“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
This past Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we read from the Book of Isaiah. It was a great help to me to hear that I am clay and that God is the potter. We all are a work in God’s hands. If as the calendar 2020 draws to a close, you feel like a cracked pot, or a ruined bowl, there are many others who share that sense, that feeling with you.
This has been a hard year. COVID and economic downturn, a stressed election season and now a failure to recognize the soundness of our election process, a renewed recognition that the work of racial justice and dismantling structural racism is still before us—each one of those concerns would be enough for one year, let alone all occurring in this one. And all the struggles are upon us while it remains challenging to gather in person, to see each other face to face, in order to face this moment together.
We are clay. God is the potter. We often forget that. We often flip that image. We often seek to make God in our image, projecting our desires onto what it means to be holy, divine, eternal, everlasting. This year, 2020, when our lives have been out of control, it is a healing word to be satisfied, relieved even, with being clay, with trusting God to make and shape us anew.
In celebrating Advent, we speak of waiting for the coming of the Christ child and the Second Coming of Christ, the completion of all things. Advent also is a time to allow God to make something new of us. It is good news to hear that God does not throw away old clay, seeking to find new people, to begin from scratch. Rather, God begins again with us, cracked pots and ruined bowls, and makes and renews us. God the Potter delights in imperfect clay.
In this Advent, we are also trusting there is much encouraging news regarding COVID vaccines and improved treatments. It is not foolish to believe that 2021 could be a time when we are able to gather safely in all the ways we have in the past. While we wait, we do so at the beginning of a very hard winter, when COVID numbers are increasing and more and more of us know people who have been impacted directly by the pandemic. It is as if we are climbing a hill in the Appalachian region together and before we ascend to a post-pandemic top, we still have some frustrating false peaks to pass over.
The Diocesan COVID-19 Task Force wants to remind all of you that their guidelines for gathering for in-person worship envisioned this very moment. The process they outlined acknowledged that steps moving forward for in-person worship could also take a pause and even go backwards, as public health facts on the ground change. The Task Force continues to value that decision-making for gathering safely for in-person worship will remain at the parish level, in consultation with me, your bishop. While still endorsing that value, please know this is a critical time to re-examine your plans for gathering for in-person worship, if you are doing so, and make sure your process is consistent with current CDC guidelines.
Today marks 3 years since I was ordained as your bishop. Susan and I continue to be blessed by you and the East Tennessee region we all call home. Even in a challenging year, this work with you has been a joy. This work has stretched all of us this year. I hope the stretching will be one, not that overwhelms us and diminishes us, but rather one where we find new spaces in our lives where God’s grace and mercy abound. I pray that a kind of Divine creativity and innovation will continue to nurture us in this season.
We are called to be reconcilers in Christ. We are called to remain connected communities in Christ. We are called to be here and serve here now. We are the very clay that God is working with now.
Please pray for me as I pray for you.