Sermons

The Advent Arc of the Potter's Clay

November 00, 2014

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

This sermon is going to be unapologetically anthropomorphic. This text is pretty clear. God is an artist. A sculptor. We are the clay. God is sculpting us, bending us into shape and out of shape. Like most anthropomorphisms, this one amuses me. Anthro. Human. Morph. Shaping. God shaping the human, sure. But human shaping the God. Ah.

Like most anthropomorphisms, especially in a congregation filled with artists to the brim, one so filled with creatives that it is amazing we ever get the recycling out, in a congregation like ours, this anthropomorphism about God being an artist and a sculptor is very appealing. It is a feel good all the way. Self-congratulatory at its base.

Then again, there is the possibility that we will remember what it is really like to be an artist. Does God have a Day Job? An Agent? A proposal to be writer at residence at Judson due on Wednesday? What about the struggle to say something true? The never-ending unfinishedness of the unfinsihedness. Or what TS Eliot describes so well as his inability to write because the “distractions from his distractions left him distracted.” Creatives know what it is like to be so unsettled that all they want to do is settle down, only to discover just how boring settling down really is. Creatives understand the hassle of focusing. Seeing deeply. Finding what is light and gentle and soft in a hard world. Creatives struggle to be funny, while knowing that marrying the word struggle to funny is tragic, not comic. Trying to be funny. Oh, God. Is there anything worse than a comedian who is trying to be funny?

What kind of artist is God? Does she belong to Equity? What time line is God on? Is God Beta or Alpha? Is God still designing us? Or baking us in the long oven? Or are we out of the oven? Sitting in some museum, gathering dust, or better, sitting on a shelf in someone’s living room next to a martini glass the maid forgot to pick up? In other words, is God done with us or in process? I know what the process theologians would say. I also know what most of us think. We are done. We are finished. Which of course is not true. Micah is no less in process as an ordained minister at year one than I am in process at year 40.

Many of us have joined that group called the Dones. You remember the Nones, right, the ones who are spiritual but not religious. The Dones are the ones done with that question. Like you feel after the long Thanksgiving weekend, I’m just done with that. There is a marvelous cynicism available to the dones. The fully baked. They/we are the ones who are appalled at Ferguson but not surprised. They/we are the ones who been there, done that, as though it wasn’t fun to go again and be again. Carrie Newcomb, the singer songwriter says, when you are cynical, you never have to be worried about being disappointed. She also asks a great question of that part of us that is baked. If not now, she says, tell me when?

I am a rubber band ball artist. I’ve been meaning to tell you but I’ll just let out my secret right now. I spend absurd amounts of time rapping rubber bands around things. I do it because it is such a marvelous distraction from my other distractions. Now I’ve discovered a serious artist who does the same things, only at a much more interesting and less mundane level. Judith Scott “Bound and Unbound” is at the Brooklyn museum. Her work consists of fiber and found objects. All her work is untitled. The New Yorker Review tells it like this:

“Best sculptures are Trojan horses, staging sneak attacks on the status quo….Most of Scott’s sculptures starts with literally concealed things: each of her cocoon like constructions began with an object, like an umbrella, skateboard, tree branch or jewelry around which she winds layers and layers of yarn, twine and stripes of textiles until the item’s identity is obscured. She makes sculptures with secrets. The show just opened at the Brooklyn Museum. Scott was alone for 30 years after an early accident left her harmed. Her twin sister brought Scott to San Francisco and enrolled her in Creative Growth, a community art center for disabled adults. From there she made what she calls uncanny totemic clusters. Objects in which mystery becomes its own meaning…”

I think that’s the kind of God artists are. I mean that’s the kind of artist God is. We connect things that are unconnected or about to be thrown away. We wrap around each other. We are more like strings or filaments than anything else.
Notice the artist’s eye in this first person account: “The first thing I witnessed upon entering the U.S. Border Patrol’s Temporary Housing Facility for unaccompanied minors in McAllen, Texas was a three-year old boy, about the age of my own son, holding the hand of a border patrol agent as they walked through the chain-linked corridor of a warehouse-like building. I would later learn that this boy was here with his four-year old brother. Whoever they crossed the border with the day before were not their parents or legal guardians, so the two toddlers would be entering the next phases of their journey in the U.S. together, but alone.” They remind of the Scott sisters. What wraps around the fact of their arrival alone and together is the interpretation of the artist’s eyes. He sees forward. He looks long.

I like to think of who Fatamatou’s children are going to be. Who Joe Chen’s children will be. I like to look long with them.

Sculptors bring out what is hidden. Time and God are always sculpting us. Like so many things, God is in plain sight, sculpting.

If you really want to hide something, say the detective novels, put it in plain site, the way God observes those children at the border.


Think also of how God uses time. Borrow these words from “Howling at the Noon” by Paul Goodenough, “Creating an Open Space: Remodeling Midweek worship”

“A time to hear the bells ring, not as a way of keeping time, but as a way of reflecting on the ways that time keeps us. A time to put our secular popular sensibilities in perspective and hear all twelve tones. A time to locate one’s self in the middle of an impossibly long arc, without a clear trajectory. Sometimes in life, things fly by. But often, they are long. Today is going to be a long day. Writing a paper is long. Marriage is long. Watching for the arrival of the time of God is long. Standing in the middle of these tasks can be disorienting. The horizon may stretch in all directions equally……the sun is heading that way too….we are always in the middle of many long arcs”

Advent is one of those arcs. There God heads us towards anticipation of border crossing. There God wraps more experience around us. There we design, bake and observe. God is still sculpting. Amen

 

 

 
55 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012 | phone: 212-477-0351 | fax: 212-995-0844