This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Jim Teague
FPCE director of communications.
Wednesday morning, the First Pres church staff arrived at work to the news that Jerry Sapp, our director of finance, beloved coworker, technological brain trust, and all-around good guy, had died just hours earlier of a heart attack.
Jerry had only been with us on staff since the middle of February.
Senior Pastor Ray Hylton gathered those of us who were working in the office that morning for a time of commiseration, reflection, and prayer. Each of us handles news like this in his or her own way. At the Wednesday meeting, some of us sat in stunned silence while others reminisced about our interactions with Jerry, who was exceptionally bright, quick-witted, and had a broad range of interests. There were those who asked Ray about the phone call he had during which he had learned the news from Jerry’s wife, Sue. There was a shared concern for her, their sons Michael and James, and the grandchildren. There were practical questions, too, though few answers available so quickly after hearing the news. Click here to read his obituary and learn about memorial arrangements.
Many of us just shook our heads and looked at our hands.
If you hang around churches long enough, there are a few patterns you see take place time and time again:
- Tragedy often takes place in clusters (or at least it seems to).
- A verse that was selected weeks or even months earlier for the Sunday sermon seems particularly applicable at the moment of a tragedy.
- There are rarely—if ever—answers to the question “why did this have to happen?”
This Sunday’s Scripture reading comes from Jeremiah 18:1-11, where the Lord instructs the prophet to go visit the potter’s house. Jeremiah watches the potter work the clay at his wheel. “The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.”
The potter, in other words, has permission to destroy and reshape his creation “as seems good to him.”
I suspect you may see the connection I am making between the verses we will look at this Sunday and the sudden passing of our co-worker.
Jerry, like all of us, was merely clay in the potter’s hands.
If you’ve read the entire passage, please, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not equating Jerry with the rebellious nation of Israel or somehow implying that he had something to repent of that might have spared him from this. I’ve had my share of genuinely sincere believers suggest some of my life’s troubles were the bitter fruit of some hidden (or not-so-hidden) sin in my life.
It so happens that I am currently reading the Book of Job as part of morning trek through the Bible, and part of Wednesday morning’s reading was Chapter 4, where the “friend of Job” Eliphaz the Temanite suggests Job must have done something to deserve the troubles that have come upon him.
8 As I have seen, those who plough iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
9 By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.
With friends like that…
My point is simply this: We seek God’s purpose in all things, but only rarely are we given a glimpse of anything beyond the broader plan of his love for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In the book of Romans, Chapter 9, the Apostle Paul raises the question so many of us face when dealing with disappointment, confusion, or death.
20 But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is moulded say to the one who moulds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? (Romans 9:20-21)
I am befuddled by Jerry’s death. He leaves loved ones behind who loved him and who he loved deeply (he is already famous around here for bragging on his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and even his “granddog.”)!
This seems not only unfair, but definitely counter to how I would have made things to be. Jerry had quickly made himself an integral part of the First Pres staff and was helping to shape processes and plans that may well have benefited the church for years to come.
I woke up this morning to a beautiful day and resumed my reading in the Book of Job. In response to more insinuations of hidden sin by his friends, Job turns his attention to God and uses the analogy of our lives being clay in his hands.
9 Remember that you fashioned me like clay;
and will you turn me to dust again?
10 Did you not pour me out like milk
and curdle me like cheese?
11 You clothed me with skin and flesh,
and knit me together with bones and sinews.
12 You have granted me life and steadfast love,
and your care has preserved my spirit.
Of course we know how the book ends. God answers Job, but not with an explanation of his plans and purposes. He reveals who he is, emphatically reminding Job who is the Creator and who is the creation. Job is suitably humbled. More than that, he is satisfied.
Many scholars believe Job is the oldest book of the Biblei and among the first to examine the question of why suffering exists and whether or not God is the one who brings it upon us.ii
I can’t claim to fully understand all the arguments for and against such heady concepts as predestination, free will, and the existence of Satan.
Like anyone, my life has its share of beauty and darkness, joy and sorrow, victory and loss. I relate to Job but shrink back at the thought of challenging our God to answer my complaints (of which I have more than a few).
For the most part, my experience of walking with Jesus for more than two-thirds of my life confirms my faith in God’s goodness more than it would testify against it.
I am eager to hear what Pastor Ray has for us this Sunday at 10 a.m., and look forward to sharing in Communion as part of God’s beloved body.
Praying God’s perfect peace and holy presence would be with us all,
Director of Communications