The Potter & The Clay
Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
Jeremiah 18:1-4 / Ref: Isaiah 64:1-8
March 16th 2014
Waiting takes a lot of patience. If you have ever gone to the airport you know precisely what I mean. First you wait in line to check your bags and if you didn’t buy your ticket before you arrived, you’ll wait in line to buy it at the airport. Now that you have your ticket and your luggage is properly checked you proceed towards the gate where you hope your plane will be waiting for you. Along the way you must wait in line to pass through the security check point. Possibly you’ll wait while the man in front of you discovers he left his keys in his pocket thus setting off the alarm system. Finally, you arrive at your gate and after fifteen more minutes in line you discover you have your boarding pass and didn’t need to be in line. Even if your plane leaves as scheduled by the time you arrive at your destination and retrieve your baggage you will have done a considerable amount of waiting. It takes a lot of patience and tolerance to travel by air. If you have any doubts about this simply ask anyone who has done any air travel this season!
In the book of Isaiah Chapter 64 (another of the major prophets, alongside Jeremiah) we find the prophet Isaiah pleading with God for a dramatic appearance. “O that you would tear-open the heavens and come down.” Isaiah’s prayer to God is not at all subtle. He wants God to boldly come down causing the mountains to tremble and quake as he does so. Isaiah pleads with God to make his presence known to their adversaries. The people of Israel long for the marvels of the Exodus. Yet, Isaiah also proclaims that God works for those who for wait for the Creator’s presence. Just as we must accept the process of waiting when we go to an airport, Isaiah acknowledges that sometimes we must wait for God.
What did the people of Israel do while they waited for God to dramatically re-appear into their lives? Isaiah holds nothing back while addressing God. He said to God: “we sinned and we transgressed.” Isaiah’s confession to God of their sinfulness is very moving. We are left with an image of the entire people sinning. It is a tragic picture of a whole nation in spiritual disintegration. In verse seven Isaiah proclaims to God that: “there is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you.” Here we are reminded of the effort that is required to have faith. Faith needs to be in response to God’s merciful advance into our lives. Faith is more than a passive state of being, faith is an action!
Isaiah’s vehement supplication ends with a final plea to God. “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 reference portrays God as parent and creator or simply stated: our maker. The imagery of the potter, the picture of a crafts person, molding and shaping a piece of clay is meant to bring forth the picture of God our Creator, forming and designing us each individually. This morning’s scripture out of the Book of Jeremiah puts forth the same imagery for us to ponder.
If you have ever been around a potter or any crafts person you know that once they have finished a piece of art they are proud of it. My brother, John lives in Portland Oregon, and he designs and makes different works of art out of pine needles which he collects from California. I have never seen or heard of him casting away a utensil he has shaped. It has been said, and I quote: “And he that with his hand the Vessel made will surely not in after wrath destroy.” /Author Unknown/ Isaiah was calling upon God to give the people yet another chance. On behalf of the people of Israel, he was counting on God’s mercy; Isaiah was calling upon God to save his work as any good potter would.
God’s response to Isaiah can be found in chapters sixty five and six of the Book of Isaiah. For those who endure and wait God does respond. Verse thirteen clarifies the response: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” We also know that previously in the book of Isaiah chapter eleven the coming Messiah was prophesied. This passage is often read during Advent, during the children’s pageant and again during a Christmas Eve service. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out from his roots.” God’s response to Isaiah’s confession of sin for the people of Israel is to assure them that they will be comforted like a mother comforts her child.
Jesus was born over two thousand years ago. He was crucified roughly thirty years after his birth. Recently, during our communion celebration, we were reminded of Jesus’ words to the disciples during that last supper. “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus came to us as the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah and he took upon himself our sins so that we might bridge the gap between our human-ness and God’s divine-ness. We no longer must wait for our Messiah, our Savior has come.
Lent, is however an opportunity for us to renew and restore our relationship with God, as we journey toward our annual celebration of the Risen Christ on Easter morning. During this Lenten season we might want to consider and reflect on our personal responses to life and our interactions with the people in our lives. Just as I suggested on Ash Wednesday that we might wish to consider increasing our times of prayer, even by as little as a minute or five minutes a day! We may also want to consider asking our God, the Master Potter, to remold an aspect of our behavior, our personal response to life and the world around us. Let us stay open to this possibility.
Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ response to the question regarding: “Which commandment is the first of all?” found in the gospel according to Mark chapter twelve. You will recall that Jesus answered saying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” How many of us can say we love God as completely as this commandment calls upon us to? Jesus continues his answer to the scribe saying: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” Some of the basic ways to love oneself is by eating and exercising properly, seeing a doctor regularly, and providing proper shelter and clothing for ourselves. I ask you: do we see to it that our neighbors have these same basic things? How can we love our neighbor if we are focused on our own desires? Hopefully our desires never spill over into greed. Is it not a sin, when we do not love… our neighbors as we love ourselves?
I was recently asked if the act of omission is a sin? To answer the question one might need to consider what is being omitted! Have we omitted putting God first in our lives? Do we omit God from our hearts, and minds? Do we forget to love God with all our strength? Do we omit making an effort to love our neighbors as we so clearly love ourselves? Lent is a time for us to reflect on what it means to love God; it is a time perhaps to reconsider our relationships with our neighbors, and to reevaluate our definition of who are neighbors are. And once again let us draw on the imagery of God as the Master Potter, and invite our personal God to reshape, remold how we approach relationships with others.
Jeremiah, like Isaiah uses the metaphor of a potter to bring to our minds an image of God as Creator. In this passage from Jeremiah we are taken to the potter’s house: “Come, go down to the potter’s house.” It is at the potter’s house that we are led to see how the potter reworks the clay when it is still on the potter’s wheel. “He (the potter) reworked it (the clay) into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” The vessel does not choose its shape or the time in which it is formed, the potter does. We are like the clay. We must wait for God, our Creator, to form us. But it is through Christ that we are able to be reborn. We are able to be reformed, as an earthen vessel that is reworked at the potter’s wheel. (Jeremiah 18: 1-4)
How will you prepare for the living God to be more fully in your life? Will you go about your live as usual, or will you use this time of Lent to renew and restore your faith? What action will you take? We come together as a community of believers, yet, we must take our relationship with God individually. Will our pride continue to blind us to the truths around us? Will our acts of omission continue to bloke us from fully partaking in the meaning of Easter?
In ancient times the besieged nation of Israel transgressed and turned away from God during their time of waiting. Yet, even then God promised salvation. The mighty hand of God was to come and reshape them if they could keep their faith during their times of temptation and trial. God sent us a Savior, in the form of a man named Jesus, “from the stump of Jesse” to bridge this gap between human kinds sinfulness and God’s divine-ness.
All who accept the ‘gospel’s witness to these events’ and like clay submit to the Potter’s hand will be transformed into useful vessels based on his will.
I had considered asking one of our vocalists to break out in song at this very moment, unfortunately I did not ask. Therefore, I will go ahead and read you these words from a hymn by Adelaide Pollard: “Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting yielded and still.”
In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 64, verse 8 there is a simple reminder of the words of the prophet who speaks for us: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
Consider using this thought process in your prayers during your journey through Lent. Ever be reminded of the words of Jeremiah, when he takes us into the potter’s house where we find the “potter working 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.”
As we wait to celebrate our risen Christ, we may slip and fall breaking into shattered pieces the tasks thus far achieved. Take Heart! Your Creator will not discard you because of an imperfection. You will continue to be saved. The Master Craftsman will continue to mold you and rework you, if you yield to the Spirit’s tender touch. Let your personal prayers acknowledge your acceptance of the potter’s hand in your life.