The Potter And The Clay

Attempting to talk about pottery is funny. I’m not the artsy type.
However, that’s the image that Jeremiah uses and it’s a beautiful one.
I read that before it is glazed and fired, the potter may reshape and redo the pottery, if it is spoiled or marred. That is what Jeremiah sees. God instructs him to go to the potter’s house. There he sees the potter working with the clay. It gets messed up, so the potter must reshape and remake it. God says, “That’s what I’m trying to do with the house of Israel. They’re flawed and marred. I want to remake them, if they’ll let me. Make them into the beautiful creation I want them to be.” This message probably came sometime before the fall of Jerusalem in 598 or 587 B.C. God through Jeremiah is trying to warn Israel of the destruction that is coming, but they do not listen.
Verse 12 tells their response “We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.” The people who insisted on following their own plans came up against the plan of God and the two don’t jive. They’re not willing to change.
Now, some of us may have problems with the analogy of the potter and the clay. We might think I don’t need anyone molding me. I’m an intelligent person I can figure out things for myself. Maybe we’re like the Israelites, we want to go our own way. But I want us to think about this, if we’re not being molded by God, what are we being molded by? Are we being molded by our own thought processes? That’s a pretty scary thought to me! Are we being shaped by the opinions of others? Are we being formed by our culture today, the trends, whatever is popular? We’re being shaped by something. What is it? 
As Christians who come together today, there’s at least some part of us that wants to be formed by God or we wouldn’t be reading this. I proceed!
There are limits to the pottery analogy. The pot has no choice in the matter. It’s an inanimate object. It just lays there. We’re different. God has created us with free will. We can choose to follow God or choose to follow our own way, just like the Israelites. God is wanting us to be malleable. God wants to shape us into the person He wants us to be. God doesn’t force us, but asks us to open up our hearts to Him.
One thing I find interesting about Jeremiah is that he finds God in ordinary circumstances. Seeing someone doing pottery was very common in his day. In Chapter 1, God speaks to him through an almond shoot and a boiling pot. He sees God in ordinary things. 
The same can be true for us. Sometimes we can fail to see God in our ordinary, mundane lives. If our hearts and eyes are open, we can see God around us. We might come across a flower growing through cement and think nothing of it. But through the eyes of faith, we see it as a symbol of how God can break through hard paths and bring new life. God can find a way, where there is no way. God can speak to us in those ways, if we’ll let Him.
The scriptures use the pottery image several times. The prophet Isaiah uses it a couple of times. In Isaiah 45:9, he says, “Woe to you who strive (or fight) with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter! Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ’What are you making?’ or ’Your work has no handles’?” Then in Isaiah 64:8, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are the potter; we are the work of your hand.”
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” The treasure is the power of God at work in our lives. We’re the clay jars that God uses, that are sometimes marred and fragile. God still uses us. The scriptures are full of fallible people that God uses anyway, just like God uses us.
There are a few other things I see in this text. God continues to work on the House of Israel. This is not the end of the story with the people of Israel. God continues to seek them and want to be in relationship with them. I know there are some of you right now who have family members and friends who are going their own way. They are not following God’s way right now. I know it breaks your heart! It is heart-breaking to see someone following a destructive path. But the good news of the scripture is that God does not give up on any of us. God is continuing to seek after your loved one, even if they are going their own way. Our prayer is that one day they’ll realize that and choose to be the malleable clay that God wants them to be.
I like the saying, “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” That’s true for all of us. We’re a work in progress. God is continuing to work on us.
In Methodism, we call that moving on to perfection. Not being perfect like not forgetting things, but continuing to be sanctified. God is working in our lives to mold us and make us pure and holy. Smooth off the rough edges.
Maybe sometimes we get tired and frustrated. We really want to change and be molded by God, but it seems like we keep making the same mistakes. We intend to say something really nice to the difficult person we know, but once again we say something unkind. Sometimes we get tired of trying and want to throw our hands up and not try any more. We take things one day at a time. We start again today. We may have awakened on the wrong side of the bed, in a bad mood. We can start over right now.
Another thing I learned about pots in my reading is that once the pot’s been fired, no matter how exquisite it is, in order to change it, you have to break it. I think that tells us a couple of things. We want to stay in a state of being transformed, so that God can continue to work in our lives.
It also tells us that sometimes we have to be broken before God can work with us. Psalm 51:17 says, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” We get to the point when we cry out, “God, I can’t do it on my own anymore. I’ve tried and it’s not working! I need you!”
In a praise song, one of the verses says, “Brokenness is what I long for. Brokenness is what I need.” When I first heard that, I thought, “Wait a minute. We want healing and wholeness, not brokenness.” But sometimes God needs to break our hearts of stone and turn them into hearts of flesh. We want God to be able to break into our hearts. Once God is in our hearts, God can recreate us into the people God wants us to be.
I want to close with some words from a Christian many centuries ago. His name was Irenaues from the 2nd Century and he writes it much more poetically than I can say it.
From God’s Hands
It is not you who shape God;
it is God that shapes you.
If then you are the work of God,
await the hand of the Artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer the Potter your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form in which 
the Artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard and lose 
the imprint of the Potter’s fingers.

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