JEREMIAH 18:1-6, OT, p.000.
18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 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.
Have you ever tried to make something out of clay? I remember when I was in elementary school, we were given an art assignment to make a piece of pottery out of a lump of clay. All of the kids in my class were given the same size block of clay, and we were told to form this clay into a nice piece of pottery. Our teacher said we could make anything we wanted to make from our block of clay, but she warned us that we might want to try something easy – maybe something like a plate, or a saucer, or even a bowl. She said anything with a handle would be much too difficult to make, so she discouraged us from making something like a coffee mug.
Well, I have always enjoyed a challenge, and this sounded like a good challenge to me. If a coffee mug was a difficult piece of pottery to make, then that’s what I was going to make. After all, how hard could it be, right? A coffee mug seemed fairly simple to me.
Full of pride in my decision, I set out eagerly to make my coffee mug. Quickly, however, I learned that my teacher was right—coffee mugs were very hard to make! I could not get the rim of my mug smooth or even. The handle kept falling off the side of the mug. And my mug would not sit level on the table—it kept leaning to the side like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I changed my mind and turned my coffee mug into a simple plate. Being a potter—a person who makes things out of clay—is a job that requires a tremendous amount of skill and talent.
Can you remember a time when you tried to make something out of clay?
- How did you do?
- What did you make?
- How did your project turn out?
- What was the easiest part of working with clay?
- What was the most difficult part?
- What kinds of skills do you need to be a good potter?
Maybe you never attempted a pottery project, but you probably remember playing with Play-Doh. What were some of your favorite things to make with Play-Doh? What was your most challenging Play-Doh project? Why is playing with Play-Doh so much fun?
Jeremiah was a prophet of God for the nation of Israel. He was born about 625 years before the time of Jesus. He grew up in a small village called Anathoth, which was just a few miles north of the big city of Jerusalem. Many of the people in Jeremiah’s family were priests who served God in the temple in Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s family was faithful to God, so he grew up learning about God, loving God, and worshiping God in the temple.
In our verses for today, Jeremiah shares an important lesson he learned from God in a very unique way. God told Jeremiah to go to the house of a man in his village who made pottery, and once he got there, God would reveal an important message to Jeremiah. So, Jeremiah went to the potter’s house. When he got to the potter’s house, Jeremiah watched as the potter took some clay and began making a pot. But as the potter worked, Jeremiah noticed that the pot was not forming the way the potter wanted it to be shaped, so the potter changed the shape of the pot. When the shape of the pot changed, the potter was then pleased with his creation because the potter liked the new form of the pot better than the older form.
Then God said to Jeremiah, “I wanted you to see the potter remake the pot into a different form. You, Jeremiah, and all the people of Israel are like the clay in the potter’s hand, for you are in my hands. I will form you and make you as I want you to be. Trust me, and let me create you as I want you to be.”
God was also warning Jeremiah. God was saying that sometimes people can make themselves the way they want to be instead of allowing God to make us and mold us in God’s way. God’s message to Jeremiah was that we should always trust God and allow God to make us the way God wants us to be.
The only way that God can make us into what God needs is if we remain moldable. If we are flexible and listen to God. If we are a material of possibility. The call is to allow God to shape and reshape us as needed for God’s ministry. Now this is very difficult because we tend to dry out – harden – become brittle – rigid – we believe that we have a single purpose, but the reality is that God can and will reshape us if we are open to molding. Open to God’s still small voice. That is the challenge for today – are we willing to be remolded into what God needs for our family, our friends, our community and our church?
Rev. Sasha Makovkin of Mendocino, California, a fabulously talented potter who’s also a Presbyterian minister and teacher, has shared a helpful insight. Potters in Jeremiah’s day were production potters. They didn’t make art for art’s sake. Art for art’s sake didn’t happen until the era of the so-called “enlightenment.” Potters in Jeremiah’s day made useful vessels. Although some of it was beautiful art, it was still a utilitarian task. So when a potter at the wheel decided to start over, he would make another pot–a new vessel of the same type or, as we read in verse 4, “another vessel as seemed good to him.” That is the way that production potters work.
God doesn’t say, “The church isn’t working–I’ll make a different kind of social agency.” God wants to create in us a good and useful church, a beautiful work of art. But if our clay becomes hardened like the jug in Jeremiah 19:10, then, as Jeremiah said, it must be taken out and broken to pieces, and it shall not be mended.
Are you still supple clay? Jeremiah’s potter reworked the clay. Can you still let God rework you?
Let us pray the words of Frances Iverson:
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh upon us.
We pray for Jesus’ glory in the church and in his name. Amen.
Commentaries from Jessica Asbell, Kevin Head, Anathea Portier-Young, Alphonetta Wines and Steve Yamaguchi