WASHINGTON CITY CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
September 8, 2013
LIKE CLAY IN THE POTTER’S HANDS
A teacher asked her fifth grade class to write about their personal heroes. One little girl brought her essay home and showed it to her parents. Her father was flattered to find that his daughter had written about him. “Why did you pick me?” he asked proudly. “Because I couldn’t spell Bieber,” the little girl replied.
Often we end up choosing something besides our first choice because of what we can’t do, or more accurately because of what we’re afraid we can’t do. We’re afraid to make a mistake, so we go with what’s safe. We’re afraid we’ll mess it up, we’re afraid we don’t really know how to use what we might want, we’re afraid we may have to make too many changes. Too often the choices we make in our lives are influenced by the facts that we don’t trust ourselves, and we don’t trust God.
Jeremiah talks a lot about trusting God. More precisely, God uses Jeremiah to talk about trust, since Jeremiah is a prophet. “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord” – that’s God speaking to Jeremiah, and Jeremiah speaking God’s word to the people of his day, and ultimately to us. God tells Jeremiah to go down the road to the potter’s house. Jeremiah goes, and finds pretty much what you would expect. There’s the potter working at his wheel, making a jar of some kind. The jar has gotten messed up somehow, and the potter fixes it so that it will work as it is supposed to.
Then God speaks to Jeremiah again, and explains the meaning of what Jeremiah has seen. It’s kind of like a children’s sermon, where there is some sort of demonstration of something or an object lesson that demonstrates a principle. The principle of this little demonstration is that if the people of Israel trust and obey God, God will remake them and do something wonderful with them.
Trust is not something we see a lot of these days. When Julia and I moved here in 1995 you could drive up and down Pennsylvania Avenue right by the White House, and you could drive right in and park your car on the Ellipse. No more, because we don’t trust people not to drive a car bomb or something onto the White House lawn.
Every summer we read in the papers about children who are seriously injured or who die because their parents left them closed up in a hot car, and so now more and more states have laws that prohibit parents from leaving any child under 12 in the car for any length of time for any reason. It’s because some parents can’t be trusted to do what’s right. I remember a few years back when 20/20 or Dateline or something like that had a report on a company that took old, out-of-date eggs, re-washed them and re-labeled them and re-sold them as fresh. You can’t even trust eggs.
The natural reaction when you find you can’t trust all these things is to stay away from them. People try to make themselves independent physically and financially and emotionally. People try to arrange their lives so that they don’t need to trust anyone but themselves. There are a couple of reasons why that doesn’t work.
First, you can’t live that way. You just can’t. We all have a million things happening that force us to rely on other people. Mortgages, job deadlines, football practice, kids in school, grocery shopping, driving all over the place to do all these things – we all have a lot to do. And every one of those things requires that we trust somebody. We have to trust the bank to credit the mortgage payment correctly. We have to trust the school to hire competent teachers, and we have to trust the teachers to take a genuine interest in our kids. We have to trust the supermarket to not try and re-sell stale merchandise. We have to trust the other guy on the road to stop at the red light when we go on the green. We simply cannot live without trusting other people.
The second problem is that it’s not just hard to trust other people; it’s hard to trust ourselves. We know our weaknesses. We know our failings. We know what we’re not very good at and where we cannot be relied on. And so we don’t want to trust other people but we have to, and we want to trust ourselves but we know that we can’t completely do that either. Who can you trust? Who can you have faith in?
The answer is the same now as it was for Jeremiah and the people of Israel. You can trust God. You can have faith in God.
No matter how independent we think we are, no matter how on top of things we try to be, no matter how in-control we believe ourselves to be, the fact is that we are like that lump of clay on the potter’s wheel. We are at the mercy of people that we can’t control, people that we don’t even know. We are being worked and shaped and molded and stretched by hands besides our own – the hands of those around us, and the hands of God.
I’m not saying that we’re just lumps of clay on a wheel with no control over anything. I’ve read interviews with potters who tell you that no matter what they’re planning, sometimes the material won’t cooperate. Sometimes the clay seems to have a mind of its own.
That’s a good thing when we’re thinking about all the forces around us that would try to shape us, forces the Bible calls “principalities and powers.” To resist those hands that would form us into something ugly and misshapen is a good thing.
The harder thing is to have faith in God, the master potter. To surrender ourselves to the hand of God, to have faith that God will make something wonderful out of us. After all, we know where the cracks are in our lives. We know where the rough spots are. We all know a hundred reasons why God could never use us to do anything great.
But whether we are gritty or smooth, soft and pliable or stiff and hard, whether we are flecked with small impurities or deeply flawed and cracked, the Creator can use us. The Creator can mold and shape and fire and fill us. The question is, are we willing to trust God with all our flecks and flaws, all our foibles and failures; are we willing to trust that God the Master Potter can make something of beauty out of the beast that is us?
It can happen, if we allow the Potter to do the one, single most important part of creating a work of beauty: centering the clay on the wheel. If the clay is not centered, centrifugal forces as the wheel turns will make the clay explode and splatter, and whatever survives on the wheel will be bent and misshapen. When we trust God we allow ourselves to be centered in the will of God. We allow God to take the raw material that we give him and slowly make it into a vessel that is useful and beautiful.
Marti McDougal is a pastor in Kansas. One day her five year old son Riley came running into the kitchen. Riley, she says, is a puzzle nut. He loves doing puzzles. Riley runs into the kitchen and says, “I figured it out, Momma!”
“What did you figure out?” his mom asked.
“I figured out that you use your hands to put a puzzle together, and you use Jesus to put your heart together.” McDougal says that in that moment she was reminded that Jesus went to the cross so that we who are broken and torn apart can have the pieces of our lives put back together at the hands of the Master Potter. I like that image. Jesus, the faithful puzzle nut. God, the faithful potter, putting us back together and trying to keep us centered on the wheel.
I think that when we are truly centered we find everything we truly need, everything that speaks to our hearts desire. Several years ago a poll asked, “What word or phrase would you most like to hear told to you sincerely?’
What do you think was #1? What phrase would most people want to hear and know that it was sincere? “I love you.” The second – “You are forgiven.” The third one is a surprise – “Supper is ready.”
When we are truly centered in Christ those are the words we hear. “I love you” – God’s unconditional love. “You are forgiven” – God’s gift of grace. “Supper is ready” – God’s invitation to everyone.
It’s time for us to have faith in God. It’s time for us to throw ourselves into the very center of the wheel, to cast ourselves into the very center of the wheel, into the very center of the will of God. If we have faith in the Master Potter, God can be trusted to make us into something beautiful. Something useful. Something good. Amen.