“A VESSEL REWORKED”
Jeremiah 18: 1-11
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
September 4, 2016
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I bought this mug almost 20 years ago. It was just as ugly then as it is now. If you cannot see it very well, it is misshapen with dents and divots all around it. The handle looks like it was an afterthought. Its only ornamentation is the imprint of a doily that was pressed around it so long ago. It teeters to the side and it is even a less-than-pleasing color. But I have kept it all these years. I have packed it and moved it four times to four different states. Perhaps most shocking of all, I intentionally chose it and even paid money for it, this misshapen mug.
I did all this—chose it, paid for it, moved it, kept it—I did all this for one reason. And that reason was NOT because I liked it. I did all this because of this mug’s potter. After all these years I do not remember his name but I do remember his joy; the joy he showed toward this mug. It was a Saturday art festival in Austin, Texas, and all of the artists were members of a local Developmental Center. Each of them had mental or developmental or physical disabilities, and one of the ways the center helped them was to have them create art. This mug’s potter was showing his pieces for the first time and it was clear to anyone who passed by that he loved his creation. He was full of joy, all for this mug. It’s because of the potter; that’s why I have kept this all these years.
The Bible says that God is a Potter. In Genesis 2, back at the beginning of it all, God gets down on the ground and uses the dust and clay of the ground to make Adam, forming him into his good creation. In Isaiah we meet God the Potter again who is still working on us – his clay. In Romans we read about the rights God the Potter has shaping vessels as he needs them. And, of course, there is this famous passage in Jeremiah where God is the Potter who continues to work at his wheel, remaking and remaking, even when the vessel is spoiled.
This description helps us know a couple of things about the One we worship and adore; some things we may not always remember about him. What is most obvious is that Potter God is in charge. He will shape and reshape us until he is pleased by us. This throws a kink into our independent streaks. We would rather believe that we are in charge and that we will decide what shape we want our lives to take, but God is the Potter and we are the clay. We are a lump of very little. It is God who makes us into a worthy vessel. And it is God who will squeeze us and start again if our vessel is not yet pleasing.
Another thing we learn about God as a Potter is that he is relentless. Even when the vessel is spoiled—when it does not work at all—God does not throw the clay away. Instead he begins again; turning and turning that wheel of his will until we are in shape. God the Potter does not walk away. As Psalm 139 puts it, even if we take the wings of the morning and travel to the farthest sea, even there God is with us, shaping and reshaping and reshaping us again.
God is in charge. God is relentless. And, finally, God the Potter is up to his elbows in us. Just as a potter gets covered in his work, so God is covered in us. He is directly involved in this life, dusty with the work of it. Turning and pedaling and bending and pressing his will to be done: in my life, in your life, in the life of this world.
In charge, relentless, deeply involved: you know, this mug makes me think God as a Potter means one other thing too. I think it means that God takes joy in us. That he is relentless because of his joy; he is up to his elbows in us because of his joy; shapes us so thoroughly BECAUSE of his joy. I think he has indescribable joy in what others would see as a misshapen thing. It must mean he loves his creation very much.
Sadly, the process of moving from clay lump to vessel is not a gentle one. There is a reason we say a potter “throws a pot”. To even begin, the clay must be smacked into place and, even once in place, it will never be anything until it is pressed. It is not an easy image, this reshaping of our clay lives. We do not want to feel its pressure or be forced into a new shape. But, as Jeremiah reminds us, when we feel shifted and pressed and even tossed about by God, it is not because he wants to hurt us. It is because he wants to reshape us.
This is when, of course, the metaphor breaks down. Because clay cannot help but be reshaped. It would be absurd to think of a pot telling its Potter what to do. Which is where we and clay part ways. For we do fight back. We defy God’s work in us, refusing to be molded by him. Which can lead to perhaps the saddest verse in this passage, perhaps the saddest verse in all of Jeremiah. It is verse 12: “But they will say [we will say], ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.”
How terribly sad that verse is. That even after all of the turning, all of the work, all of the pressing and shaping God has attempted; that we might say, “It is hopeless. I have gone too far down this road to come back to you. Instead I will follow my own plans and be left with nothing but my stubbornness.” How terribly and horribly sad. Because then, the Potter can no longer work with this clay. Until then, until that stubborn refusal, Potter God was working. And he would have kept relentlessly working forever on the clay, even when it seemed spoiled. But not when the clay itself has turned away.
This mug is so damaged and misshapen. It is ugly really. But its potter loved it so much. He took such joy in this his creation. So it doesn’t matter what you think of it or even what I think of it. It only matters what he thought of it.
Of course the same is true for you. The same is true for me, for all of us. The only shape in our life that matters is the shape God thinks we are in. The only shape in YOUR life that matters is the shape God thinks YOU are in. And if we are not a shape that pleases him, we must allow ourselves to be pressed by him. We must allow ourselves to be molded by him so that we can become a worthy vessel.
Because it will not be our Potter who gives up. He is relentless, remember? God will not walk away from his wheel and he will never stop trying to make you worthy. And it’s not because you are much to look at. He is relentless and up to his elbows in you all because of the joy you give him. You give him so much joy that he intentionally chose you. He even paid for you. He CHOSE you. He PAID for you. All because of the joy you give him.
Boy, he must love you very much.