By Gary Ritner, Pastor, Hillcrest United Methodist Church, Bloomington, MN
Summary: Today’s dominant culture molds many minds and attitudes. We can be molded by the Divine Potter rather than the Dominant Culture. If we are open to being molded by God, the Divine Potter, we can become what God has created us to be: centered in Christ and committed to caring.
We are partially molded by the predominant cultural trends of our times. Consider the social molding of those here who are over 40:
There was more time and less rush
There was less money and more time
There were fewer necessities and fewer niceties
There were fewer demands upon the family budget
There was more giving of time and resources for others and less for self
There were more people who got deeply involved in church work
There was more tithing or contributing to the work of God
There was more of volunteering at the church
Today’s dominant culture molds many minds and attitudes. It is a Me first culture. We take care of ourselves first and let everybody else take care of himself or herself. The dominant culture pressures people to:
Critique not contribute
Chow down not cook
Criticize not compliment
Create a mess not clean up
Spend more time and money on oneself
Find more possibilities for distraction from caring
Need more necessities that take up time and money
Want more niceties that crowd out caring and contributing
Church attendance has been dropping, and it appears clear that changing attitudes about time and giving have something to do with it. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions but times are changing and it’s not getting any easier to put together a church program that focuses on caring rather than survival or conflict produced by scarcity. Predictions are everywhere that the church, as we know it, is doomed if the culture keeps moving in this direction. But what if it doesn’t keep going toward more self-centeredness? What if there was a new birth of generosity and caring? What if the pendulum swings back from getting toward giving? The church and ministries and caring could make a dramatic comeback! Perhaps we are partially molded by the times, but we don’t have to be. God can also mold us, and we do not have to go with the flow of the times. God, like the potter, can mold us physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The potter’s use of clay gives us insight into how God works with us. At first, the clay is a formless lump that is pressed upon the wheel. Then, it is spun rapidly as the potter’s skilled hands press and pull it into shape. The parallels are striking. God shapes our lives in the midst of the pressures that life brings to bear upon us.
There are two ways of making pottery. One is to paint a glaze over the product to seal and cover up the flaws, blemishes, and holes. The other method is used to make fine, flawless pieces of beauty and art. This second method is a long process: The pottery is put into a kiln where the heat can sometimes reach 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. In the prolonged heat, a natural glazing process takes place and the ashes floating in the air are melted into the hot clay, to refine the surface into glazed-like beauty.
In God’s hands, we can be refined over a long time and changed into a more beautiful spirit and character. We do not need the glaze of possessions or money. We need to be pliable to God’s shaping touch over time. God can shape us into a people of great spiritual beauty and character in the midst of all of the hardships and difficulties of life.
What is our part in all of this? To be shaped, the clay must remain soft and yielding. Any hardness or rebellion will lessen the effectiveness of the potter’s touch. The design may be damaged beyond usefulness. If we will allow God to be the potter of our clay, we can be the work of God’s hand rather than just another self-centered, self-serving molding of the me-first, fast food culture.
Who is a dramatic extreme opposite of this dominant culture? I believe that it is Mother Teresa. When only 12, she gave herself completely to God. She was sent to India to be a school principal, but she left the school to work with the poor. On the first day in the streets, Mother Teresa gave all that she had (four rupees to the poor and one rupee to a Catholic newspaper). Before long 50 rupees came back to her for the mission. Pope Paul VI gave her a car, but she raffled it to build a rehab center. Once she visited a very sick, abandoned man in a dark hut. She asked him why he did not light his lamp. He replied, Nobody ever came in here before. Later, he expressed his appreciation for her ministry saying, You lit the light of my life and it is still burning.
We hear of practicing random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty, but the world has been less inclined to do what has been done so faithfully for centuries: We need to be less casual about it. We need to commit to caring and we need to plan to give on a regular basis. We know somebody has to do this if the church is to continue serving God and meeting the needs of people, but we tend to think, Let somebody else do it.
There was a storm in Holland once, and a boat had capsized. A rescue team worked to exhaustion recovering all but one survivor. They returned exhausted. Who will go? Someone shouted. Sixteen year-old Hans said I will go! His mother begged him not to, Your father died at sea 10 years ago. Your brother Paul was lost at sea just three weeks ago. I can’t take any more heartache. You are all that I have left. Hans explained, I have to go. What if everyone said, ?Not me. Let someone else do it’? An hour passed anxiously for his mother and everyone. Then a voice came through the fog. Hans called out, Tell my mother that I have rescued my brother Paul! (Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, A Second Helping of Chicken Soup, Health Communications, pp. 11, 12)
Who will do it? Will you step forward? Will you help provide for mission and ministry? Will you make a pledge so big that it feels really good? The neighbor that you rescue may be your brother or sister! There is no shortage of funds in the church. There is only a shortage of good will. We have enough; we just have to use it for the purpose of God’s work.
God is calling
God is calling you to give your life for others. God is calling you to a life of service. God is calling you to provide for the needs of the people of this church. Are you going to expect someone else to do it? Are we going to sit back while the last survivor drowns? We can go to the rescue! We can be molded by the Divine Potter rather than the Dominant Culture. We can turn this ship around instead of watching the church run aground. If we are open to being molded by God, the Divine Potter, we can become what God has created us to be: centered in Christ and committed to caring.
Offer yourself afresh to the hands of the Potter. God can make your life more beautiful and more useful. I invite you to renew your commitment to center your life in Christ again. I invite you to submit yourself to the Divine Potter, to be yielding and obedient. Come into the presence of God and feel God’s love and grace and power with you in this moment of your commitment to caring. Come back to center yourself in Christ. God is waiting to shape your life.