the Apostle Paul, himself, a reworked vessel, was heard to exclaim, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels…”

As long as we are in the Master’s hands we are a work in progress. The pressures that we feel may be the remolding procedures. They are what we feel as the Master reworks a vessel fit to fulfill the Master’s purpose.

As I reflected upon the text in a personal vein, I was moved to think of our nation. A nation which once prided itself on welcoming the tired, the poor, the worn…; a nation which now finds itself practicing new forms of racism, ethnocentrism, and intolerance. But when I read Jeremiah 18:4, I still have hope. Because I know that even though we are messed up, some are still in the Master’s hands.

How do I know that we are messed up? When I think of the growing numbers of women and children living in poverty, I say to myself, yes we are messed up, but we have a campaign to end poverty, and we’re in the Master’s hand and that gives me hope.

When I think of our youth and young adults who have to try and make sense of the world they have inherited; a world torn by terrorism, war, drugs, and disease-I have to acknowledge with them that we are indeed messed up.

When I think of the disproportionate numbers of African Americans in prison, the growing numbers of female prisoners, and the inequities in sentencing laws, I say we’re messed up!

When I look at the lack of funding for health care, childcare, and education in our country I have to agree that we’re messed up!

When I reflect upon the downturn in our economy and the upsurge in unemployment, I know that we are messed up!

I realize that in this day and time it is dangerous to be critical of governmental policies, but if we look closely at some of our governmental policies especially as relates to the “War on Terrorism”, I’m sure you’ll agree that we are messed up!

(But before you say, A-men too loudly, beware that you could be labeled disloyal, unpatriotic, even charged of aiding and abetting terrorism………….

But if you look closely at our “Clean Skies Initiative,” and our “Faith based Initiatives,” I think that they will reveal that we are messed up. Messed up, but are we in the Master’s hand?

We see through careful scrutiny of the “Healthy Forest Plan,” that we are indeed, messed up.

Selective enforcement of policies which unfairly target immigrants reveal that we are messed up!

Policies that violate human and civil rights in the name of “Homeland Security; policies such as special registrations, interrogations, and secret detentions without due process, military tribunals, and the USA Patriot Act, all reveal that we are messed up.

But before you lose hope, let we share with you that God is sill sovereign. Please forgive me for sharing a portion of my personal testimony, but as a person of African descent, a product of slave ancestry, and sharecropping parents, being a poor farm girl from Alabama, I know first hand about the sovereignty of God.

Being reared under the circumstances which I was raised, born in the 50s I know something about the sovereignty of God. When I look back over my life and where God has brought me from, I have to say that God is a sovereign God…..

As a side not I might add, that we don’t have to always be a willing participants when God gets ready to act. If you don’t believe me just ask Saul of Tarsus….

But even as we speak of our sovereign nature of God, I don’t want you to think that I am espousing mere determinism. The sovereignty of God takes into account human action and responsiveness to he lack thereof. God can change God’s mind about a people or a nation. Our sovereign God still expects human involvement in our world…

What about you? Are you in the Master’s hands? Are you mindful, of the marginalized? Are you motivated by the Master’s mandates? Are you moved by the things that would move the Master; moved to make a difference?

As God’s people, we are yet called to issue a prophetic word, to take the unpopular stance, to endure the taunts and threats hurl upon us. We are today’s Jeremiahs.

We may not be able to make sure that our government is in the Master’s hands-local, state, or national, but we can make sure that we are in the Master’s hands.

Together we can make a difference, if we are willing to stay in the Master’s hands, willing to be reworked, remolded, renewed, so that we can rebuild.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll admit that I may be messed up, but I am in the Master’s hands. I may be a work in progress, but I am in the Master’s hands. I may be marginalized but I am in the Master’s hands….

I may be sometimes misunderstood, but I am in the Master’s hands

…mired by un-mitigating circumstances, but I am In the Master’s Hands

…sometimes under misconceptions, but in the Master’s hands

Messed, up, messed on, messed over, marred, messed up, but in the Master’s hands………

Are you In the Master’s hands?…

-end-


Return to NCC Home Page

About the NCC Communication Commission