First Mennonite Church
March 4, 2018
When Reworking the Clay Becomes Necessary
Text: Jeremiah 18:1-11
The other day I was listening to the story of a woman. She was raised in a family where several of her siblings did not have birth certificates nor ever stepped into a doctor’s office. She is the youngest of a family of seven children and she, like her other siblings, never went to school when she was young. After she turned 17, she left her home in defiance of her father’s orders. And at the encouragement of one of her aunts she decided to enroll in a community college. She remembers the first time she heard the word “Holocaust” during a class and had to raise her hand to ask for the meaning of the word. It was only after she left home that she came to realize how large the world is. She was so eager to learn that she excelled in her college and then graduated with honors from Cambridge. The woman recalls her childhood as always preparing for an imminent doom. Her dad had routinely drilled his children to head-for-the-hills into the mountains of Idaho. This family was always stockpiling food and each child was given a survival bag with basic supplies. The family’s mentality was that there was no hope for them in this country. This family believed the whole world was against them. They believed schools were part of a system to brainwash the minds of young children.
This woman credits her life’s transformation to her education. Her parents wanted her to get married and settle somewhere on her dad’s property. Her mother wanted her to become a midwife and the naturalist doctor. This family believe its survival depended on strict observation of its religion and its ability to prepare and to supply itself. They believed life and its survival depended entirely on them.
In the case of our passage for today, Judah believed God would always be on its side, no matter what. Judah believed there was nothing to worry about because God had promised to be their defense against all enemies. The temple was the physical evidence of God’s presence among them. And in their overconfidence of God’s presence and preference for them as God’s chosen people, they failed to abide by the covenant they had entered into with God. Judah started to believe God would not take into account its injustices, idolatry, and immorality. But God was watching and taking into account the sins of Judah. In chapter 17, verse one reads: The sin of Judah is written with an iron pen, with diamond point it is engraved on the tablet of their heart . . . By your own act you shall lose your heritage that I gave you and will make you serve your enemy in a land that you do not know. . . (verse 4).
God asked Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house. It was there where the Lord would make his words come to Jeremiah. God could have spoken to Jeremiah just anywhere, but the Lord wanted Jeremiah to see for himself the message through the working of the potter with his clay.
As Jeremiah watched the potter begin to fashion a vessel with his clay, the piece did not come out as desired. The vessel got spoiled in the hands of the potter as it was being fashioned. The potter had something in his mind that he wanted to make, but in the process of being shaped, it was spoiled.
Have you ever wondered what could have been of you had you not been met or called by God? If you were to look back into your past, can you pin point that decisive moment when your life’s direction changed course which led you to where you are today? You see, in Judah’s case, God rescued his people to become a light to the nations. God chose Israel to be the model for the nations of God’s work of salvation, holiness, and justice, but as it turned out, even when Israel was in the hands of God, the project went wrong. In other words, humans can derail God’s intentions for them. Humans can also help God’s purposes succeed (v. 7-10).
In my extended family there were four primary and secondary school teachers. When I was young, I wanted to be a teacher. But then, when I finished primary school (elementary and middle school) I was not able to go to high school. My dad could not afford it. However, I managed to get a high school equivalent certificate and with that I could pursue a BA degree in Bible and theology and then pursue an MA in Biblical Studies in AMBS. I did get to be a teacher, but not a school teacher as I had wanted when I was child. I taught pastors and church leaders in the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary in Central America.
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the moment the vessel got spoiled and when the potter decided to create something different. God’s word came to Jeremiah in the form of a question: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
In God’s question and statement directed to the people of Israel, we are reminded of God’s love and righteousness. “Can I not do with you just as the potter has done?” reflects both a word of hope and warning. It is a word of hope in that you and I are in the hands of God. God’s hand is at work in my life and in your life. And if something in us is not panning out, God will not discard us yet. God can recreate and refashion us into something good and pleasing to his will. But the question is also a word of warning. Hebrews 10:31 says, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. We humans can live in denial when something is going wrong or we can be blindly optimistic even when things are not going well. Therefore the question, “Can I not do with you just as the potter has done, is a reminder that God cannot be fooled. God knows when something is not going according to his will. He can and will stop the project. He will fold the clay and begin the project anew. God’s question is a warning that God will not ignore the reality in any matter. If a person, congregation or nation fails to achieve God’s purpose, God will fold the clay and begin anew.
Do you know what God is molding you into? Maybe God is trying to shape not your entire life but some particular aspect in your life. Maybe it is the way you manage your time, your money, your speech, or maybe the way you relate with others. In what area of our personal life should we turn to God?
As a congregation where could we be failing to conform to God’s will? Could it be in our prayer life? We know we are called to pray without ceasing. We know scripture calls us not to neglect gathering together for worship. We know we are called to encourage one another. We know God has also called us to be witnesses of his love and compassion to those who do not know him. About what aspect of our congregational life could God be asking us, “Can I not do with you just as the potter has done?” In what area of our congregational life could God be calling us to repentance? Just as we can be blind to our personal shortcomings, we could also be to our congregational ones. Yet, the message of God for us today is that God will not ignore any unrighteousness. Just as the potter knows when the vessel is failing to form and therefore folds the clay, so does the Lord. He knows when and where we are falling short of his will. The good news is that God will not discard us. He will remake us. He will create something new and pleasing to him. There is a glimmer of hope in the Lord. Our personal lives and our life as a congregation can be recreated and reshaped when we return to the Lord in repentance. Unlike the clay that is passive in the hands of the potter, we do have a will. Repentance from our ways allows God to recreate us, to repurpose us, to mold us into useful vessels to his glory.
This morning, God is reminding you and me that we are as clay in his hands. God reminds us: For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11) God wants to mold us into something that brings honor and glory to his holy name. Is there something God might be calling you to repent today? Let us come to the Lord and surrender into his hands. Let us ask him to mold us into a new vessel to his glory. Amen!