Jeremiah, God's prophet to the people of Israel, received the word from God, “Go down to the potter’s house.” A simple task for a man used to much more difficult assignments. Then God told him, “I’ll give you instructions about what to do there.” And what Jeremiah saw was much as we just saw on the screen. The potter working clay on the pottery wheel. But God showed this to Jeremiah with an added message, a message for the nation of Israel. But we don't read scriptures to learn God's message to Israel 3000 years ago; we read to get a message for us living in the 21st century. And so we look at this passage with open hearts and minds to get a message for us today.
But while on their way there they spotted a North Carolina vehicle whose driver matched the description of a very dangerous criminal. So instead of bringing the unlicensed driver to the station, they took off on a high-speed chase for some 20 miles, often going over 110 mph. They finally stopped and arrested the criminal. As they were loading the felon into their squad car, the unlicensed motorist drove up, white as a sheet and shaking. "If y'all will just tell me how to get to the station, I'll wait for you there," he said. "I’m having a heck of a time keeping up with you!" [John Newland]
No such surprises for Jeremiah. He got to the potter's house and observed the clay on the wheel. But the potter wasn't happy with how the vase was coming along, and we read, “the piece he was making was flawed while still in his hands.” My understanding is that the potter is constantly working and reworking the pot until he or she gets it just right. As Jeremiah entered, the potter was making adjustments, “so the potter started on another, as seemed best to him.” A very familiar situation for the potter. But God had a point to make here. “Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine, house of Israel!” The message was for Israel but as I said earlier, we find a message for us as well. First for Israel, “At any time I may announce that I will dig up, pull down, and destroy a nation or kingdom.” At any time, God may bring judgment upon Israel... or any nation for that matter. In my morning devotions I'm reading Habakkuk. The whole book focuses on God's judgment of the Babylonians who God had earlier used to defeat Israel in judgment for their sins. God here affirms the right to “dig up, pull down, and destroy” any nation at anytime as God sees fit. Sounds a bit scary, doesn't it? But there is a but in the story. God adds, “but if that nation I warned turns from its evil, then I’ll relent and not carry out the harm I intended for it.” As a prophet of God, that was undoubtedly important for Jeremiah to hear. I can't imagine it was any fun constantly proclaiming God's coming judgment. But if God can have a change of mind; a change from destruction, then there is real purpose and possibilities for any prophet. God clearly says that changing planned judgment is possible. And the opposite is true as well, “At the same time, I may announce that I will build and plant a nation or kingdom; but if that nation displeases and disobeys me, then I’ll relent and not carry out the good I intended for it.”
So, God, the great I AM, the Alpha and Omega, the one who is the same yesterday, today and forever can have a change of mind? Do we understand the ramifications of that? God is sovereign in every way... I want to make that clear. Yet God reveals to Jeremiah that God responds to what is happening in the human community. Scripture has other instances of God responding to the action of the human community; Jonah preached- Nineveh repented and God didn't destroy them. God was going to destroy the wandering Israelites because of their sin and Moses “talked God out of it.” In Amos chapter 7, God is preparing a swarm of locusts and verse 3 tells us, “The Lord changed His mind about this. 'It shall not be,' said the Lord.” In fact, maybe we could paraphrase a bit and say that prophecy often has God in the process of shaping a judgment... in the process of building up.... Prophecy is not always a done deal, it is a process until God brings to pass the end results.
And so for us today, there may be two messages for our faith journeys. One, if God is in process and is responding to us, we can recognize the importance of prayer, fervent, consistent prayer. And we can consider ourselves to be clay in the hand of the creator. Let's focus on that. Listen to a description of what the clay goes through... and consider the trials we may face: “After being trampled and kneaded and poked and prodded and spun around at dizzying speeds, the clay was finally baked in a fiery furnace. Not a calming, delightful experience, but that’s what faces us as clay. Life’s “fiery trials”—debt and divorce, decay and disorder, pain and death—assault us all. But we have the consolation that there’s an eternal purpose behind it all.”1
God is the potter, we are the clay. Many hymns have been written with this passage in mind. I'm quoting some here to see how the hymn writers attach meaning for us today.
“Mold me, make me, as You’d have me be,
Take me, use me, that the lost may see;
Guard me, guide me, thru this pilgrim land,
Make me as clay, in the potter’s hand.”
Lord take me again to the house of the potter.
Mold me and make me and shape me I pray.
Jesus remove every flaw from this vessel.
And make me a vessel of honor today.
I've been through the fire in the house of the potter.
I know what it is to be tested and tried.
For there's nail prints of love in the hands of the potter.
He loves me and proves me and walks by my side.
Jesus came that we might know the love and forgiveness of God. We are loved unconditionally. But we are loved in a way that God wants what is best for us. For the Israelites it meant a change in how they lived. It may mean that for us today as well. The difference is that God put conditions on saving the Israelites... if you do this then I won't do that. And we understand conditions like that. Sometimes it is harder to understand unconditional love. There is no if-then for us. God is love, you are loved. The psalmist wrote of God's relationship to us, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” God knows us, we recognize God's works, but... God loves us too much to leave us as we are. God wants what is best for each of us and sometimes that means being put on the potter's wheel and being reshaped; being put through the fire.
A difference for us from the actual clay is that the clay doesn't resist the will of the potter. We human beings have free will and we can and often do resist the hand of God shaping us in ways that are uncomfortable; ways that are difficult, ways that require more effort than we may like. Our job is to examine our lives; is God looking for change in your life? Is God calling you to serve in new ways? This is a very pertinent question right now as we see leadership changes in our congregation. It is not going to be comfortable but we can look to God as the potter, shaping the future of First Presbyterian. Our hymn is a prayer, a prayer for us as individuals and a prayer for our community of faith: “Thou are the potter, we are the clay, mold us and make us, after Thy will, while we are waiting muted and still.” Then allow the master potter to work in your life, be patient, yielded and still in the Lord's presence. Let the Lord of life speak to your heart today. Wait, listen, seek, obey. Jeremiah went to the potter's house and learned of God's sovereignty. We have been to the Lord's house, may we be molded to trust in God's sovereignty as revealed in God's word. Amen.
Hymn: Have Thine Own Way, Lord