As I prepared for the fall and the start of the programming year, I wanted to begin with a sermon series that would encourage us individually, and as a church, to expand our souls and enlarge our faith. I thought one way to do that is to encourage us to discover our own superpowers and the superhero within us all.
I’m not exactly sure why movies and television series about superheroes have become all the rage of late. Perhaps we are all feeling the threat from the destruction of the environment, or we are exhausted by the degradation of our civic values and moral principles. There is a level of anxiety, angst, and antagonism I have never seen.
We are desperate for a hero to come to the rescue, and we are pretty clear they will need some amazing superpowers. We keep looking, however, for that woman or man in the political realm. I wonder if we ought not aim higher than politicians.
The challenging truth, as we often have been told, is that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the ones called by God to transform the current systems into a commonwealth of grace and peace.
Now, I don’t know about you, but it isn’t exactly comforting to me to be told I’m it. I was hoping God had a better plan.
It is said that, after Jesus returned to heaven, the angels asked what he would do if people he had called didn’t change the world and bring the realm of God on earth. Jesus simply shook his head and said, “There is no plan B.”
WE ARE IT!
Apparently, God has much more confidence in us than we do. We shrug our shoulders and say we’re only human, but Jesus’ favorite title for himself was the “Human One” because he seemed to think that finding our true humanity was enough.
That is the dilemma. We are all there is, but we don’t believe we are enough. We get overwhelmed and then immobilized. We feel small and inadequate, TINY, like grains of salt, or perhaps mustard seeds, or maybe a pinch of yeast. Of course, Jesus used all those small things to illustrate how the realm of God would come on earth as it is in heaven. Just how that is to happen is a mystery, which is where God comes in.
The great good news of our faith is that, with God, all things are possible, if we can believe. Believe in ourselves in one another, and in God. We can change; we can grow; we can become more than we’ve been. We can become what we were created to be. But not alone. We need each other, and we need God.
We were not created to be the solitary superhero who flies in to save the day all by herself. We were created to be a community of transformers who are making changes as we are changed. Or, to use biblical language, we are the community of the redeemers who still are being redeemed.
So, how do we discover our superpowers and become a team of superheroes? Well, the good news is that the process already has begun, and what God is hoping is we will be more cooperative with the work of the Spirit.
I love that image from Jeremiah of God as the potter and us as the clay. The key here is that the end result is a dream in the heart of our creator, but it requires the clay to be cooperative.
We may think it’s pretty cool that we are being shaped by God, until the shape doesn’t match what we imagine. Soon we are questioning, “God I thought you were shaping me into a beautiful văse.”
“Nope.” says God, “I’m shaping you into a brick. I have more than enough vāses and they all call themselves văses. I need a brick.”
Perhaps the secret to becoming the superhero of God’s dreams is that, like clay, we must remain malleable, flexible, adaptable. I know that, for the churches with whom I consult, their ability to adapt to the changing world is the number one indicator if they will survive very long into the 21st century. So. too, only IF you and I will remain malleable, agile, and flexible can we be shaped by God into the superheroes the Bible has in mind when it says we must be born again, and again, and again, so that we become God’s new creation.
When we get stuck in our ways, fixed in our beliefs, rigid about our concept of God, then we have created an idol, rather than a dynamic, living relationship. To say that another way, discovering our superpowers requires us to learn and grow and change if we are going to get off the ground where we have been stuck.
When clay dries out and becomes brittle it is useless to the Potter, yet that describes the state of too many souls. Honestly, all of us are pretty dry and brittle in some area of our lives. The great news is that a little water can make clay malleable and useful again. That is why we must continually remember and renew our baptisms, that symbol of our transformed and transforming life.
Flying, soaring like eagles, takes courage. The art of becoming takes the audacity to believe that, although you aren’t yet who you are going to be, you also aren’t who you used to be. Can we dare to become the living embodiment of God’s transforming, healing, including love? Or is that too high and holy a calling for us?
If you think your life can’t be used by God to heal the world then you still don’t comprehend what it means to be clay in the Potter’s hands, or perhaps you have forgotten who is the potter and who is the clay.
Jesus tried to tell us that being willing to surrender our life and pay the price is what it means for us to become heavenly superheroes, clay in the Potter’s hands. As always, the choice is yours.
Many of us grew up in churches that portrayed God as One who breaks us down and crushes us until all the impurities in our life are gone, but I think the imagery of the potter is a promise from God that, although life may crush us down, the God of Life will take us in hand and gently reform us into something beautiful, someone more powerful than we can even imagine.
On the night you were born, God dreamed of all you could be. Life may have distracted us, or wounded us, or even broken us. Still, the Potter has a beautiful image of you and will continue turning the wheel, working through it all to make something beautiful and good of us.
Bill Hinson was a colleague of mine when I was a Methodist minister in South Georgia. He left there and became the pastor of the very large First Methodist Church in Houston. Bill and I disagreed about almost everything theologically and politically, but he was a powerful preacher. I still remember a story he told about a wonderful woman named Fran King who was active in his church.
Fran was stricken with cancer. Because she was so active in church and a spiritual leader, people would come up to her and express their dismay that God would allow something like this to happen to someone like her.
Fran was wise enough to know that behind the question was anxiety that, if this fate could befall her, how would their faith protect them? She also was a good enough theologian to say, “God didn’t send the cancer, but that doesn’t mean God can’t use it to make me a better person.”
Fran had the deep peace of one who knew what the Bible means when it says, “If we live we live unto the Lord, and if we die we die unto the Lord. Whether therefore we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.” Fran knew she didn’t have to survive because she was made of a clay that was eternal.
As Fran’s time grew small, her husband and young children asked Rev. Hinson to pray that God would give her one last Christmas. Of course, he said he would, but, by Thanksgiving, it was clear that was not to be.
Bill said it was one of the hardest deaths of his ministry. Even as the funeral began, he still didn’t know what to say. Just as he stood up to speak that morning, the sun broke out of the clouds and streamed through resurrection window of the church.
It was then that Bill heard God say through him, “My friends, God did not give Fran another Christmas. God gave her an Easter instead.”
Ultimately, resurrection may be the potter’s most powerful tool. I don’t just mean the resurrection that comes after we die. Our Potter is the one who can take clay that has been crushed by the events of our lives or the situations of our world and remold it into something beautiful, good, and powerful. I believe the key is keeping your faith pliable and responsive to the Spirit who is even now trying to work within you.
John Pavlovitz has written a new book entitled “Hope and other Superpowers.” The subtitle is “A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World-Saving Manifesto.”
I don’t know what your superpower is, and I don’t know how you will become a world-saving superhero. What I do know is that the only way it will happen is if you believe it can and cooperate with the Potter.
Maybe you can’t believe that about yourself, so, today, I’m just asking you to believe it about God, and try and keep your clay moist and your baptism fresh.