Summary: how God REFORMED the church of Jeremiahs and Luthers time and how we can be reformed as well
November 2, 2002 Jeremiah 18:1-11
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’
Imagine, if you could, the sixth day of Creation. Think of God somehow taking dust from the ground, carefully and meticulously forming Adam’s eyes, ears, mouth, tongue, brain - breathing life into his mouth, and then standing back and admiring His creation. By examining our own bodies, the animals, and all of creation we can see how our God is a master at forming things. God pictures Himself as a master former in the Word of God that we look at for today. This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message." So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel." By leading Jeremiah to a local Potter, he wanted the Israelites to envision Himself as a potter and the Israelites as the clay to describe what he could do with the nation of Israel. Just as a potter can form clay by turning it on a wheel with water at the flick of a finger, so God - the Master Potter - could do that with the Israelites, and with US. That’s what makes this a neat text to use on REFORMation Sunday, as we look at how God not only REFORMED the Israelites, but also - like forming clay - REFORMED the church through Martin Luther. The theme for today is
I’m Clay But Hey That Is Ok
As Jeremiah went down to watch the potter working on his clay, Jeremiah say that the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands. "Marred" means that it was ruined or corrupted. God’s message to the Israelites was clear. Like this marred clay, YOU have been corrupted. To give you some idea as to what the Israelites were doing at Jeremiah’s time, God told Jeremiah and the Israelites -
If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city. (5:1)
They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire - something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. (7:31)
You have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.’ (11:13)
These weren’t just some kids who had forgotten to pay some parking tickets or jaywalked. What was the worst part? Jeremiah said to God, “you struck them, but they felt no pain; you crushed them, but they refused correction. They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent. (5:3) Every time a prophet tried to tell them that their religious system and actions were flawed, they were persecuted. Like clay gone bad, the Israelites had become hard and impossible to work with.
This is also a good description of the Catholic Church during Luther’s day. The church was teaching it’s people that when you died your soul went to purgatory, where the remaining stain of sins could be “purged” from them through suffering. However, the church also taught that those still alive could help shorten the time in purgatory for their dead loved ones. This could be done by going on a pilgrimage, saying some Ave Marias, or purchasing an indulgence. One of the best sellers of indulgences was John Tetzel. Several horsemen and drummers would come to town ahead of him, announcing his arrival. He would come riding into town with an armed guard and the symbols of the papacy, a money chest and a supply of blank indulgences. Tetzel’s big catch phrase was, “once the coin into the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory heavenward springs.” In a whisp, the transaction was made and Tetzel would be on to the next town. It sounds incredulous, but this was in keeping with the whole system of religion in the medieval times - and is even taught to some extent today. The whole system of theology taught that the eternity of the soul was based on the declaration of the priest and the pope, through works of satisfaction and sacrifices made by humans on earth. It was so bad that in 1518 Luther wrote, “I am convinced that it will be impossible to reform the church unless the canon law, the decretals, scholastic theology, philosophy, and logic, as they now exist, are absolutely eradicated and other studies instituted.” The clay had become terribly MARRED.