Summary: God's not finished working on us at the potter's wheel. Hope is never lost!
God’s Not Finished With Me Yet!
I'm going off-script this morning. I usually preach from the Gospel lesson, but I feel like the Jeremiah reading is timely for us today. Sometimes we need spiritual encouragement. Jeremiah knew that, and he told the story of a potter’s wheel. I hope this sermon today can be inspiring for this congregation.
Hear what the prophet said again:
The word of the Lord said to Jeremiah, "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he worked on the wheel. As he worked on a piece of pottery, it crumbled in his hand. Then he made it into another piece that pleased him more.
The prophets used analogies and images to teach spiritual lessons. This text is an example of storytelling to show Israel God’s mercy. The imagery of as a pottery maker illustrates God’s patience.
I’ve read this passage dozens of times, I’ve listened pastors preach it, and I’ve preached it through the lectionary cycle before. But there’s something I’ve missed until last week as I prepared this sermon.
One scholar said that the “potter's house” was not a single person. Rather, all of Jerusalem’s pottery came from one area considered “the house of pottery.”
That neighborhood was outside the city walls. Jerusalem rested on a hill. To reach the potter’s house a person had to go out the gate, thorough the valley of Hinnom, and up the hillside. The valley is where Israel burned their garbage, and they called it Gehenna. The kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire in the valley, so the ancients believed it a cursed place. Our notion of hell comes from this valley: the abode of the dead.
The prophet walked through the people’s sin’s, their garbage, and even what they believed dead before he saw the potter. I’m the same way: I’ve had to confront my fears, my doubts, and walk through loves I thought dead before I reached the potter’s house.
After Jeremiah waded through the trash heap, he made it to God’s pottery wheel. He saw God with dirty hands that were dried and cracked from the clay and the intensity of the fire. The potter taught Jeremiah a lesson about Israel: God could collect their brokenness, remold it, and make them into people with hearts of flesh instead of stone.
So, my sermon today is along those lines: God’s not finished with us.
God didn't give up on Israel. God will not give up on us.
Two summers ago, I took a class at Sewanee about the images of God in the Bible. We studied the scriptures and the various images and metaphors for God. One of our "spiritual field trips" was an evening at a pottery studio.
Our professor introduced us to the owner. She showed us how to use our hands to form pottery. At first, the force she used with the clay surprised me. Then, as she taught us that clay isn’t ready for the wheel until it goes through the pressure, I realized the necessity of preparation. She worked the clay, kneaded it, squeezed it, and saturated it to prepare it for shape.
It didn't have form immediately. It needed time and water before it looked like a water pitcher. I noticed the clay would crumble if it didn’t have adequate water.
Life is a process of kneading, water - our baptismal identity, and shaping by the potter’s hands before we become “whole.” Genesis says that God formed us in his image and molded us into his likeness. Some of the earliest images of God in Genesis is a potter, with muddy hands, creating human beings.
God’s still working on us, shaping us toward wholeness. God’s not finished with us yet.
There were times I wanted to give up on dreams, relationships, and desires. On one occasion in Afghanistan, life. Somehow God was at work, shaping me, pushing the mud into position to create a new vessel.
Our lives are messy, yet we desire the perception that everything is okay. We all know people who portray the ideal life and a perfect family on social. But deep inside we know something is missing. We feel like a warped piece of pottery instead of the perfect piece on display in an art museum.
I finally accepted that there’s nothing wrong with imperfection. These days I’m striving for vulnerability instead of perfection. God didn’t give up on Israel because of imperfection, and God will not give up on us either.
That leads me to another point I notice in this text:
It’s never too late to begin again.
The final thing I learned at the pottery studio was a spiritual lesson still informs my theology of priesthood.