First Mennonite Church
November 4, 2018
So Are You in My Hand
Text: Jeremiah 18:1-6
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 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.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 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.
Have you ever been to a craftsman’s shop, I mean like that of a carpenter’s shop, a tailor’s shop, a shoe maker’s shop, or a music writer’s shop? In the same way a music writer creates his/her music, so do other artists. The music writer hears the music in his/her mind and fine tunes it by humming and strumming, measuring time and finally by scribbling the notes down. Other artists create using the same process. They envision in their mind what the finished piece of art would look like and then they begin to measure, cut, trim and glue, or sew the pieces together and out comes something new and beautiful. And as for a painter, he or she begins by stretching the canvas, mixing shades of color, setting the background colors and measuring space. And when all is said and done, out comes an amazing piece that may be worth exhibiting in an art gallery.
In my little town in Belize, Mr. Antonio Soliz was the shoemaker; he was also the tanner. (Every time my dad skinned a deer, which was often, he asked my brother and me to take the skin over to Mr. Soliz’s shop. It stank!) My neighbor across the street from my home was the tailor. He inspired me to become one. Before the Medina family established its carpentry shop, we bought our furniture in Shipyard, a Mennonite colony about five miles away from where I lived. There were various carpentry shops in this colony. When you went into these shops the smell of mahogany wood mixed with the smell of glue filled the air. The shop of Mr. Enns was my favorite. On occasions when I needed some fine pieces of mahogany boards for my projects, I would take my rough lumber I got from the sawmill and have Mr. Enns plain it for me. Every artist’s shop is unique. The personality of the artist is unique, the equipment or hardware is unique and even the smell in each shop is unique.
Jeremiah was summoned by God to leave his study and go to visit an artist. There, in the shed of the potter, Jeremiah would be able to hear the words of God. There he would be able to understand the way God works. There he would be able to know what God wants to do with his people, Israel.
In many other parts of Scriptures we find God acting like a judge, like a teacher, like a father or mother, or like a lover. But here God wanted Jeremiah to see God as an artist or a craftsman. God wanted Jeremiah to see him working with his hands mixing, folding, and shaping, firing the clay according to a potter’s trade. Although the clay was in the potter’s hands the initial project did not come as was intended. And that was in part the message Jeremiah readily gathered. Israel was not shaping up according to God’s intent. In light of the failed attempt, the potter decided to reshape the project. And again, Jeremiah picked up the message. Israel was being given another chance. The message was: As the potter redoes the project, so are you in my hands, Israel. But as we know from the book of Jeremiah, Israel remained recalcitrant. Israel refused to be reshaped and God brought upon her judgment. The Babylonians carried the people into exile and Jerusalem was left desolate. It is no wonder why the writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament wrote: It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). That is true for anyone refuses to allow the hand of God to shape his or her life, whether it be of an individual or a nation.
In the Gospel of John we read: The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands (John 3:35). In light of this declaration, we know that everything, the whole cosmos, every nation, every individual, you and I are in the hands of Jesus now. But from the trail of evidence he left we can be comforted to know that Jesus’ hands performed miracles, healing, transformation, and in fact our salvation.
In the hands of Jesus the bread and fish were multiplied and a starving crowd got to eat lunch. By the touch of Jesus’ hands the dead were brought back to life. By the hands of Jesus, children were touched, blessed and made feel loved and valued. With his hands, Jesus touched the blind and the man recovered his sight.
At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them (Luke 10:40). And that night those who had been sick slept well and the caregivers got respite from their demanding duties.
With his hands Jesus touched the woman who was known for years as the bent-over lady and she was able to stand and walk upright for the first time in many years (Luke 13:13).
When the man with leprosy said to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus said, “I am willing. Be clean!” He reached out his hand and touched the man. (Luke 5:12, 13). It reminds us that it does not matter how icky we might look to the world, Jesus would not hesitate to touch us and make us whole.
When the crust of the bread cracked in Jesus’ hands, the two drifting disciples on the road to Emmaus realized it was Jesus who had been with them along their sad journey. In a similar manner Jesus wants to appear to us in the simple sharing of bread together. Jesus wants to appear to us in the moments, places, and activities we might consider mundane and common if we only allow him to walk alongside us, if we only dare to empty our aching hearts before him.
After the third day of his crucifixion, Jesus came to his fearful and disillusioned disciples and showed them his hands and they all rejoiced because they knew it was the Lord. The disciples were able to see the marks of the nails in his hands and knew it must be Jesus who was crucified.
My dear friends, God’s words to Israel are also words for us today: so are you in my hand. And these words can be a scary message, for Hebrews says, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.” But God was pleased to put everything in the hands of Jesus and through Jesus’ hands humanity got the opportunity to be touched by God. You and I have been touched by the hands of God, through his Son. But let us be reminded, there is a complex interaction between us and the hands of God in Christ. We are more than a mass of supple clay. God cannot make us do anything. God cannot force us to use our gifts or to choose what is good. Nor can God effect our conversion or direct our lives and our will to a new path and purpose if we do not also choose to do so. We are not robots. We are not passive objects to be moved or shaped without our consent.
So here is God’s invitation to us. Just as he did to the dead young man, he wants to revive our heart. So, let us allow the hands of Jesus to resurrect in us a new passion for him. If lately your love for the Lord has been dying or fading away, let Jesus touch and revive your heart and soul. Just as he opened the eyes of the blind, so must we allow him to touch us with his hands to open our eyes to see the humanity in others. In a time when labels are thrown upon people, let us allow Jesus to touch our eyes so that we may see others as he does. Just as he touched and blessed the little children, so must we allow him to touch and bless us with a new sense of dignity and worth, especially in a world where worth and value are placed on things. Just as he touched the bent over woman and made her stand and walk upright, so must we allow him to make us upright. Unless he makes us upright we cannot walk in righteousness. Just as he showed his hands to his fearful disciples, so must we take a good look at the pierced hands of Jesus. His hands will remind us that love is costly, love is not a sentimental feeling, but an act of giving oneself for the other.
Above all, let us be reminded that the purpose of Jesus’ hands touching us is to transform us, to convert us into his image.
Dear friends, it is not until we have been touched by the hands of Jesus that real and profound healing will come to us. It is not until he lifts up our burden that we will indeed be made free by the Son of Man. It is not until he touches and heals our heart that we will be able to let go of hurts in the past that still hold us imprisoned in anger or resentment. It is not until we allow ourselves be molded by the hands of the living God that we as his people will become witnesses to the transformative power of God.
God pleads with you and me today, “Let my hands touch you, for like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”
May the last hymn for today, “Have Thine Own Way,” be a prayer of surrender into the hands of God. Amen!