First Mennonite Church
July 10, 2022
As Clay in the Potter’s Hands
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 for this morning is that of Jeremiah being sent by the Lord to the potter’s house. There, the Lord would give Jeremiah 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 kitchenware, but also to store grain and fetch water. The potter’s wares 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 in the process of creating something, 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? Asked the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel,” concluded the Lord.
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 people buy clay for their art projects, they go to Michael’s Store. The pottery kits there have smooth and malleable clay. There is no 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. Rocks and foreign matter usually yield faulty products or cause cracks during the firing phase. 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 or have we resisted taking the shape he wants to give us? Unlike the clay that has no possibilities of jumping off the potter’s wheel, we can resist God’s work in us.
I remember that day in 1982, one of my Bible teachers asked the class what we believed God was calling us for. When my turn came to answer the question, I said I wanted to be a Bible teacher. After I said that I felt a little apprehensive about the answer I gave. I wondered, “What if that never happens?” Yet, when I gave that answered I was convinced that was what God was calling me for. 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 remains the possibility, however, that some aspects about God’s plans for our lives might all not come to full fruition. In most cases this happens not because God is incapable of fashioning us, but because we resist his work in us. One comforting truth there is about such circumstance, however, is that as long as you and I are alive, God’s work in us will continue on. As long as we are living, God will keep 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. Therefore, it is dangerous when we believe that we cannot change any more. The reality is that when someone claims, “This is me or who I am, and do not expect me to change,” what such a person is saying to God, is “You do not have power to work in my life anymore.” We should remember that just as the clay cannot shape itself into anything, neither can we change by ourselves. It has to be God who will change us.
There is a major 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 force his will on us. And this leads us to the second lesson.
Just as humans can experience a change of heart, God does also. 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. If we heed God’s calling, then his judgment is changed into grace. In the same way, if we reject his word, instead of compassion judgment comes. These verses show us that God’s intentions, plans, and rule are open to our response. That truth was revealed even at the very beginning of our passage. When the potter’s first plan failed, he simply folded the clay and started over with a new design in mind.
My 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!