The potter and the Clay

Sunday the 4th of September 2016

Jeremiah 18:1-11

If I were to ask you: How would you describe God’s character? Or to put it another way: what image do you think about when you think about God? I suspect that there could be many different ways of responding. When it comes scripture itself there are many different images that are used to describe him. God is often described as a Judge or a Ruler; a teacher; a builder; a father, and even a bridegroom. All of these pictures invite us to think about God and his character in different ways and to ponder on the different ways that these relate to us as his people.

In today’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah chapter 18 we are given another picture of what God is like, and the image is of a clay artist. A God who creates from clay and shapes and moulds it into what he desires it to be. This is not a new image, in fact it goes right back to Genesis chapter 2 where God first shapes clay, sculpting and forming humankind from the dust, or we could say clay, of the earth. God formed and shaped us and then breathed his life into us.

As a child growing up in Feilding in NZ an elder of our church owned a little shop that he had in the front of his property. In this shop he used to sell crafts which included pottery, which he made himself using his own potter’s wheel. Regularly he would come to our youth group and teach us how to use the wheel and make things from clay. Once the clay was shaped and formed on the wheel our creations were then taken back to his place and put in a kiln where they would be heated at high temperatures so that the clay would then become strong and once cooled our creations would be set.

Once clay set like this the only way to change is to destroy the creation and start again from scratch. As I was thinking about this, these words from verse 4 stood out to me: “But the pot the potter 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”

The clay here had not been fired. Clay that has not been fired is mouldable and is able to be changed. It can be shaped and reshaped over and over. It is a material of possibility: it is mouldable, flexible, and responsive.

God himself made us and breathed life into our nostrils, but he did not fire the clay from which he made. Life is not as set as we often think it is. We all have aspects of our own sinful natures that we struggle with and the temptation is that we begin to think that things cannot change; that this is just who we are. The reality however, is that God is able to shape us and reshape us, and God labours tirelessly at the wheel on our behalf. God assesses our character, perceives our strengths and our weaknesses, builds on our strengths, and, when flaws are found in us, works diligently to remedy them.

How often is it that people often talk about how in hindsight they can see how God had used an experience in their life, to shape and from them to the way they are in the present. I am sure that we could all in some way look back and see how God has shaped and formed us even when we were not aware that he was doing so.

When clay is spinning on a wheel, the clay responds to the potters touch. Clay does not always do what it should, it often goes different directions and needs to be reshaped by the potter. In today’s reading God’s plans for a nation, a people, or a kingdom are not fixed, and they are not determined apart from our own choices. God says to his people: “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” So on one hand, we see that God’s good plan to build up a people may be thwarted by their choice to do what is evil. On the other hand, God may plan to pull down a kingdom that has made itself great on the backs of the oppressed, but if that nation turns from its evil, God may change his mind concerning the destruction he had planned. What this tells us is that just as we, the unfired clay, respond to the potter’s touch so God responds to us.

One of the remarkable things about our God is that he is a relational God. In our journey through life with him there is interaction between him and us. God is the artist and the maker and we are the clay in this image. But God does not control everything; there is room for us to move in our relationship with him. In other words, we have free will. We can choose not to follow God, to not listen to him, to sin against him, and when we make these choices there are consequences to them. Our lives are definitely shaped by our own choices that we make and the actions that we do. But at the very same time God is always there next to us and he has the ability to shape and reshape our lives. He can use the consequences, the hard times, the bad times in our lives to reshape us as he sees fit. He can reshape the things that happen to us in our lives for good. God is the potter and he is always ready to work, we sometimes just need to be willing to respond to his touch.

I have heard many people say to me over time that they believe they are not able to change. They say things like: “God made this way”, “this is just who I am” “I can’t change” or maybe even “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” The reality is however the shape of our character and our lives is not fixed. As God’s creation we are not set and hardened. We always remain supple or mouldable. We, as individuals and as communities, may be formed through education or life experiences. We may be strongly impacted through abuse of others or ambition. We are susceptible to influence, suggestions, temptation, and even corruption. And we are also resilient, and capable of doing great and Godly things in our lives. Through it all, even in the company of others and even in relationship with God, each of us forms our own intentions and exercises our own free will. Again even in these God is there and willing to work with us, if we are willing.

At the time of this reading God had planned an end for the kingdom of Judah because of their sinful behaviour, but even this future was not fixed. Just as the potter returns to the wheel, so God asks the people to return, each one, from the evil path they have chosen, and to make their paths and their deeds good ( 18:11). Even in the midst of his judgement God is ready to work with them in their lives for good if they return to him.

No person is beyond God working with them. No matter what mess people make of their lives, not matter how many sins they have committed, nothing is beyond the ability of God to reshape for good. As Christians who stand here forgiven, because of Jesus Christ, can hold on to this hope even more so, that the hearers of these words by Jeremiah. We can stand confident that our God the creator is working in us to shape us and mould us into the people that he wants us to be and when we sin and make mistakes, he does not hold them against us because of Jesus, but he continues to reshape us. Yes we do have to face consequences for our choices and actions, but nothing is beyond God’s repair.

I encourage you to think about your life with God. The journey that you are on with him and to think about the ways in which our God, the one who creates, is moulding you and shaping you in your life. I also encourage you to look at others in the same way, to look for the ways that God is shaping others around you, so that you can speak words of encouragement and build them up. Finally I encourage you to be willing to let God work with you wherever you are in your life, to trust that he can and will, shape and reshape you for his good.