Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor




What’s IN Your Vessel

Sunday, October 7, 2007



Romans 9: 20-26



As a church we’ve been living in this metaphor of “In the Potter’s Hands” for five weeks now, and we’ve had real live potters to watch and learn from during our worship.  We’ve learned about the technique that potters use when they are throwing pots:  wedging, centering, opening, pulling the clay.  Jonathan has told us that each pot has its own distinctive wobble – a wobble that the potter is required to work with in order to shape the pot. We’ve learned the importance of keeping the clay moist so that it doesn’t get stuck in the hands of the potter.


We’ve learned that the ancient texts of our scriptures use the word Yatsar to describe both what the potter does and the potter.  The Yatsar yatsars.  Our potters have helped us see this process through to a pot that they have taken off the wheel that has form and shape. 


At our house meetings, we’ve been listening for how the Yatsar might be yatsaring us, both as individuals and as a community of faith. We struggle with how we can honor the forming that has been, while being opened to the new form and shape that our lives might be taking. 


A church with almost 200 years of life together has been through many, many times of re-forming and yatsaring and we recognize those of the past who submitted themselves to the Potter’s hands.  That is why we need to ask now, on their behalf and on behalf of those to come – what are we being formed for?  What will our shape be and become?


I’ve been thinking a lot about the Romans passage lately.  Sometimes I wish my form and function were more glamorous and flashy – like some of the preachers I saw this last week at the Leadership Conference at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas.  Many spoke with few notes, and captured the imagination and attention of everyone in the room.  And the sanctuary at Church of the Resurrection is flashy, too.  They have all kinds of amazing audio and visual capabilities, seating for 3,000 people with 5 or 6 services every weekend.  They have over 200 hundred on staff.  God has clearly yatsared the heck out of that church.  They have 14,000 members and tons of programs and ministries that move people to go deeper and commit themselves to God. 


I found myself really coveting their shape, their form.  But what I discovered over the course of my time there is that it is their shape – their form, not Foundry’s.  Their form follows their function, which is very clear – “to build a Christian community where non and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.”  Every thing they have, do, share, make – all of it is to allow the function – the purpose – to be fulfilled.


While I was there, though, I heard nothing about full inclusion for all persons in the life and ministry of the church.  I heard nothing about a GLBT fellowship or BWARM. While they are very welcoming and have practically perfected the art of hospitality and welcoming, I don’t know if they provide a place of safety and openness to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.  I also don’t know that they don’t.


That is Foundry’s function – to actually say and live out an inclusive, welcoming presence and be a voice for transformation for our denomination.  Our form allows that function, that purpose, to be active and alive in this place.  More than anything else, this is the function that I hear most about at our house meetings.  The forming that took place so many years ago now contains an absolute cornerstone of Foundry and its life and ministry.


Another group of folks that have found a faith home at Foundry are the newest residents in the 7 zip codes nearest to our church. Our membership classes are looking younger and younger, reflecting the demographic of the area around our church. This is different from what we have experienced in the past, and what our denomination is experiencing as well. We’ve also welcomed a lot of families with children into our life together. And our Pre-Cana program brings a number of couples into worship and fellowship.  These are all fairly new functions for our church.  We need to continue to listen and to witness what God is doing through our form, and what it is that God is pouring out into this vessel.


My alternate text for today is from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.  “Clay is molded to form a vessel, but it is on its non-being that the usefulness of the utensil depends. Doors and windows are cut to make a room, but it is on its non-being that the utility of the room depends.” 


The non-being of the vessel – the “in” IN the vessel.  It’s what’s NOT the vessel that is our function.  Form is important. In fact it is essential.  If there is nothing into which to pour, we can’t transport what’s there to be poured in.  That’s why our Planning Committee is looking at how our governance is structured. Form is important, but not nearly as important as what is IN the vessel.  It is in our non-being – our emptiness – that God can use us best. It is in the void of our vessels that God finds the greatest use.  It is in our emptiness that God pours into our vessels dreams and visions.  We can’t bring water to those who are thirsty if we don’t use a vessel to carry it. 


What does this mean for our work – our function, our purpose?  It may mean that we need to examine our purpose, our function – what God is pouring and will pour into the vessel that is Foundry.  That’s why Dean and I are listening, along with the staff, to try and hear what God might be saying to us next. 


Those who were here when the church was integrated or when the church voted to become a Reconciling Congregation heard God and allowed Foundry to work toward emptying itself of prejudice and injustice in order to be filled with the love and grace and skills and gifts of all those who had experienced bigotry.  It is my sense that God is speaking again.  It is my sense that God is yearning to fill our vessel with more ministry opportunities and mission possibilities. It is my sense that if we are to be truly faithful we need to allow God to wedge us and work out all the things that could cause us to explode in the fire, like air bubbles in a pot. We need to seek to be centered, drawing us into a basic form that God can work with.  We need to be receptive to how and when God is opening us up to new forms and shapes.  And we need to be ready to be pulled upward, to a shape that can hold what God will pour into us. 


When I was a potter, the toughest part for me was cutting my pot off the wheel.  Was this finished, this pot that I’d thrown?  Was I really ready to cut it off and place it on the shelf to harden enough so that the pot could be trimmed and prepared for the kiln? 


This may turn out to be one of hardest parts of allowing God to shape us and form us.  Will we be ready to be cut from the wheel and moved to another place, another purpose, another ministry? As the world changes around us, as our very community develops and changes, do we want to be left on the wheel and prevented from being functional – to have our true potential go unrealized and our faith community unused?


Our utility is not in our fancy markings and delicate edges.  It is not in the ornate scribbling on our sides or the decorations around our top.  Our utility is in our non-being – where the pot isn’t. Where we don’t exist and the Spirit of God does. The utility of the communion vessel is not in the vessel itself but from what is pour into and out of the chalice that changes us and our relationship with God.  It is what is inside the vessel that changes the world.


Today we join with millions around the world as we receive what’s in this cup.  In this act, this sacrament, we are united with all who share in being filled or being emptied for the sake of God and God’s people in the world.  We are being poured out and poured out on.  The hope for the world is found in the non-being of this cup.  The hope for us is in the fullness of this void.  The hope for Foundry is being poured out and poured out on in this community.  Let us be empty, let us be filled. But let us continue to allow God to speak, God to form, and God to fill.