The Potter and the Clay
Jeremiah is famous for his words of judgment and doom against the people of Judah. Here's is a sample of his prophecy.
(Jeremiah 6:16-26 NRSV)
God was giving Jeremiah a vision of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. It was a painful vision to bear. Jeremiah would look at the City of Jerusalem and see its future: the crops burned and people going hungry, men, women and children being slaughtered by the sword of an invading army, the destruction of the city, the forced march into exile.
Jeremiah cried out in sorrow and grief for this people:
(Jeremiah 9:1 NRSV)
God gave Jeremiah some relief. There are places in the book of Jeremiah where a glimmer of hope shines in the gloom of judgment. Our Scripture reading today is one of those places.
God tells Jeremiah that he has a word to speak to him. This word will be given to Jeremiah when he goes and watches a potter working at his potter's wheel with clay. Here's the story Jeremiah tells about that visit to the potter's house.
(Jeremiah 18:1-12 NRSV)
Watching the potter turn the wheel and work the clay enables Jeremiah to grasp several important truths.
The first truth Jeremiah recognizes is that God shapes with a purpose in mind. When a potter begins to work with a lump of clay a vision begins to take shape. With every move of his or her hands, with each added touch of pressure or release, the purpose of the potter begins to form. What exists in the mind of the potter begins to form in the shape of the clay.
That is how it is with God who shapes people, and nations, and churches. God looks at you and me, this nation and this church, with a vision in mind for what God wants us to become. God is not arbitrary in his acts. God is not random in his kindness nor aimless with his judgment. God is, has been, always will be visionary. At the potters house Jeremiah had his faith renewed in the God who shapes with a purpose, and Jeremiah knew that God's purpose was being worked out in his people - even if it meant judgment and doom. It was Jeremiah's task to proclaim the purpose of God as it worked itself out in his people.
Here's a second truth that Jeremiah began to grasp. God is free to change his mind. I don't mean that God thinks one thing one moment and then thinks another a moment later. Not at all. I mean that God remains sovereign in his freedom. God has a purpose in mind - always. But God is also free to change the way he moves toward the fulfillment of that purpose.
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that God has to follow some divine scheme that was made ages ago and can never be altered. That kind of thinking leads to fatalism and a loss of hope. It may have been the way Jeremiah had begun to think about the judgment of God on Judah. After prophesying so much doom, after pointing out so much corruption, idolatry, and immorality, Jeremiah may easily have begun to think that no possibility of sa ...
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