This morning I want you to notice how messy and dirty the hands are in our graphic. Imagine the artist who works in clay. Imagine their passion and vision as they immerse their hands deep into the muck that is water and clay. The artist can already see what they intend this shape to become; they know now what they want this piece to be and what it’s purpose is. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty and do the hard work of coaxing beauty and functionality from the amorphous mud. Along the way they may discover a flaw in the clay that might cause them to start over. They may also notice the original idea for the shape is not quite right so they reshape and remold the clay. In the end that potter completes the project and, when satisfied with it, places it in an oven where it bakes, dries, hardens, and becomes permanently suited to its new purpose. This is the art of ceramics.
We are very familiar with images of God as ruler, king, judge, and law-giver; we can easily imagine God as Father, brother, friend, Redeemer, and Savior. The Bible also gives us plenty of images of God as artist, Creator, designer, and poet. The different images may seem at odds with each other, but Jeremiah asks us to see these images in concert with one another. God is both artisan and King.
We are accustomed to images of God as ruler and judge, writer and teacher, farmer and builder,
father and mother. Jeremiah invites us also to see God as an artist. This is not a new image. Genesis shows us God who is designer, Creator, and poet. God fashions, divides, and landscapes the universe. We may imagine God as a Potter who sculpts humanity from the primeval mud of the earth; God shapes this being and breathes life into it. Jeremiah suggests that the clay of our making was never “fired” and remains pliable. Therefore, God is not finished with us just yet.
Let us pray…Lord, we ask that you might help us remain pliable in your hands. Lead us into your Word this morning in Jesus’ name. Amen.
If you have ever worked with clay, you understand what happens when it is fired. The potter molds and shapes the clay into something beautiful and functional – a bowl, or a plate, or a pitcher. When the piece is complete it is fired in a 2,000 degree oven. The result is a permanent, yet breakable, ceramic. The clay that has been fired dries, shrinks, and hardens into something designed for a single purpose. Clay that has not been fired remains pliable; it may be shaped and re-shaped infinitely.
In Jeremiah 18, God does not simply shape us once and for always. Though God molded human beings from the clay and breathed life into us, God did not “fire” the clay, leaving us permanently designed for a single purpose. God can and does shape and re-shape us in response to our strengths, weaknesses, and flaws. God is not finished with us yet. This idea that God works with us and through us to shape and improve us is not unfamiliar. It is a concept we encounter more than once in Scripture. But, there is never a report that the Lord will re-shape us into something other than what the Potter, the Creator intends. When re-shaping comes, it will be the means for recreating people into what God desires and plans. Does this imply that God has everything all planned out with no room for choice? NO – It means that God can work with our choices.
The central message of this passage is that people – as individuals and communities – need to change some behaviors. God is working here to convince Israel that they need to change or God will change his mind about how to deal with them. The change Jeremiah calls for is a turning away from evil and towards God’s design for Creation. It is a challenging call that requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves and with each other.
Discernment of this call causes us to ask:
- Is the Lord threatening to re-shape me?
- Where am I being called to change and how quickly?
- What do I need to do to allow God to re-shape me?
- Do I trust God enough to really put ALL of my life in God’s hands?
I want us to notice how messy the Potter’s hands are in the bulletin cover graphic. When we turn our messy lives over to God, God is willing to get his hands dirty – that’s a good thing. It is a blessing that God is willing to do the hard, restorative work of re-shaping the flawed clay that is us. God is able to view us completely and objectively working with our strengths and re-shaping our flaws. The process, however, requires that we are willing to remain pliable. This text may also trouble us because it presents a God who can change his mind. We’ve been taught that God remains faithful and steadfast; never changing. We’re not accustomed to thinking that God might say something and then take it back. Once God makes a decision, we imagine he made the right choice. What’s worse, Jeremiah shows us God who says: “I am a potter preparing a disaster for you; I’m working out a plan against you.” Say what?! God is plotting against the Israelites to bring them harm? Haven’t we learned that God would never cause us deliberate harm? We need to unpack this a bit and try to hear what Jeremiah is telling us.
First, let’s talk about the harm thing. What’s really going on here is that God is promising – not threatening – judgement on the Israelites unless they repent and turn back to him. This is not out of character, nor is it surprising. From this perspective we can see God who would change his mind about judgement and punishment because we have seen this behavior before. So, Jeremiah’s wording may take us by surprise, but he really is not telling us anything new. God doesn’t change, but he may choose to relent. In the course of NOT CHANGING, God changes the way he relates to his people. How God relates to us changes over time depending on who God needs us to be in any given generation. We must understand that the purpose of God’s judgement is to engender change in human behavior. That’s what Jeremiah is trying to get the people to see.
AND – this is a dynamic relationship. The Potter is not indifferent to the condition of the clay. God is not indifferent to us and how things are with us at any given moment. The Potter works with the clay to discover the best way to shape it and is able to work around or excise flaws. God is able to work with us in the same way.
Jeremiah also seems to imply that the clay itself may resist the Potter’s hand. We can choose to give-in to God’s re-shaping or resist and pursue our self-centered agenda. Finally, I want us to imagine how all of this leads us recognize that no matter how messy life gets or how much we resist, we are in God’s hands,
Clay work is messy. If we are going to cooperate with the Potter and participate in the art of molding and shaping, we too can expect to get our hands dirty. There will be risks and there will be broken pottery. At the end of the day, the Potter steps away from the wheel covered with the stuff of molding and making art. We – the clay – may groan from the strain of being shaped, but we rest in the knowledge we’ve been in God’s hands all along. Ultimately, we hope in the reality that God became clay with us to express the Potter’s own heart and will. In spite of the mess, it’s good to be in God’s hands. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.