Clay in the Potter's Hand

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, September 4, 2022
Jeremiah 18: 1-11

    I am not a crafty or artistic person.  I’d say I’m pretty bad at creating much with my hands, period – drawing, coloring, sewing, and so on.  Not only am I not very good at arts and crafts, I don’t enjoy it.  I have other hobbies and ways to spend my free time.  One year at a Lutheran retreat center, however, I tried my hand at a pottery wheel, and I have to say, I had a lot of fun!  I think part of it was that kneading the clay reminded me of baking bread, which I DO like to do.  Working with clay has a rhythmic, stress-relieving quality about it.  Here’s the other thing I loved about learning how to throw a pot – you can always start again.  You really can’t mess it up!  If the first time you try it, your pot is a little off center or thicker in one part than another part, you just pile up the clay again, add a little more water, and then throw it on the wheel once more.  In fact, even dried clay can be ground up and mixed with water to be used again.  It’s only in a process of firing the clay that whatever you make is fixed and no longer changeable.  As a pottery artist, you can rework something until you are completely happy with your product, without wasting any materials.  I love that about pottery.  I’d totally try it again!
    This is our last Sunday focusing on our first reading in worship for awhile, and Jeremiah 18 is a famous passage describing God as the potter and we as the clay.  The Lord asks Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house to see the potter doing what I just described – reworking the clay into another vessel, because the first attempt was spoiled.  What the potter is doing is like what God can do with us, Jeremiah says.  God is the potter, we are the clay.  We hear God once again urge us to turn from our evil ways – to turn back again to a healthy relationship with God, a theme we’ve been hearing all summer from the prophets.
Of course, as we’ve learned in listening to the prophets this summer, Jeremiah has a warning of judgment for people who do not change their ways.  But there’s also a lot of good news here.  Like clay in the potter’s hand, not yet set and fired in a kiln, we can change and we can BE changed by God.  If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit or introduce a new healthy habit – get back into an exercise routine or daily devotional schedule, for example – you know that change is hard!  Wanting to change and actually doing it are two different things.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced relapses with good intentions that we don’t follow through on in our lives.  As we get older, perhaps we recognize in ourselves or others that we are more set in our ways. There may be people and situations we pray about where we wonder if they will ever change; it seems impossible.  The Lord in Jeremiah 18 today assures us that we can change for the better.  The Lord is holding out hope in us that we WILL change for the better.  In some ways, God is the eternal optimist, and has more faith in us than we have in ourselves!  So this is one theme we can reflect on as we re-read this passage from Jeremiah 18 today:  in what ways do we need to change to strengthen our relationship with the Lord, and if we think about ourselves being like clay in God the potter’s hand, how are we allowing God to smooth our rough edges and shape us into the people God wants us to be?
    The second, more surprising theme of this passage is that God can change.  “I will change my mind,” the Lord tells Jeremiah, not once, but twice in our reading for today!  The way we change or allow God to change us affects God. Whoa.  In some ways, God changing his mind is an uncomfortable thought.  Isn’t God all-knowing, and doesn’t God have a plan for us from the start (that is also a famous Jeremiah passage, after all)?  Maybe we don’t want God to change plans!  As I thought about God saying, “I will change my mind,”  here in Jeremiah, I realized that there are some other famous stories in the Bible where God changes his mind.  When Jonah, another famous prophet, goes to Nineveh and the people actually listen to his call to repent, God decides NOT to destroy the people of Nineveh as God originally planned.  Father Abraham intercedes for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, notoriously evil towns, and bargains God down from 50 righteous to 10 righteous people to be found in the city, so that the Lord will not destroy it for the sake of ten.  When Moses goes up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, it takes awhile.  In the meantime, the people decide to build a golden calf and worship it, and Moses intercedes for the people, convincing God to be merciful and forgiving.  God changes his mind and does not punish the people of Israel for worshipping a golden calf.
    All of us have had those moments where we wish we could go back and change something that happened.  It could be as simple as dropping a nice piece of china that we wished was not broken, or replaying the moments leading up to a car accident or an argument where we wish we had used different words.  There are some things we cannot change or do over, but we hear today that God is a God of second chances – actually many, many chances.  As mere mortal human beings who cannot possibly fully comprehend God’s mind, at the end of the day, sometimes it’s a good thing that God can change his mind.  We see throughout the scriptures that God’s desire for all humanity is that we might do good, be co-workers with God for the good of all, and love and serve God just as much as God loves and serves us, God’s own beloved creation.  God doesn’t like do-overs; even after Noah and the flood, God promises to never again destroy the Earth with the flood again.  God would rather hold out on us, extend mercy and forgiveness than resort to carrying through with punishment.  For everything we can’t redo, God in Christ assures us that we can be reshaped and remade closer into God’s own image.  God holds out hope for us longer than we may be able to place our hope in ourselves.  God changing his mind is a good thing – it means that in changing ourselves or in allowing God to change us, God is also able to extend grace and love to broken sinners like us.
    In fact, God embarks on the biggest change of our lives when instead of trying another do-over with a flood or destruction of a city or smashing of a clay pot God sends his only begotten Son, Jesus, into the world.  This beloved Son lives among us, calls us to follow him so that we can learn and be shaped into a way of being in the world that is as God created and intended us to be.  And because we can’t change the innate sin in ourselves, Jesus goes to the cross to die and be raised for us – to change what we cannot possibly change in ourselves.  In a span of three days from Jesus’ death on the cross to his resurrection, God changes everything.  Lost and hopeless sinners like us are brought back into a healthy relationship with God.  We are placed back into the potter’s hand.  We are offered the possibility of new life in Christ.  We are reshaped to be a new creation in Christ, to live like Jesus, confident that we are God’s beloved creation.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.