20 June 2021 The Potter and the Clay Martin Baker
18The 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.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4The 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. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can 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. 7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.
11Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus, says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
This morning we join with Jeremiah. He has been told by the Lord to “go down to the potter’s house and there I will let you hear my words.”
So, we are travelling down to the potter’s house.
And what are we seeing and hearing on our way down?
We are seeing everywhere signs that God’s ways, the teachings from the ancient scriptures, are not being followed.
That people have forgotten who God is – the one who led them out of slavery and promised them a future instructed about the fundamental importance of worshipping God and loving their neighbour.
There are beggars on the streets. Families who have been turfed out of their homes by greedy landowners.
We see widows and orphans and foreigners being treated badly.
And we look around, and up on the ridges, and we don’t see signs that God is being worshipped. We pass on the way to the potters, an altar, not to the Lord, but to Baal. And near that alter we may see even burnt human remains and bones. The sacrifice made on the last full moon.
And walking past us we see wealthy priests and some representatives of the king, the bureaucrats, the powerful – they are doing alright with this regime. It suits them to carry on this way. They are okay with what is happening, or so out of touch they can’t see.
And then near the gate the old people are whispering. They know things are not right. There are rumours of plagues and they know that war is coming from the north.
And Jeremiah sees all this on the way to the potters shed, and he knows God has said that he has to speak God’s word into all of this.
And then he arrives at the potter’s shed.
And this revelation from God comes to him as he is watching the potter creating a vessel on his wheel from the clay.
Remember the clay is very precious. All dug by hand and cleaned and processed in a way that means that it can be moulded and used.
When something goes wrong on the wheel it is never thrown out - it is always precious. But it is reworked. Sometimes many times.
The potter sees the clay, its potential, its usefulness, its beauty, even while it is still in the ground.
And on the wheel, it starts off as just a lump of wet mud almost.
Jeremiah has known since he was young that God had a job for him. And unlike those who work so hard at being popular, Jeremiah was never going to get a lot of likes, never to be Mr popular. Never popular among the beneficiaries of this regime.
Right from the start, and we hear reference to this today, God has given Jeremiah a task.
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’
Six verbs are used to summarize Jeremiah’s God given task.
Pluck, pull down, destroy, overthrow, build, plant.
These words relate to the work of the potter as well.
We could say, squash, plonk back on the wheel again. Create and make new.
And so, we hear from Jeremiah that God’s word speaks not just into the happy times when the pot is taking beautiful shape on the wheel, of building and planting, but also into the times when things are not got well.
4The 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. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can 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. 7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it
We’ve learned so much about what Jeremiah has been talking about in the last year.
All the planning and preparation for so many things and then Covid has struck and everything has to be re-thought.
Those voices we hear once saying that for the sake of the economy we need to reopen our borders. And the evidence of the suffering and death when that has happened.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother Michael was being interviewed by HBO. And was saying that if the Olympics go ahead in Japan, the consequences will be the death of many more people. He gets so much hate coming the other way, from the powerful forces at work insisting that the Olympics must happen. And its coming not first of all from the those who simply love sport, not even from the athletes, but first from those who make the most money from the Olympics.
Jeremiah would be pointing to what was going in to the pot we were making - our priorities, about what was truthful and most important. Our faith our beliefs.
The honest weighing of consequences and outcomes is so embedded in this story today.
Using the image of the potter, God says:
9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.
Jeremiah reminds us that some things, structures, words, beliefs, mindsets, even ones that have been so carefully constructed, have to be torn down and broken before, faithfulness new life and growth are possible.
There is this tension in scripture and a tension I think we find in our own lives.
On one hand there is a belief that God would never let anything bad happen to the faithful and the ancient place of worship, they were all under God’s protection. Nothing bad will happen. As long as God was around all the bowls would be perfectly formed. I’ve had people tell me, no God wouldn’t let that happen.
But on the other hand, there is our story today. If you are good then God will bless your work. Your good work will come from your faithfulness, but if your motivation is bad, then the consequences will also be bad.
For a nation that saw itself as God’s chosen people, nothing could be more upsetting than to think of the loss of God’s favour.
In this story, and its challenge to us - God’s love is expressed in building but also in discarding and then the reworking of the clay, however painful and unpleasant it might be.
The love, we discover here, is a tough love. But Jeremiah would later say in chapter 29:11, 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
However, right now, Israel’s decision not to worship God and to worship other gods instead leaves the nation vulnerable to heart-breaking consequences. For now, even if the effort is futile, Jeremiah must issue a very unpopular call. For change, for repentance.
So today we come into that little room where the potter is working the clay.
And we hear difficult passages - but they highlight the tensions we all live within. In Jeremiahs time innocent young people were being sacrificed to the God Baal. Those young people hadn’t done anything wrong, didn’t deserve what happened to them, but Jeremiah would dig deep and condemn the idolatry and falsehoods that led to that terrible practise.
Terrible things happen today and Jeremiah would be looking deep into the values and mindsets and beliefs of those who were behind, who benefited from those practices.
We think of examples today like the fashion industry. Cheap discarded, able mass-produced clothing which is so harmful for the people who manufacture it and for the environment where so much is dumped. (Check on the Word Vision web site for those companies who are the worst offenders)
We had Ian Guy speaking about human trafficking and forced prostitution in Nepal and India. And the documentary he showed told us not about one criminal, but a whole series of actions ranging from the greed of relative’s in village in Nepal, all the way through to the men, who abused these young women into brothels of Kolkata.
Why are motels filling with homeless families not far from here?
What is the story behind children coming to school hungry?
Jeremiah didn’t blame the victims, but he was saying that this is the outcome of a corrupt and idolatrous regime.
Where do we and our community stand in this story?
Some points from the story I would like to leave you with.
First of all:
Don’t give up and don’t think that the labels or stories we, or others, tell about us, define what is possible. We might not be able to see what is being created but the potter is at work in our lives
That we each are still being moulded, still only partially formed. At whatever age or stage. When it comes to God’s call on our lives, there is no Gold Card, no retirement age. Or, as Jeremiah, discovered, we are never too young either. We are all still growing up. Being formed for new purposes.
The second thing is to think about outcomes. If we do not address the things that are wrong the pot is going to be discarded thrown down destroyed.
And the third point. there always remains the possible of change. Repentance. The clay can still be reworked and something wonderful can still be created.
And finally, we view these stories from the other side of the cross.
These words that Paul spoke. 7 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation
That the big story that surrounds all these others is the promise of salvation. Grace and forgiveness, we find in Jesus AMEN
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