by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa
About two weeks ago, as I write this, Larry and I were serving together at L’Arche St. Louis on a Saturday morning as part of a crew from Maplewood United Methodist for the statewide United Methodist service weekend Serve2011. We were cleaning a metal rack of shelves with steel wool, wire brushes, cleaner, rags and elbow grease. At one point, Larry observed, “It’s not that bad once it’s cleaned up.” And I replied, “Yeah, it just needed a little TLC.”
Just as objects and things sometimes need “a little TLC,” people can also benefit from some attention. Years ago, the prophet Jeremiah passed a potter’s stall (Jer. 18:1-11). At one point, the vessel was spoiled, misshapen in the potter’s hands (vs. 4a). But rather than give up and throw the ruined pot away, the potter
“. . . reworkedit into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.” (vs. 4b ESV).
Jeremiah realized that God could remake the nation of Israel just as the potter had remade the ruined pot. Israel had wandered far away from God. The nation was ruined, spoiled, just as the pot had been. The people and their leaders were spiritually “sick” but God promised Jeremiah there was a cure. The remedy was to turn back to God and be faithful (vs. 8, 11). But obedience and a right relationship with God are not merely collective matters, they are also matters of individual responsibility. Similarly, Israel’s sinful, ruined condition was the result of sinful, ruined people.
When Jesus was on Earth, he ministered to people who were sinful, ruined, broken. John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus and they asked him, “‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Luke 7:20b ESV). And Jesus answered them by saying, “‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.’” (vs. 22b ESV). The sign that Jesus was the one they had hoped for, longed for, prayed for, was that he took broken people, ruined people, hopeless people, and made them whole. He sent out his disciples and commanded them
“. . . toproclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Luke 9:2b ESV). Bringing about both spiritual and physical renewal went hand in hand.
He told the religious authorities of the day, “‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’” (Luke 5:31b-32 ESV) and “‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:10 ESV). We can only be “fixed” if we acknowledge that we’re broken. The good folks at L’Arche St. Louis weren’t shy about telling Larry, me and the rest of the Serve2011 volunteers what was wrong and what needed to be done. If we are followers of Christ, we have made the same admission about ourselves and our lives: We are broken, marred, dirty—and we can’t fix the problem on our own, either by our own strength or on our own merit.
And we’re not alone. Paul tells us that “‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’” (Rom. 3:10b-12 ESV). But fortunately for us, the message doesn’t stop there. Instead, we
“. . . arejustified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (vs. 24 ESV). Jesus challenged the Pharisees and their friends “‘But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,’” (Luke 14:13 ESV). Serve those who can’t repay you. That same challenge echoes through the centuries to us as well: Give them “a little TLC.”
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’” (Jer. 18:1-6 ESV.)