Trust Your Conductor!

Sermon Text – 07.21.2019 Scripture: Jeremiah 18
Sometimes, life is so amazing. There is a symphony of beauty being played all around us all the time, and there are days when I look around completely overwhelmed and I wonder – how can anyone think that this is an accident? Clearly there must be a conductor to the music that my eyes feast on every time the sun rises? God is good. All the time. But then on other days, the clouds never seem to go away. The music around me hits a note that is jarring, or dissonant. The world itself seems to dissolve into chaos and pain. And the opposite question starts occurring to me – how could I possibly believe that there was someone in charge of all of this? How can a good God exist in the midst of all this pain? I felt the flare of a spark, a hint of God, a whisper of warmth on my cheek – only to have it tamped out by the rain clouds of a broken world. God is good, all the time. Are you sure?
          Today is part two of our sermon series called School of Rock: Hymnal Edition. Last week we introduced the melody, the song woven throughout creation. We looked at some favorite hymns and learned about what it looks like that first moment we experience God. And it can be really powerful – with these uplifting stories, but what about when things go south? What about when they don’t go according to plan – when the music takes an unexpected turn? Today we will be looking at the hymns Have Thine Own Way and Leaning On The Everlasting Arms – and hopefully we can learn a little something about trust.


          In the late 1800’s there was a woman by the name Adelaide Pollard from Iowa. She became a teacher at an all girls school in the early 1900’s, but her dream was to become a missionary in Africa. She wanted to travel the world and tell people about God. It seemed like a great plan, a plan that God would be proud of. And so she tried to raise the money to go on the mission trip, but she failed. She was so upset when she failed to raise the money that she admitted to having a “crisis of the soul.” How could God do this to her? If God was really there for her, why wasn’t money raining down from the heavens for this good cause? In 1902 she attended a prayer meeting, where she heard an elderly woman pray these words, “God, it really doesn’t matter what you do with us Lord – just have your way with our lives.” After the prayer meeting, after she heard that little old lady pray that prayer – Adelaide went home that night and wrote the poem that would eventually become the hymn “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.”
          Our first scripture lesson comes from the prophet Jeremiah. I want to back up a couple verses to give some context. [Read verse 1-2]. Jeremiah was a prophet for God – God would send Jeremiah messages, and Jeremiah’s job was to relate it to the people. This time though, God sends Jeremiah to just go watch. Go to the Potter’s house, and there I will give you my message. So Jeremiah goes and watches the potter work, and he notices that the pot the potter was making was marred. It was defective, it was broken, it was not good enough. So the potter started over. He took the clay, mashed it down and began shaping it all over. Verse 6, [read it]. It’s a pretty straightforward message. God is the potter, and we are the clay. As the song goes, “mold and make me, after they will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” One thing I want you to realize this morning is that we are clay. In our lives, we are molded and shaped by something. All of us are shaped by the things that surround us. From politics, to fashion to education to food options to table manners – our environment shapes us. If we’re not shaped by God, we will be shaped by something. It’s very true with Children, but it applies to adults too. We are clay. If you have somehow convinced yourself that you alone are independent and steadfast, above the lesser influences – then you are giving the advantage to the unseen forces that control you. We are all shaped by something. But before we get to God shaping us, there’s something else I wanted to point out first. The pot the potter was working on was marred. It was deformed, scratched, broken. The pot was not good enough. We are the clay. We are marred. We are deformed, scratched, broken, we are not good enough. So the potter formed it into another pot. When God enters our life, He gives us a new life. When the world tries to form us, we come out lumpy, we come out broken. But God remolds our brokenness into something beautiful. If you have sin, pain, brokenness in your life, in your past – God can remake your life in his light. Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?
          If you take a look at the lyrics to Have Thine Own Way – you can tell that Adelaide was inspired by this story at the time. The whole first verse is the story of the potter. The second verse takes the metaphor of the potter and clay and applies it to our lives. Verse 2: Search me and try me, Savior today! Wash me just now, Lord, wash me just now, as in thy presence, humbly I bow. When we give our lives to God, when we accept Jesus as our Lord – we are saying to God, “take my life and take control.” Take all the brokenness, and dirt of my life and transform them. Take my heart and replace it with your heart. Take my selfish desires, my sinful desires, and replace it with a self-less heart full of love for others. Instead of a slave to sin, make me a warrior against evil in the world. Take who I used to be, take that filth that used to control my life – and destroy it. I don’t want to be that way anymore. Wash me clean, turn me into a new creation. Verse 3 has the same sort of theme: Wounded and weary, help me I pray! Remember, you worship a God who is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and then some, he created the hours in the day and the days of the week. God is our help, when we are wounded and weary, and sick and tired, and sick and tired of BEING sick and tired. God is there for us. Verse 3 continues, power, all power, surely is thine, touch me and heal me, Savior divine. If you don’t think God is big enough to cover the sins of your past, I’ve got really good news for you this morning. Power, ALL power is God’s. He is capable, not just of redeeming your personal bag of garbage, but the entire world’s. The last verse summarizes the whole theme: Hold o’er my being absolute sway. Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see, Christ only, always, living in me. I want to trade my broken spirit for God’s perfect Spirit. We turn to God and we say – I trust you. I believe in God’s redemption. You are the potter, I am the clay. Mold me, shape me, wash me clean, help me. We give our lives over to Jesus completely. And not just Sunday morning, but we give him control over every single moment of our lives. We live every breath for him. That’s what it is to give your life to God.
          But what if it hurts? What if it’s not all sunny days and good times? What if God’s plan isn’t my favorite plan? What if something bad happens? In 1887, couple years before Have Thine Own Way came out, there was a man named Anthony Showalter. He led a singing school in a church in Alabama, and one night he got home and there were two letters on his desk, both from former students of his. It had been a long day, but he was glad to get a note from them. So he opened the first letter, and read a very sad story about a young man who had lost his wife. It was really a tragic situation, to lose a wife so young, and so Anthony put the letter aside, thinking to himself – I’ll answer that letter later. He opened the second letter, from a different student, and found out that the same thing had happened to him. Two students both lost their wives at a very young age, and Anthony was left with the task of trying to figure out what to say. What can you say? So he sat down and decided to try and write a letter to each of them – to comfort them, to give words of encouragement, something. And when he finished the letters, but they were missing something – he wanted to end the letter with some sort of inspiring scripture. So he turned to Deuteronomy 33 and wrote that phrase at the bottom of the letter. [Read it]. After he sealed the letters, he paused to think about those words, and that night he wrote the chorus to the hymn, “Leaning on the everlasting arms.” He was a music teacher, so eventually, with some help from other writers, they wrote verses and a tune – but it all started, those simple words, with a simple phrase, “Leaning on the everlasting arms.”

          When I was a little kid, my mother had the hardest time explaining band-aids to me. I would get a band-aid and my mom would kiss the hurt better, and I always felt better. But of course, band-aids are for a cut, when you are bleeding. That’s the only time you need one. And so sometimes, I would bump my head, or my leg and get a bruise. And it hurt, so I wanted a band-aid. And my mom would say, “No, you don’t need a band-aid” and I would respond, quite logically, “Yes, I do, it will make me feel better.” Band-aids make you feel better. For a six year old, it was a proven, scientific fact. And my mom would roll her eyes, smile and send me back outside. Of course the other piece of that is when a mother kisses a child’s boo-boo. They have a scrape or a cut or a bruise, and mom holds the child tight, and kisses them better. Now, medically, physically – there is no change. There is still the hurt, still the pain – so why do children always feel better after mom or dad kisses the hurt and holds the child? A while back my little Liam fell, wacked his chin on the coffee table, hard. Cut his little tongue. Now, there’s nothing I can do about that – all I can do is scoop him up and hold him tight until the sobbing subsides. But there is something healing in the security and presence of a loved one. It’s not logical, it doesn’t really make sense, I doubt it’s scientifically verifiable – and yet, we all know it’s true. When a mother or father sees hurt, sometimes the pain won’t stop, and so they simply hold the child. When God sees our hurt, and sees our confusion and our pain, sometimes the best thing God can do is hold us in his arms. Like those two young men who lost their wives, Anthony Showalter had no solution – no answer, but there are always the arms of God. The warmth of a mother’s embrace, the security of Dad’s powerful arms – everything is better in the arms of Jesus. And so in our lives when we feel pain, or hurt, or loss or loneliness and there’s nothing physically left to do – turn to the arms of Jesus. Reach out for God, and he will comfort you.


          The good news this morning is that God shapes us. Think about that. God shapes us. I could have said that the good news this morning is that God protects us, or that God provides for us. God keeps us safe from harm, God only lets good things happen to us. Something like that, but instead I said – God shapes us. God shapes us. I want to ask you something very important – What if God’s goal was not to keep you safe? What if God’s goal was not to keep you from bad things? What if God’s goal was actually to help you to grow? In 2003, Disney-Pixar released a wonderful family film called Finding Nemo, an adorable little story about a Father fish named Marlin, yes really, Marlin searching for his son Nemo. Along the way he enlists the help of a forgetful friend Dory. And one of my favorite lines in the film is when Marlin is at his wits end. He’s panicked and overwhelmed by everything he’s faced. And Marlin says, “I promised I’d never let anything happen to him. And Dory responds, “Hmmm. That’s a funny thing to promise? Marlin looks back at her, “What?” Dory keeps going, “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.” What if God’s goal for your life was not to keep you safe? Or to make you rich? What if God’s plan for your life has pain in it? What if God’s plan has moments of darkness and agony? God’s goal is to help you worship him, to help you grow to Jesus. Not to help you avoid the storms, but to teach you how to weather them. My son is my favorite example of this. He’s learning to walk, and he’s getting pretty good at it too. It’s like living with a drunken sailor who loves graham crackers. Give him a cracker in each hand and he’ll stagger around the house from room to room happily yelling nonsense at the top of his lungs. And sometimes he falls. He gets too excited chasing the dogs, or rounds a corner too quickly, or sometimes just flops over all by himself. And sometimes it hurts – he bleeds, and he cries. And it breaks my heart. Logically, if my goal was only to keep him safe, if that was the only requirement for a good father – I wouldn’t let him walk. But I want my son to grow. I don’t want my son to get hurt, but I do want him to fall – so he can learn to pick himself back up. And when he does get hurt – you bet I’ll be right there, he can lean on my arms. God shapes us, and that’s good news.

          So our response is to be the clay in the potter’s hands. Trust that God knows what he’s doing – even in the moment of pain and uncertainty. Be open to the shaping of God’s hand in your life. Be the clay. Remember that God has this incredible ability to remake our brokenness. To take pain and redeem it, to turn it into glory. I can’t get up here at tell you how, or when or how much God will let you endure before he steps in to save the day. All I can give you this morning are two promises. One – when you get hurt God is right there to wrap his arms around you. In the moments of pain you can cry out to the God of all things, the creator of the universe, and he will be there to listen, he will be there to hold you. God is with us every single step of the way. And Two – the second promise I can give you is that in the end God wins. I may not know the details of the musical notes leading up to the finale, but I know the finale is coming. The conductor of the universe is leading us to an incredible finale. I’ve been in ministry for what five, six? years, and I’ve already got a pile of stories – I’ve seen it done. Redemption is like God’s favorite hobby. When you give your life to God, and say “you are the potter, and I am the clay” – God can do incredible things in your life. People overcome addictions, reconcile broken relationships, fix their marriages, finally connect with their kids, in the presence of God – people learn how to love again. I don’t love my job because I close my eyes to the brutal realities of the world – I love my job because I have seen what God does with those brutal realities. I’m not saying it’s easy to live God’s way – but I am saying it’s worth it. With your life, cry out to God – ask for him to work a new thing in you. God shapes us, so be shaped by God. You be the clay, let God be the potter. Surrender to his will. Turn to God, the God, and say – “I tried it my way, and the clay pot didn’t quite turn out.” Let’s try it your way. And when it hurts, remember to rest on the everlasting arms of God.    

God is good. All The Time. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you turn to God and give it all to him – “whatever else happens in life, have thine own way, Lord.” And then when it gets difficult, and there is pain in our lives – may you learn to lean on the everlasting arms. May you be shaped by God, like a potter with clay. Amen.

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