BIBLE READINGS: Jeremiah 18:1-11 Luke 14:25-33
We live in a throw away society. But we do not worship a throw away God. Our God loves everything “his hands have made” and does not want anyone to lose their way and end up in the rubbish.
Jeremiah saw parables of God in the common things of life. Through them God’s word spoke to him. In today’s reading, he saw one in a potter working at his wheel.
The word of God came to Jeremiah: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, where the potter was working at his wheel. The soft clay vessel he was shaping in his hands went wrong. So he started again and shaped another vessel, exactly in the shape he wanted it. The word of God came to me saying: “House of Israel, surely I can do with you just as this potter has done? Just as the clay is in his hand, so are you in my hand, family of Israel.”
This was a stern warning from God. A warning that the prophet felt compelled to convey to his clayish people, even though they would mock him and abuse him. Jeremiah declared that God would not hesitate to stop the wheel, seize the misshapen clay, squash it back into a shapeless lump and start all over again. That is, if the “chosen people” must be brought low before it could be redeemed, then so be it.
Maybe you have stood and admired potters at work. It is entrancing to watch skilful hands shape something beautiful out of such unpromising material. The joy of taking a splodge of clay, and creating things of beauty. Mud is not much to look at. But in the right hands a creative miracle can take place.
The potter has a great advantage in their craft. If things go wrong the potter can return the clay to a lump and start over again.
God is the Sole Master in the craft of people making. In God’s hand the common clay of earth can be transformed into something truly remarkable.
There is, however, in this Divine craft, one particular difficulty. It’s a difficulty not faced by the potter. God has granted the clay free will. Think about it? Think about making a vase from clay that has a will of its own! A will of its own? That takes extraordinary skill. Sometimes the production reaches a stage where things go very wrong, and the only thing God can do is to break the clay down into a lump and start again.
This is what Jeremiah warned his people about. Because of their wilfulness and avarice, because of their arrogance and toleration of injustice and idolatry, God would need to break them down, otherwise they would never reach their potential. God would demolish them, not to throw on the rubbish heap but to start once more from the basics.
It is okay be broken down by God. Though not a comfortable experience, even in such loving hands. It had to happen to Israel as a nation, and it happens to many of us as individuals. We do need to be broken down by God, and to let the Master start again.
Starting again requires repentance. Repentance is a painful business. It strikes not just at our comfort but at our pride. It is admitting that what we have made of ourselves is not good enough. It is letting go of the familiar, the distorted shape of our lives, and going back into almost obscurity. It is becoming a nobody that we might, by the mercy of God, become really somebody. A somebody who is able to become a joint heir with Jesus Christ.
Our repentance is only the beginning. Even after our repentance, it takes the remarkable skill and wisdom of God to reshape us. It all cannot happen overnight. I marvel at the faithful, careful, strong fingers of God as they take our rough clay and bring something new into being.
Our God has unspeakable patience. Think of the patience required to create creatures who knew right and wrong, who could stand on this planet and pray to their Creator.
Think of the patience required to draw humanity onwards to Abraham, and Sarah. And the patience necessary to lead the fractious Jews from those first pioneers of faith to Micah, Hosea and the noble Jeremiah.
Then more patience. Painstaking patience, waiting until the time was exactly right for the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is no adequate word to describe the patience of God. That’s why a moment ago I referred to God’s “unspeakable patience.” It makes us dizzy just to think of it. Before time began We find God's Divine patience. Wow! And that may be only half of the story! How many thousands of years, indeed how many millions of years, there may still be to run before God’s astounding project is complete, when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord..
The role of the man from Nazareth is crucial (literally crucial”) in the recreating process. In every service of worship, he is central to our thanksgiving, and pivotal to our hopes and prayers. Through every hour of every day, he is crucial for our becoming the new creation.
Stay awhile with the picture of God the holy potter. The God who is not a throw away God, but one who seeks to redeem that which has gone badly wrong. A Saviour who is always willing to start again if we want it with all our heart.
But there is one final severe word I must speak. It is a warning.
Jeremiah, living centuries before Jesus, wavered between hope and despair.
In today’s passage he speaks of God returning the misshapen pot to formless clay and starting all over again. That is hope.
In the following chapter 19, Jeremiah has a grim warning, verging on despair. He buys a finished pot, goes out to the valley of Hinnom (which was the rubbish tip for Jerusalem) and completely shatters it. It is now worth nothing. Unlike malleable clay, a pot that has been hardened in the kiln cannot ever be repaired. It is almost useless. I say “almost useless” because I dare not put a final limit on the mercy and ingenuity of God.
What a solemn warning the people of Israel! If they persist in unrighteousness, if they dry and harden, Israel would be irreparably smashed into countless, useless fragments. That is a sombre prediction indeed.
Even our loving, optimistic Christ, knew that things could go fatally wrong. If people chose to use their free will to defy the divine hands that wanted to shape them into something wonderful, if they completely hardened their hearts, then ultimately they would sentence themselves to the rubbish tip. Jesus warned of Gehenna. The word is a form of Hinnom, that garbage dump in the valley where fires smouldered and maggots crawled and fed on the refuse.
For Jesus, God does not give up on us. But tragically, some people use their free will to give up on God. God does not discard them, they discard God. They chose a misshapen existence and reject their high destiny. The trash heap becomes be their chosen end; Gehenna.
That warning given, let’s return to the creating and re-creating God of Jesus. The God who does not reject us, continually seeks to start again. God is not like an impatient potter who hurls a misshapen clay out the window, to lie on the ground and return to dust.
God seeks to start once more, redeeming us from evil. No matter what our age may be, or what the cause of our variety of ugliness, God wants to save us. God is a not a throw away God, but a redeeming God.