Toorak Uniting Church

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The Potter

Jeremiah 18: 1 – 11
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
5 September 2004, 8.00am

The parable of the potter as we read it from Jeremiah today is, to me, one of the most beautiful Bible passages around. Perhaps it is because I am a visual thinker: The picture of two sensitive hands forming and reforming a lump of clay into something beautiful something that really appeals to me. Perhaps it is because I myself like working with clay, the feeling of moulding, working and creating something out of nothing a pleasure that I remember all too well from kindergarten and other occasions where I had the opportunity to let my creativity out in that sort of way. To me there is a sensuousness about it and a sensitivity that is quite moving and is somehow able to touch something very deep inside me.

I know this is not the same for everybody. Some of us hate working with clay, the stickiness, the unruliness of the material, the difficulty of making something really beautiful.

Whatever your feelings are, Jeremiah uses the image of a potter moulding clay when he wants to say something about God. God he says is like a potter. Forever moulding and forming the clay of the world into something good and beautiful. Forever trying to make the material he has into something that will show his love and convey his mercy.
However the material he is working with proves really difficult. It doesn’t want to go the way he wants it to go, and although he tries and tries and tries it never quite shapes into the thing he has in mind.

That material are Gods people. People he is desperately trying to shape into something wonderful and useful but that refuse to comply. Leaving God with a lot of frustration and the temptation to give up altogether and throw the clay out.
But somehow he can’t. And that is a very profound insight Jeremiah conveys to us here. Somehow God can’t. He may be tempted but he’ll keep reworking the same lump of clay until finally he feels that it has become what he has been looking for. Creation and recreation going on to this day.

A couple of months ago we did a workshop with Christine Gibson in Kinross house working with clay and we experienced some of that joy and exasperation of God when we tried to bring shape into the formlessness of the clay, tried our own hand at creating. I still keep what I made that day. Not because it was so good or beautiful in any way. It was not actually. I wouldn’t want to put it on display here this morning, it would be too embarrassing. No, I have discovered I am keeping it and jealously guarding it against anything happening to it because somehow, working with that lump of clay for the day I became attached to it. Trying to shape it, putting my heart and thoughts into moulding it into something that would mean something the clay became part of me and I feel that part of me somehow became part of the clay.

I think perhaps we can say that God feels similar about us. And probably a lot stronger than we could ever do. From the dawn of creation God has been moulding us and shaping us, moulding and shaping the world, trying to make it good and beautiful, wrestling with this really difficult material he’s got, trying to make that beautiful vessel that will hold the love, peace and justice he has from the very beginning intended for it. But it doesn’t. It keeps cracking, it keeps going funny shapes, it keeps going in all directions apart from the right one. And although it exasperates God, he still can’t help trying again and again and again.

Knowing his material as he has made it himself, trying to smooth out the cracks, trying to gently form it into the shape of his dreams.
I think it is a beautiful image that goes well with psalm 139 that portrays God as creator to be so intimate with his creation that he knows every fibre, every breath, every movement of it with his heart. That God is around his creation and in it, behind it and before it, beside it on every side, underneath and above it in every direction, even before conception. Holding, embracing his creation from every direction in love.

For us who are the material he’s chosen to work with this is a comfort: We can trust Gods loving hands around us, moulding and shaping us into people worthy of his Name. Wherever cracks appear and difficulties arise in our smoothly growing into something beautiful God is there actively trying to get it right, to heal us and to mature us in something better than before. Sometimes we may feel everything has come to nothing, but we may know God is still shaping and forming, trying again and again without ever giving up.
At the same time the image holds a challenge. We, as the material of Gods choice could give a bit when he is trying to mould and shape us. We could show in the shape our lives take, the shape our reactions and actions take that we know ourselves to be in the hands of the potter and are prepared to be moulded into what he wants us to be. Surrender to the hands that so lovingly surround us and keep us and trust our maker. Trust the one who knows every fibre of our body, every thought we think, every action we take because it is He who made us and loves us as nobody else. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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