Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon # 1009
Acts 2:37-42
Dr. Ed Pettus

“For You and Your Children”
Today we celebrate the sacrament of baptism. It is one of our two sacraments we celebrate in the Protestant Church. The other is the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ. Baptism symbolizes our participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection. It symbolizes the faithfulness of God, the washing away of sin, rebirth, putting on the fresh garment of Christ, being sealed by God’s Spirit, and adoption into the covenant family of the Church. That is a lot of stuff!! One reason we baptize infants is, as the Book of Order states, the baptism of children witnesses to the truth that God’s love claims people before they are able to respond in faith. Before we are even able to respond in faith, God loves us! That means that there is a claim upon our lives in baptism that is at work in us until we reach an age when we choose to respond to that claim, and that claim continues to work through God’s grace even if we delay a response. Our understanding is that God is at work in us whether we realize it or not. God is calling us whether we hear well or not. God is loving us even though we are sinners. God is active in our lives before we are even aware of God’s activity. God is with us even if we have yet to acknowledge God. God keeps God’s promises; God has promised his love, his grace, and his mercy…and so much more.

Some claim that God is at work in all people whether they realize it or not. When we minister to people, share our faith, or call them to follow Christ, we are simply participating in a work where God is already present. We are involved in the ministry of Christ; it is not our own ministry, but Jesus Christ’s ministry. It is part of our call in our baptism to be a part of this ministry…a call that, when we are baptized as infants, we are given opportunity to respond to later in life. One response is to give one’s life to God, what we call “confirmation” in our tradition, but all of us who have been baptized are asked to respond to that baptism throughout our lives. Today is one of those days because today we are all reminded that we are the baptized people of God. We are constantly learning more about the importance and meaning of our baptism.

We are the baptized community in need of ministry and compassion from Christ. Our proper response to the compassionate call of Christ is to attend to our relationship with Christ. Our baptism begins a journey that grows in relationship with God in such a way that we participate in the life of Jesus Christ in the world. Life and ministry is through Jesus in the same way that our prayers are through Jesus or in the name of Jesus. That is what it means to be baptized into the community of faith. Whether we are baptized as infants or as adults, we are acted upon by God to enter a covenant relationship that is initiated by God. Now an infant will not respond to that initiation of relationship until he or she is older and made aware of this act of God. But who are we to deny our children access to the covenant of God?

We can no more deny our infants baptism than a Jew could deny their male infants circumcision. Infant boys in the Jewish tradition are circumcised at eight days old making them a part of the covenant between God and God’s people. The infant knows nothing of this rite at eight days old, but is claimed by the parents and the community of faith as a child of the covenant. We use the same phrase with every infant baptism: “this child is a child of the covenant”.

In Acts 2 there is the account of Peter preaching to the crowd that had gathered on the Day of Pentecost. He presented to them the story of Jesus in relationship to the promises of the Old Testament scripture and when he had finished the word says: “they were cut to the heart…and said…what should we do” (2:37)? Peter’s response informs our theology of infant baptism. He says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (2:38-39). The promise is for us and for our children, so we do not deny children this opportunity to receive the promises of God.

Our detractors take this story and turn it into a formula that requires you first repent, then baptism, then the Spirit will come. Obviously infants cannot repent so the thought is they should not be baptized. Let’s look at two other stories in the book of Acts that guard against such formulations.

The first is another scene in Acts 10:44-48 where Peter is preaching Christ and while Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came upon those who heard his sermon and they began speaking in tongues and praising God. In this case the pattern is different. It is not a case of repentance, baptism, then receiving the Spirit. There is not even any indication that the hearers had any say so in anything, the Spirit just “fell upon all who heard”. There were Jewish believers with Peter and they were amazed that Gentiles had been touched by the Spirit. Peter basically said that there was no reason not to baptize them and he ordered them to be baptized. If we held to a pattern of repentance, baptism, and Spirit then this story is out of order because the order is Spirit fell, then they are baptized.

The second scene is from Acts 9 where the Pharisee, Saul (who would later be named Paul), was, as the text says: “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (9:1). Paul is on his was to Damascus to find believers when the Lord confronts him on the road and after his conversation with Jesus he is blinded for three days. His companions lead him on to Damascus and he remains blind until a disciple named Ananias came to him. Ananias lays hands on Saul and prays: “‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength” (9:17-19). Saul regains his sight, the prayer speaks of Paul being filled with the Spirit, and after his sight is restored he gets up and is baptized.

I lift these stories only to demonstrate that baptism, repentance, and the movement of the Holy Spirit are not defined by our attempts to make formulas. We cannot easily claim repentance must precede baptism or that the Spirit will automatically wait to come after someone is baptized or that any other pattern might be applied. Granted the characteristic way we have seen the invitation in scripture is we hear the word, we repent, we are baptized and we receive the gift of the Spirit. But the Spirit works as the Spirit so desires. The Spirit blows where it chooses (John 3:8) and we are not the ones who decide, nor are we the ones who can deny our children the promises given in baptism.

In Luke the disciples try to keep some people from bringing their infants to Jesus so that he might touch them: “But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it’"(18:15-17). The disciples thought that the babies should not be brought to Jesus. I don’t know if the disciples thought Jesus shouldn’t be bothered with so many children or whether they thought children were not to be included in Christ’s work. Whatever they thought, Jesus received them all.

John Calvin said: “If it is right for infants to be brought to Christ, why not also to be received into baptism, the symbol of our communion and fellowship with Christ? If the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them, why is the sign denied which, so to speak, opens the door into the church, that, adopted into it, they may be enrolled among the heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? How unjust of us to drive away those whom Christ calls to himself! To deprive those whom he adorns with gifts! To shut out those whom he willingly receives” (1330)!

The Reformed faith teaches that infant baptism takes as its model the practice of circumcision in the old covenant. The Book of Order says: “As circumcision was the sign and symbol of inclusion in God’s grace and covenant with Israel, so baptism is the sign and symbol of inclusion in God’s grace and covenant with the Church.” The Old Testament is not without its elusions to baptism – perhaps a foreshadowing of the new covenant practice. Paul reflects on the ancestors of the Jews in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4,
“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”
They passed through the water – every Israelite who left Egypt. I suspect there were a few babies in the crowd as they passed through the sea!

Paul also compares baptism to circumcision in Colossians 2 when he says:
“In him [Christ] also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (2:11-15).

Now who are we to deny our children this sacrament? The sacraments are larger than us. They are the symbols and signs that say to us more than words, more than feelings, more than our theology, because they attempt to show us something of what God has already done for us. They dare to speak the mystery of faith – that God loves us so much and that God desires so much a relationship with us – that God would take the first step toward us even before we are able to respond. Jesus is the One who loves us before we even know it, before we can even begin to know it. Jesus is the One who gives us his Spirit before we know that he is present. Jesus is the One who works his compassion and love in and through us before we even realize he is here.

Jesus continues to work his ways in us even after we proclaim his presence. Even when we think we know Jesus and know what Jesus might be up to, he is working his mystery in and through us. He is doing something of a miracle in Owen’s life today and something of a miracle in your life today if you are a baptized believer in the person of Jesus Christ. He is working to bring you to a fuller relationship through your baptism, because each one of us shares in the sacrament having passed through the waters, dying with Christ and being raised to new life in him.

When we baptize our infants we promise to look after them in the faith, to show them the love of God that we too are seeking to know and understand. No matter what age we are baptized, we will spend our lifetime learning what our baptism means for us. We are reminded today that we have promised to nurture the baptized – children and adult – to nurture and love one another as Jesus commands.

Today is a day to celebrate. Today is a day to rejoice. Today is the day to baptize another infant and to remember that we together are the baptized community of faith. Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon # 1008
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Dr. Ed Pettus

“A Quiet Life”

I wonder what you thought when you first read the sermon title today, “A Quiet Life”. Did you read into it something of a yearning: “Oh I wish my life were more quiet”? Or did you read it another way: “I don’t care much for quiet”? Modern life is loud, noisy, and filled with words, music, sound, hectic schedules, just very busy. Modern life is also filled with violence, abuse, conflict, war, and unrest.

When Paul wrote these words of a life of quiet and peace, he was no doubt referring to a life free of violence, persecution, and imprisonment that was a real possibility for Christians in his day. Paul himself suffered many beatings, jail time, and various sufferings because of his faith, so it is no wonder that he would desire to live in peace and quiet. That might be our desire as well, even if in a different way.

But we know too that Paul desired a quiet and peaceful inner life. He once spoke of being content even in the face of hardship: “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). It is on this kind of quiet, peaceful life that I want to set our focus today.

Quiet – the joy of silence. Most of the time we avoid quiet. We get into the car and turn on the radio. We come home – turn on the TV. I challenge you to find a teenager without either a set of earphones stuck in her ears or a cell phone glued to the side of his head.

We sometimes call moments of silence, awkward. One of my favorite movie scenes is the kitchen table scene at the end of Moonstruck when the family is sitting in a somewhat comedic tension about the engagement situation for the character played by Cher and after a quiet tense filled 30 seconds the old man, the Italian grandfather cannot stand the tension any longer and as they sit at table almost pretending to eat, he says: “Someone tell a joke!”

The quiet is sometimes too much to bear because we have become so accustom to noise. But the noise, the busyness is the enemy of the quiet inner life. The hectic world of words and sounds and sound bites threaten our ability to listen for and to God. In Paul’s day the desire was certainly for a quiet life without threat from an oppressive government and so it is still today in some parts of the world. But for us, at the moment, the threat is from a life that is so loud we cannot hear God. The risk is becoming so engaged in the loud that we completely ignore the quiet.

We need quiet time! It is a common practice among Christians to have precisely that, a quiet time each day to read the scriptures, to pray, to listen, to reflect. Most believers who practice this discipline do so in the morning. Jesus did this as well. We read in Mark 1:35 “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” It is believed that this was a typical day for Jesus. In my younger days I spent time like that at night, but no more, I have come around to the Jesus way and have some time during the morning hours when I can stay awake!

It is very much a Christian disciple to cultivate a time of quiet reflection, scripture meditation, prayer, silent time of listening for the word of God. Such listening is always aided by knowledge of scripture. But such quiet time is hindered when all we have is noise in our life. We see in scripture this theme of quiet devotion:

I have calmed and quieted my soul ~ Psalm 131:2

Why would the Psalmist calm and quiet his soul? Perhaps to simply be in the presence of God like a weaned child with its mother. Perhaps to focus the heart and mind on God. Perhaps to rest in God. We do not know precisely why this position of calm and quiet is taken, but it is surely a common practice among the faithful in the scriptures.

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. Psalm 62:1
In Psalm 62 we wait for God in the silence. We wait to hear a word, an insight, an answer to prayer. Waiting is time consuming. Waiting, especially waiting in silence, is not something we are used to.

‘Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10
In Psalm 46 we become still that we can know that God is God. This is a great reason to quiet and still ourselves – to know that God is God.

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. Isaiah 30:15
In Isaiah 30 the admonition is that we are strengthened in the quiet. No need for anxiety and worry, in fact, the very opposite is called upon – quiet and trust.

All of these testimonies speak to the benefit of the quiet life.

For some of us the quiet life seems too far removed from our everyday existence. We don’t have the time or we cannot seem to ever get quieted. For others there is plenty of room for quiet but we do not know exactly what to do with the quiet. We all need that familiar voice of our teacher, you know the voice I’m talking about, she raised her voice above the chatter of students and called out” “Be quiet, class!” We need to heed the action of Jesus who fostered his life through the practice of prayer and silence.
We spend just a few seconds at the beginning of worship practicing silence, fostering quiet.

The practice of quiet time: read a scripture passage, focus on a phrase or word that you like, close your eyes and focus on that word or phrase. Think about what it means, who is speaking. You might want to journal, silent prayers to God, quiet reflections of your day. Quiet time is about calming the soul that is so bombarded every day, feeding the soul that is starved by busyness. Take some time to be quiet. We were quiet together for about 30 seconds at the beginning of worship.
What about sixty seconds, or ninety, imagine 20 minutes? It drives some of us crazy to disengage from the world for such a long period or what can seem like a long period of time. St. Augustine once said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. “Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” One of the goals of our silence is rest in God. We can live in quietness all the time and yet not have the rest that is needed in the soul. The quiet we need is not just an absence of noise, but an intentional focus of quiet within.
A time to sigh,
to release,
to pray (listening),
to truly be still and know that God is God.

Let’s try sixty seconds of quiet, focused silence. You may bow your heads, close your eyes and simply repeat a prayer in your thoughts: “Quiet my soul”. Repeat that prayer. If you find your mind wondering off to what someone else on your pew might be doing, come back to your prayer: “quiet my soul”. We were joking last Wednesday at Bible Study that we could not do this exercise if our service was on the radio. Silence is not the radio’s friend, but it can a tremendous benefit to us as we seek to grow in Christ through quieting our souls. I’ll keep an eye on the second hand! Sixty seconds of quiet: “Lord, quiet my soul”.

(sixty seconds)

After about ten seconds we start to sense the awkwardness. After thirty seconds we start to think this has to be sixty seconds by now. But if you tried to focus through the prayer perhaps you began to feel a little bit refreshed. I hope that in sixty seconds you could begin to feel the refreshment of silence. I hope that such an exercise would lead us to consider longer periods of quiet. This is not some new age nonsense, but it is a practice centered in the life of Christ’s church. This is one practice or discipline that fosters a soul at peace. The quieted life, an inner quiet, can lead us to be content with our circumstances, to be at peace, and to rest in God’s presence. It lowers blood pressure too! Bonus! Consider the goal of living a quiet and peaceful life. We do not have to drop out of the modern life, but we do have to be more intentional in nurturing the soul and setting aside the time for the quiet. “O Lord, quiet our souls!” Amen.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon #1007
Luke 15:1-10
Dr. Ed Pettus

"Lost and Found"

Imagine Jesus in a setting where anyone could come to hear what he had to say, anyone could gather with anyone else…no questions about who you are or what you believe. One of the commentators lifted up a New York Times travel article about pubs in Oxford… “a good pub is a ready made party, a home away from home, a club anyone can join” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, vol. 4, p. 68). This is the kind of setting we find in Luke 15, a place where anyone could come and listen to Jesus. And just as someone might get upset to imagine Jesus in a pub, so too the Pharisees and scribes were upset to see Jesus welcoming sinners into his dinner party.
Luke 15 is made up of two parts, the setting and the parables Jesus tells. The setting is not noted for its place but for those who are gathered:
Luke 15:1-2 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
There are the tax collectors; we still don't feel too good about that group, especially around April 15th. You have the sinners, those who don’t believe what they should!
The Pharisees – these are the religious leaders of the day who are out to find fault with Jesus because, to them, he has become a threat to the faith.
The scribes – this is the group known as teachers of the law. They taught the scriptures, sort of like a modern day Sunday school teacher!
One collective group, the tax collectors and sinners, cause the other group, the Pharisees and the scribes, to grumble and comment among themselves that Jesus is welcoming sinners and eating with them. This was a violation of the laws of the Jewish tradition. This was no way to act for someone who preached the word of God. So, the setting – of people, of those welcomed and those not – becomes the catalyst for the parables that follow.

We are going to look at two of those parables this morning.
Luke 15:4-7 ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

The ninety-nine sheep left behind are not left in a secured, risk free area. They are left behind in the open country, susceptible to danger. We find this shepherd going off to find one when the ninety-nine are still safe and sound under his care. It does not make much sense to us today to risk ninety-nine for the sake of one. We live in a society today that does not consider one individual to be of much importance compared to the vast numbers around us. We are more invested in statistics than individuals. If only 1% is lost, that’s insignificant to the notion that 99% are safe. In the modern mind, we do not even think twice about 1%, whether it is 1% of sheep, money, or people. But what of the 1% if that 1% is you? When we become the statistic, we think a great deal differently about percentages. God thinks in terms of ones, of names, of particulars. One sheep, one person, one soul, one significant – one.

Luke 15:8-10 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

Everything stops when I lose my keys or my wallet. I cannot go far without my keys, cannot get anything much without my wallet, so the world stops for me until I turn the house and car upside down to find what I have lost. I begin to wonder how I will replace those keys, how I might need to call to cancel credit cards and worst of all, I'll have to visit the DMV for a new driver's license!
What great joy when I find that item, for some strange reason, I left my keys on top of the toolbox. I find my wallet that has been in a coat pocket since church Sunday. What a relief, what a celebration even if it is just a celebration in my heart and mind.
One message of these parables is that God celebrates and rejoices when one that was lost is found. The greatest celebration in heaven is not over what the righteous are doing, but over the one sinner who repents. The rejoicing of heaven is when one who was dead is alive.

Most of us sitting here today do not feel like we are lost, at least not in the sense of salvation. We may feel like we need a kick start or we might wonder if we are on the narrow path, but for the most part we feel found by God. So we might say there is not a lot of rejoicing in heaven over us, not a cheering section of angels celebrating our every move. But there are times when we feel lost or we have lost something…something of our faith, something of trust, something of hope, something of friendship, something lost. We search for what is lost, but more important, the message of these parables is that someone is searching for us. God is searching for us. If we lose faith or trust or hope, God is sweeping away the dust of doubt or worry, to find us and to help us get back.

According to the parables, that rejoicing requires something found or repentant sinners. If you have never had an opportunity to lead a sinner to repent, or been with someone who just gave him or herself to Christ, it is one of the most moving experiences you will ever have, certainly a great reason for rejoicing.
Perhaps you have had such an experience yourself, perhaps you remember a time in your life when Christ became a reality to you and your life was filled with joy. I hope you have or will, because it is the most joyous experience there is to be filled with the joy of the Lord and I think that that joy is often missing from our lives. Joy is sometimes lost.
We get so caught up in the busy world that the missing “sheep” of our lives are hardly noticed or the coin doesn't bother us because we have a lot more coins, more than we can count...but we count the things of faith like pennies, of little worth. What is 1 percent or 10 percent even? We have such abundance anyway? What is one person? Well, if that person is your son or your daughter, it means everything! If that person is your best friend, if that person is your sister or brother…well, finding those who are lost is cause for great rejoicing.

This is a most unusual conclusion to these parables. A shepherd who is determined to return with one sheep out of a hundred, a woman who spends all night sweeping and cleaning and searching for one coin, it is not even worth the time and effort to go after either…or so we reason. We do not take the time to notice the lost sheep in our lives; we don't bother with the lost coin.

That’s probably how the Pharisees and scribes thought as well. What’s one Gentile worth? One sheep? One coin? One of anything?
Why do these parables matter? Why did Jesus tell them?

These parables are told to help us imagine a world where lost sheep and lost coins and lost people (or lost hope, lost faith, lost love) are valued above all else. Because the parables point us to the stunning reality that one sheep and one coin are like one sinner who is lost or wandering without a shepherd. They are the ones hoping to be found in the corner of a dirty, dusty life. They are the sons and daughters who have absolutely made a mess of things, but they are the very ones whom the Lord seeks, the very ones for which we celebrate when they are found.

Imagine for a moment that you are one – the one that matters because you are lost! Not necessarily lost in the sense of salvation, but lost in your theology, identity, hope, or priorities. Lost in a particular ideology, lost in my way or the highway kind of thinking, lost in self with a sense of entitlement, me first perspective.
Lost in things or balance or lost in the ways of the world. How might we be wandering away from the shepherd? What part of our life is hiding in the dark corner like a coin?
These are parables about life and being lost and being found and rejoicing, parables that evoke a new way of life for all of us – a way of imagining a world that takes the time for the particulars of life. One sheep, one coin, one life, one moment, one encounter, one day, one particular in a world of many, of much, of more, of percentages. Just a particular shepherd, a particular woman, because we have this particular God who is immersed in the particulars of our life, a God who notices the details, the one thing on our minds, the one crisis of our day, the one haunting sin of which we seek to rid ourselves, the one painful word we wish we could take back. The particular God for a particular people who calls us to notice the particulars around us and to act with great compassion to find the lost and to rejoice at their being found. This is the God who seeks to find us when we stray, even to find any part of our life that has been lost. And in this God we rejoice today, for we have all been lost at one time or another, and there are times when we will be lost again. The good news is this: God will search for us and find us every time! Amen.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon # 1006
Jeremiah 18:1-11
Dr. Ed Pettus

“The Potter and the Clay”

Many years ago a community held their first annual craft fair. It was way out in the country where such things were quite popular and this particular fair lasted one full week. Seven days of booths, shows, contests, with crafts of all kinds made available for viewing, purchasing, and classes where the artists could teach their crafts.

The craft fair planning committee got together and decided to emphasize pottery for the inaugural event. Potters came from all over countryside to show their work and to enter the daily pottery contest. Each day a prize was awarded and potters would bring their works, some made pieces beforehand and others formed their creations on site so everyone could see how they worked.

On the first day, as each potter displayed their work on tables. There were pots, bowls, chalices, various attempts at other shapes. One potter placed an odd looking figure on his table. It looked something like a ball that appeared to glow with energy. It seemed to give energy to those who saw it. There was a simple title, “Light”, and the judges were quite impressed with it and gave the potter a blue ribbon for the first day.
Everyone was excited with a wonderfully successful day one.

On the second day potters worked and worked to shape new creations to win the second blue ribbon and all who saw the works were delighted. The same potter who won the first day’s competition exhibited another strange looking object that again amazed all who saw it. He called it “Sky” but words really fall short in attempting to describe it. It was another amazing piece and garnered another blue ribbon.

Well, as day three rolled around, all the potters were shooting to win over the potter who had already won two blue ribbons. But day three was no different. It was a very simple work, he called it “Tree” and he won yet another blue ribbon. Three in a row – the potter was on a roll.

By the fourth day the other potters were amazed at this winning streak. They had never seen anything like it. Soon other potters were coming around to see what this potter would create next. On the fourth day of the contest he fashioned another ball and then a series of balls, some glowed and others reflected the light. He called this work, “Lights”. Another potter was overheard saying: “That’s just like the first day, surely he can’t win with a copy of the first day.” But the judges, they thought it was the coolest thing they had ever seen. They were even more impressed by this display of creativity and so he took home yet another first place ribbon.

On day five many potters just gave up and watched this one potter who was winning all the first place ribbons. During the morning, he worked his clay, shaped a magnificent looking creature. The title was: “Fish”, and the judges could not help themselves. They gave an unbelievable fifth blue ribbon to the same potter.

Now on the sixth day no one believed that the potter could create anything more spectacular than the previous five works. By now everyone at the fair was talking about this one potter. As the sixth day progressed, everyone waited in anticipation to see what would be displayed. He brought out his latest work, which was covered with a cloak. Everyone stretched to see and when the cloak was removed they looked to see a shape that looked like the potter himself. The shape was lying down as if the potter did a clay mold of himself sleeping. This appeared to be the least impressive work thus far. It did not glow, it did not stand tall like the tree, and it disappointed nearly everyone there, including the judges.
Then, just as the judges began to move on to the next table, the potter motioned for them to wait. He bent over the shape - and took a deep breath - and slowly - and deliberately blew on the figure. Everyone wondered why until they noticed that the figure began to move! At first the movement was just a slight rising around the chest as if it were breathing. The people standing around blinked, shook their heads, and stared at the amazing pottery. Then the shape sat up and it began to examine itself. The judge’s mouths had by now opened wide in utter amazement. The shape looked itself over for a few seconds and then stood up and began to dance a little jig. It danced and danced and them started singing: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”
The shape danced and sang and praised the potter who had shaped it and had given it life. There was no doubt now that this was the best creation the craft fair judges had ever witnessed. Everyone was abuzz about the event and eagerly looking forward to the last day of the fair. Certainly it would be the most spectacular pottery ever created - bringing the craft fair to a climactic end.

Day seven: the potter was not seen throughout the morning and everyone began wondering if he was hiding somewhere creating a special final creation. As the contest began, all present saw another cloak covering the table used by the six time winning potter and they gathered around to see it revealed.
The contest was beginning and the potter was nowhere to be seen, so one of the judges removed the cloak and everyone looked with excitement to see, but the only thing there was a stool and the potter’s wheel. No great pottery, no shapes, no work, just a title and a note. The title read “Sabbath” and the note said: “six days shall you work but on the seventh, rest.”

The judges and all present were very confused and somewhat disappointed. They had so hoped to have a great ending to the fair, but this was not what they expected. The fair was over and while many were disappointed in the final day – they still talk about that particular fair with the amazing pottery from that particular potter.

Over the next few years the potter shaped numerous objects like the one who danced and sang. The potter taught all his creations to sing and dance.

(Singing) “Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said He, And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He.”

Somehow, from time to time his creations decided to remain silent. Other times they would not dance. They no longer danced a jig or sang a song. Then, even worse, some of his creations began to sing to other potters and dance for potters who did not give them life. So the potter finally decided to give them a choice, if they would turn from their silence and sing a new song he would change his mind about what he planned to do. You see, he had decided that if they continued to sing to other potters or to dance to anyone who had not given them the gift of breath, he would have to destroy them and start with some new clay.

It is said that to this day that same potter is forming new singers and dancers, creating new figures and giving them life. He teaches them to sing and to dance. And perhaps the most amazing thing he does for them is give them the freedom to choose what songs they will sing and what dances they will dance and his hope, his hope is that they will return to him alone to sing a new song and dance a new jig.

That is the story of the potter and the clay.