First Mennonite Church
September 20, 2015
The Potter Is Still at Work
The little song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands” captures the essence of this passage. Like clay in the hands of the potter, so was Israel and the whole world in the hands of the Great Creator God. The biblical story before us presents Jeremiah being commissioned by the Lord to go to the potter’s house. There, the Lord would give him a message he will have to deliver to the house of Judah. In Jeremiah’s time potters played an important role in domestic life. Every head of household had to go to the potter’s shop. Every household needed pots, plates, jars, etc. not only to use as kitchen ware but also to store grain and fetch water. The potter’s ware were not always as durable as some we have today. Therefore, every time a clay pot, jar, or plate of daily use broke the potter will have the visit of loyal customer. On that occasion, Jeremiah’s visit to the potter was not to buy a pot to replace a broken one. This time his visit to the potter’s house was for him to receive word from Yahweh.
The potter was working on a ware but before it was ready to be glazed and fired, the piece went out of shape. The potter simply folded the clay into a new lump and started with a different project this time. At that point the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah. It came by way of question, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does? Then God declared, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”
There are at least two lessons we can learn from what Jeremiah was witnessing. God is the potter and you and I are the clay. When God began to work in us he had a clear plan. God envisioned a particular design for each of us. The day we came to the Lord, or when the Lord decided to take us into his hands and to shape us into a useful utensil to his glory, God began crafting, shaping and molding our lives. God began to show us the way of his will through his word. God began taking away from our lives those things that were useless and obstacles to the process of our formation into his will.
Today, when we buy clay for our children to make their school projects, we go to Michael’s Store. The clay we get there is so smooth and bland. We do not have to worry the clay might contain rocks or anything that would cause a faulty design. However in a rudimentary potter’s shop in Jeremiah’s time, the potter had to knead the clay over and over again removing the rocks and pebbles that usually damaged the process of the design or cracked the pot when fired. The potter spent good time preparing his clay before he could actually start shaping and molding it into a design.
That is the same process we go through when God takes us into his hands. Each of us like contaminated clay, God has to remove from us those habits, sins, and traits that are obstacles and prevent God from making us into useful vessels. God needs to knead us over and over again. God needs to take us into his hands and squeeze and filter us between his fingers searching and probing us for rocks and contamination. This process can be painful and unsettling. And the way God does this is when his word begins to nag us, convict us, and call us to surrender areas of our life that prevents us from being formed and shaped into God’s design.
As Jeremiah witnessed what was going on between potter and clay, he noticed the lump of clay did not fight back the will of the potter. This is what Paul makes reference when he wrote: But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:20-21)
I said that the first lesson we can learn from this passage is that God had a plan for our lives when he called and took us into his hands. Have we allowed God to work out his plan with our lives? Let us remember that the clay has no possibilities of jumping off the potter’s wheel. Was there a time in your Christian life that you were sure what God’s purpose was for your life? How has that played out?
I remember in 1982, when one of my Bible teachers once asked the class she was teaching, what we believed God was calling us for. When my turn to answer came, I said I wanted to be a Bible teacher as well. After I said that I was a little apprehensive about the answer I gave. I wondered, what if it never happened. Yet, when I gave that answered I was convinced that was what God was calling me to. It was in 1998 when I started teaching at the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary that I realized how true my conviction was of God’s calling for my life.
There is a real possibility, however, that during the process of God working with us that his intention might not come to full fruition. In part the truth is that as long as you and I are alive, God’s work in us will always be an unfinished work. As long as we are living, God is still shaping and molding us into the likeness of his Son Jesus Christ. It is until we die that God’s work in us will end. And we must be fully aware of this. It is dangerous when we believe that we cannot change any more. When someone claims, “This is me or who I am, and do not expect me to change” in reality what that person is saying to God, “You do not have power to work in my life anymore.” It is true that you cannot change by yourself. But neither the clay shapes itself into something beautiful or useful. And so are we. It has to be God who can change us. There is a difference, however: the clay cannot jump off the potter’s wheel. But when it comes to God, even when he is sovereign, God will not violate human freedom. And this leads us to the second lesson.
Just as humans can experience and change of heart, so does God. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
These verses indicate to us that even when God is sovereign and in control of world history and of each of our lives, God is not inflexible with his plan for us and the world. God’s openness to change his mind is promised in the context of refraining from bringing judgment. This does not mean, however, that God will never fulfill what he has said. God’s openness to change his mind is promised to those who also change their ways before him when God calls them to repentance. If we heed his calling, his word of judgment is changed to a word of forgiveness. In the same way, if we reject his word, his word of compassion is withheld and judgment then comes. These verses show us that God intention, plans and rule are open to our response to his desire to shape us according to his divine plan. This is revealed even at the very beginning of our passage. When the first plan failed, the potter simply folded the clay and started over with a new design in mind.
Dear sisters and brothers, there is good news. When the potter realized that his first attempt at giving shape to a lump of clay became flawed, he did not get angry nor did he discard the clay. He right away began with a new plan and design. I wonder how many times God has restarted designing me! I am extremely grateful that God has not discarded me. I am amazed at God’s patience and grace to redesign my life. I want to tell you, the Potter is still at work in my life. The Potter is still at work in your life. God will continue his good work in us until the day of Jesus Christ, says the apostle Paul. Let us allow God to shape us, to mold us, and to use us, as the song goes. Let us allow God to remove from us all those things that prevent us from being useful vessels to his glory. We are the clay and God is the Potter. Amen!