Text: Jeremiah 18:1-6
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to throw pottery, so for Christmas that year, I was gifted with the opportunity to take a six-week pottery class at a local studio. It quickly turned into an enjoyable hobby as I ventured out from making simple bowls, plates, and mugs to things like Communion sets, teapots, and casserole dishes. There is something quite pleasant, even meditative, about running your hands over the clay as it spins on the wheel.
But in those first few weeks of learning, one of the things that caught me by surprise was how much force I needed to use to get the clay centered on the wheel. You can’t begin shaping your vessel until the clay is centered. And in order to get it centered, you have to use lots of pressure. You have to use the strength of your whole body. You have to have a steady hand.
Sometimes, it was easy for me to get a lump of clay centered. But sometimes it was hard. Sometimes it took me longer, for reasons unknown to me. Maybe it was just me, maybe it was the clay. Some days were just that way.
In this segment of Jeremiah, the prophet goes down to the potter’s house, who is at work on his wheel, creating vessels of all kinds. As Jeremiah watches, he sees the potter push down and reshape a pot he is working on. Potters do this all the time. Sometimes a vessel just doesn’t get shaped the way the potter intends. In my pottery class, we would often laugh together that the clay has a mind of its own some days. I’ve had mugs that have decided they actually wanted to be bowls, bowls that have become plates, and sometimes even teapots that decided they are best turned back into a slab of clay to be reused at another time. As I do not have the skill of a master potter, I would simply let the clay become whatever it wanted to be.
In this passage, God calls Israel clay in his hands. Israel can be re-shaped, re-fashioned. The story of Israel, in fact, is the story of a shaping of a people – a people called by God to be a part of a covenant. It is a story of a continual re-shaping, as the clay attempts to become something other than the Master Potter’s desired intentions. God, the potter, continually re-works the vessel. But notice that the potter never throws the lump of clay away. He doesn’t toss it aside in anger or frustration. He just keeps on re-working it, helping it take the desired shape.
There are at least two things I hope you can hear clearly in this text.
First – this is a story about the people of Israel – the people of the covenant. That covenant is never revoked by God. The Church does not replace or supersede the people of Israel. Our Jewish brothers and sisters continue to be a people of the covenant, clay in the potter’s hands.
Second – this is also a story about us – the people of the new covenant through Christ. God continually shapes us. God never tosses us aside in anger or frustration. He just keeps tossing water on us, and with the gentle pressure of his hands, he keeps re-working us, helping us to take the desired shape – as individuals and as a community.
Being a potter is a messy business. You get covered in clay, in water. They clay gets under your nails and all over your clothes. It can stain your hands. God is our Master Potter. He gets down in our mess and continually reshapes us – sometimes patiently and gently, sometimes more forcefully, but always with care and skill. The Master Potter never throws us aside or declares us to be useless lumps of clay (which I have, in fact, declared of some of my own particular failed pottery attempts).
Like clay in the potter’s hands, so are we in God’s hands.
o What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o Where in your life do you sense God working right now?
o Where have you resisted the work of the Master Potter in your life? I wonder what might be at the root of that resistance?
Consider an area of your life that God may be trying to transform. What can you do to become more malleable clay? What habits or disciplines might you need to take on? What might you need to let go of? Spend time journaling, praying, or talking to God about these things, asking for direction.
Find an opportunity to create, whether it is playing with clay, or play-doh, whether it is painting, crocheting, working in the garden, or any other number of things. Imagine God creating or working in you as you yourself create.
God, you are the Master Potter, and I am clay in your hands. Mold me, make me, move me. Through the waters of my baptism, make me malleable. Through the sometimes dizzying spinning of life’s wheel, shape me. Keep on working on me until all the lumps and bumps are smoothed away. Turn me into a vessel that carries your love and grace to others. Fill me, use me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.