The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Come, 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, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. (Jeremiah 18:1-6)
I am not a potter, and there’s no way I could ever create a pot – I would never even try. However, I can say with some certainty that making pottery is one of the world’s oldest professions. Alongside bone and bricks, fragments of pottery have been gathered and studied by archeologists for centuries to learn about the ancient inhabitants of the Middle East and nearly every other prehistoric culture throughout the world.
Archaeologists tell us that in the time of the prophet Jeremiah, pottery was used for storing foods and medicines, for carrying water, for measuring all kinds of things, and for washing clothing. Every community likely would have had at least one potter who could supply the various needs of its residents. Because pottery is quite easily broken, there would always be a strong demand for the potter’s wares.
When Jeremiah is directed to go down to the potter’s house, it is likely a very familiar place to him. As Jeremiah watched, the vessel wasn’t turning out to be what the potter had intended. And as many of us have done with play-dough or modeling clay, the potter reshaped it into a simple lump of clay so that he can rework it into the vessel he wanted. Potters often start over with clay several times until they are happy with the results.
Our scripture indicates that God is like the potter; the image of humanity as clay in God’s hands is a very familiar one. In Job 10:8-9 Job refers to himself as having been formed by God and fashioned like clay:
Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me. Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again? (Job 10:8-9)
Job, even in the in the midst of great suffering, acknowledged his maker’s right to destroy him, whom he has made.
And in the later writings of the prophet Isaiah, God’s people make this confession:
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
We remember this passage from Genesis about creation:
Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
Not much has changed since the day God created human beings and set in them in this garden of Eden called earth. No sooner had that garden been created, it seems, than God’s creations forgot who had created them. We learn that as mankind forgot God and sought to rule the earth as gods – as creatures with free will who could chose to go against God and follow their own desires – they metaphorically ‘bit’ into the apple of evil and came to know sin. Our earth and its creatures became flawed and broken images of God’s purpose.
Mankind has become so selfish and often ignorant and ignoring of God, that we have lost touch and believe there is no God or that God does not understand us.
Jesus came to earth to remind us that, indeed. God does understand us – far better than we understand ourselves. Jesus reminded us that we are God’s children and created in his image. And it is when we stray from God’s image of grace and generosity, of love and service, that we struggle for meaning and purpose.
Like the spoiled vessel on the potter’s wheel, we no longer resemble the vision that God had for us when He made us. And so, like the potter, God has the right and responsibility as our Creator, to break the spoiled vessel, and work with the clay once again to achieve a perfect result. God will not throw out the clay, for we are valuable and hold the promise of something beautiful within. But to release its beauty and purpose, the clay will need to be reformed in the potter’s hand.
We might say that God looks at each of us sort of like cracked pots – unique — no two of us are alike but flawed and needing reshaping. God knows that there is only one of us and loves us in our uniqueness. Although we are His imperfect and flawed children, He loves us too much to allow us to remain miserable in our own mistakes and poor choices. He sent Jesus, His Son, as an example of a perfect person to show us the way and to remind us that, if we will let Him, God will remold and reshape us, sometimes in dramatic ways, sometimes in subtle, small ways of who we are meant to be. No matter what, God’s purpose in reshaping us is always the same: that we might more faithfully reflect the love, forgiveness, compassion, and joy of God to the world around us.
So let us all trust our lives to the potter’s hands, making the words of this beloved hymn our daily prayer:
- Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter; I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.1 (sung)
1 “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” words by Adelaide A. Pollard, 1902.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 8 September 2013