Summary: To be an effective Church we must be pliable clay in God's hand.
"God's Work of Art"
I have entitled this sermon, "God's Work of Art," but I am unsure as to whether this is an appropriate title or not.
Let's see where we go from here, and perhaps you can let me know if I gave this sermon a proper name.
Nowadays, pottery-making is an art form.
Very few people today use real pottery for anything except to show off.
We eat our meals, most of us, off of mass-produced plates.
If any of us owns a piece of pottery at all, chances are it's an art object we put on a shelf or whatever.
I remember making a clay bowl in art class as a young kid.
It didn't turn out real well.
It was a bit miss-shapen; it was a sad sort of thing.
I painted it blue and then it was fired in the kiln.
And I ended up giving it to my mom for either Mother's Day or her birthday.
She made a real big deal out of it though.
It stayed in our kitchen for many, many years...
...although it was never used to hold salad or anything else.
Even though it wasn't the most beautiful work of art in the world...
...my mom loved it...
...because her little boy had made it for her.
Back in Jeremiah's day rough clay pottery was what everybody used, and every town had its potter.
The Prophet Jeremiah needed a powerful metaphor to use in reference to Israel and what God was calling Israel to be, and so God told Jeremiah to "Go down to the potter's house, and I'll give you instructions about what to do there."
So, Jeremiah goes to the potter's house, and it's nothing fancy.
It's a small house, really, with the front room used as the shop.
And in the center of the room is the potter sitting at the potter's wheel.
With one foot he pumps a pedal, that causes the turntable to spin.
Except for the relatively recent edition of a motor, the technology of a potter's wheel hasn't changed much from Jeremiah's day.
It's one of the earliest machines ever invented by the human race.
We could imagine that the potter nodded to Jeremiah, but kept on with his work.
He stops the wheel from spinning, and removes the finished pot he has just made.
Then, the potter reaches into a barrel at his side, and pulls out a lump of moist, brown clay.
He forms it into a ball and throws it down on the wheel.
Then he begins the foot pedal again.
The ball of clay starts spinning faster and faster.
Then the potter wets his hands and gently applies pressure to the clay.
And before Jeremiah's eyes, that lump of clay starts to take shape.
First, it gets taller and thinner.
Then, it gets narrow at the base.
Next, the potter places his fist at the top of it, and presses down, as he hollows out the inside.
Jeremiah watches as the potter wets his fingers again, and presses in on the outside of the spinning pot, but the whole mass of clay starts to wobble.
And then it collapses.
So, the potter stops his wheel, and in the center is just a mass of clay.
But, this isn't the end of the clay.
The potter simply moistens his hands again, picks up that clay again, and forms it into a ball again.
Then he slaps that ball back down on the wheel, and gets back to business.
Jeremiah writes, "So I went down to the potter's house; he was working on the potter's wheel.
But the piece he was making was flawed while still in his hands, so the potter started on another, as seemed best to him.
Then the Lord's word came to me..."
Have you ever felt the Lord speaking to you through some kind of a metaphor or situation?
Jeremiah was watching this potter working on this clay...
...and he saw in it a picture of God working on the people.
God is the Potter; the clay is the nation of Israel.
The Lord continues to speak to Jeremiah: "House of Israel, can't I deal with you like this potter...
...Like clay in the potter's hand, so you are mine..."
As Jeremiah sees though, clay doesn't always do what the potter intends for the clay to do.
If the potter is trying to make a cup or a bowl, the clay may very well rebel against what the potter is trying to shape it into.
It may very well collapse in on itself, and have to be remade.
And if the clay does that for a long enough time, it will eventually become dry and hard.
It won't be good for anything.
The potter will just have to throw it away and start over with a new piece of clay.