Pentecost 16, 2016, Bunker Hill, Jeremiah 18:1-12
This morning as we turn our attention to the prophet Jeremiah we learn that God has directed him to “Arise and go down NOW to the potter’s house and there I shall tell you what I have to say.” Every community had a potter using his skills to shape jars for carrying water or storing grain, pots for cooking, bowls, pitchers, cups and oil lamps to chase away the darkness.
A writing called “Sirach” from two centuries before Christ informs us of the work of the potter. “Turning the wheel with his feet…he molds the clay with his arm, crouching forward to exert his strength.” The potter put his heart into his work, working long hours to finish the task. Sirach includes the farmer, smith and potter when he writes, “They maintain the fabric of this world and the practice of their craft is their prayer.” What a great way to look at our work. Our daily work is our prayer, our service to God and our service to the community.
God, like a craftsman, labors to shape and reshape you and me into the people he would have us be. God puts his heart into his work and stays up to all hours to give us a perfect finish. It cost God dearly when he was arrested, put on trial in the middle of the night, led out to a cross and executed that we might be perfected, by Jesus “the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
Let’s go back to the beginning when God crafted his creation. Picture God pacing along the bank of one of the four rivers flowing out of Eden. Searching for the just the right clay for his project. When he found it he scooped up hands full of the red clay. He knelt down and kneaded the clay to the right consistency and then he began to form what he had in mind. He formed a figure that looked like a human being, like us, with arms and body and legs. Then he blew his breath into the form’s nostrils and his work became a living being, a human, us. But he wasn’t not done yet. He saw that the man of clay needed a companion. God scooped up more globs of clay and shaped animals for the man to name. Can you imagine how much fun God had doing that? When he still hadn’t hit the mark, he took a rib from the man and formed a woman and brought her to the clay man. You see God works in multiple mediums. Clay, rib, makes no difference. The man exclaims, “I believe you’ve got it. This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Adam and Eve were lovingly molded by God into his own image, the image of the first Potter. And now God’s work was done, human beings were the crowning achievement of his perfect creation. Only a little lower than the heavenly beings. What was there left to do? Unfortunately, there would still be much to do.
Pottery, made for everyday use, had a short life. Through wear and tear of everyday use it was liable to become chipped, cracked and broken. And, so it seems the clay man and woman didn’t remain perfectly formed in the image of their maker for very long either. At the urging of the serpent, they rebelled. Decided to go it alone. Thus they twisted themselves out of shape and became cracked, chipped and broken. Like the gingerbread man who ran from the baker they ran themselves into their own doom. Which left the rest of us to be born warped and ruined, cracked and broke too, only to finally to end up as dust.
That brings us to what God had to tell Jeremiah down at the potter’s house. As he stood watching he saw a familiar sight. The vessel on which the potter was working didn’t turn out right, so the potter remolded it into a vessel to his liking. Suddenly, Jeremiah gets what God has to say, and it’s not good. God, is the potter and the clay is his people Israel. The people are not cooperating with God as he shapes them into the people he wants them to be. Israel has forsaken their God, for fake gods. I remember the first time I went into a store called “The Pottery Barn” at the Galleria. There were some interesting things, but the store didn’t look anything like any barn I had ever seen and I couldn’t find any pottery. The store was not what the name claimed it to be. Israel was no longer what they claimed to be, that is, God’s people. And their daily life showed that they were not as advertised. They had failed to take care of the poor, but pushed them further into poverty. They had failed to care for the orphan and widow but took whatever goods they did have for themselves. They had failed to welcome the stranger. God intended them to be what he intends us to be. His spokesmen and his show case of what he is doing in the world so that all people might know God and glorify his name. Bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the oppressed, showing hospitality to the stranger.
Jesus said before his crucifixion that he would draw all people to himself, we have a part to play in being magnets for Christ. On Pentecost, Peter and the disciples were speaking to a crowd of numerous nationalities and cultures inviting these strangers into God’s kingdom. Peter proclaimed, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord…will be saved.” We have a part to play in that promise, for its intended for everyone in Bunker Hill. St. Paul states God’s long term purpose is that everyone worship at the name of Jesus and every tongue acclaim, “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
But Israel has not been bringing glory to God. God, is about to throw Israel back into pile of clay from which it came. However, if they turn from their ways and turn back to God’s ways, God will change his mind and will rather build them up and plant them. If they repent, God will relent. But in the end Israel said, “There’s no longer any hope. We will stick to our own plans and each of us follow the promptings of his wicked and stubborn heart.” Is that it? Is God finished with us? Is this where it ends? Like broken pottery thrown out with all the other broken pieces?
I’ll let Martin Chemnitz, an early Lutheran leader after the time of Luther, answer, “But soon (God) turned and picked up that clay and ‘made it into another vessel as seemed good to him.’” No, the word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah in the Potter’s house was not the last word from the Lord. Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed and the people will go down to defeat and taken into exile. But this word also came to Jeremiah, “The days are coming when I will make a new covenant. I will put my word within them and I will write it on their hearts…For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.” Since we can’t mend our misshapen selves, God will do it. And he did, through Jesus Christ, his son our Savior. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We have this treasure in jars of clay. That’s us, we are jars of clay. We are the newly created pottery work of God containing the gospel of the light of Christ. We are lamps in the world to chase away the darkness. Furthermore, God the Potter has created us in Christ for good works, which God prepared a long time ago that we might live in them. Thus once more this week we have an assignment. Be lamps filled with the fuel of gospel to let the light of Christ shine. Be alert for the opportunity to do the good works which God will set in our path. Like pottery, we are made for everyday use. “Have thine own way Lord, You are potter we are the clay.”