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       Sermons | Passionate worship

      This sermon was preached by the Rev. Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

      Sept. 8, 2019 | 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

      The Potter and the Wheel
      Jeremiah 18:1–6

       G OD IS A POTTER. God is the molder of clay. This is not new in Jeremiah. In the creation story God’s hands knead and shape the moist dirt, God breathes life into God’s new creation called humanity.

      The prophet Isaiah speaks of God:

      “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

      † † †

      IT WOULD BE NICE if every time a skilled artisan throws a pot, it forms into a perfect shape.

      When we visit a pottery studio, we learn that even the most skilled potter’s hands don’t make always-perfect pots. Sometimes the balance is off. Sometimes the clay is too dry or too wet. Sometimes it’s pulled too tall and collapses. Sometimes it’s just not what the potter imagined when she began spinning the wheel. So, she smashes the clay and remolds it into something useful.

      At the potter’s shed, we learn the difference between clay that has been fired and clay that has not yet been fired. It is this: (show bowl) clay that has been fired dries, shrinks, and hardens into a permanent structure and shape — a brick, a bowl or plate, a mug, a pitcher, a storage jar, a lamp. It is rigid. It easily breaks.

      Clay that has not been fired can be reshaped. Clay can be reclaimed. Clay can be molded into something different. It’s pliable.

      † † †

      ISRAEL, GOD’S PEOPLE, have been around for several hundred years. God tells Jeremiah they are like clay that has not yet been fired. They are flexible. Moldable. Israel can be changed. Reshaped. They are clay.

      Clay is filled with possibility: moldable, flexible, responsive to the master’s hands. Israel has turned from God. Israel has forgotten God’s molding and shaping them into a great nation. Israel is in trouble, out of balance. God wants to destroy the nation and start over.

      Sometimes we think of others as fixed, unchangeable. People are hardened criminals. Or hard-hearted. They are set in their ways. They are lost forever.

      † † †

      WE, TOO, MIGHT THINK we are hardened. We are who we are. We do what we do. Take us or leave us. We cannot change. But what we see and hear is that God did not simply shape us once for all, fire us and turn us into something unchangeable. God shaped humankind and breathed life into its nostrils, but God did not fire the clay.

      God can still shape us and reshape us.

      We acknowledge that in songs like our response earlier. We call on God to “mold me, fill me, use me.” It’s confession. It’s repentance. And like the song we’ll sing in a few minutes:

      Thou art the potter I am the clay
      Mold me and make me after Thy will
      While I am waiting yielded and still

      † † †

      JEREMIAH WITNESSES pottery-making and uses that as an illustration of God’s relationship to Israel. God, who has been working with clay since creation, wishes to work Israel into a beautiful vessel. But God can also bring judgment if Israel does not change its ways.

      God is ready to destroy Israel, but if the people turn from their evil, God’s mind will change about the destruction.

      Here’s how we’re different from a brick of clay:

      God cannot make us do anything. God cannot make us use our gifts or choose the good. God cannot direct our lives and our will to a new path and purpose if we do not also choose them. God works with us to form us into God’s great creation. When we submit to God’s hands, we are reworked. When we yield ourselves to God, we are like clay for God to fashion as pleases God.

      Submission. Repentance. Turning. Mold me. Have your way with me, God.

      † † †

      GOD WORKS greed into sharing. God massages meanness into kindness. God shapes despair into hope. God works passivity into action. God reshapes hate into compassion. God is ready to rebuild.

      The shape of our character and of our lives is not fixed, no matter what we say. We might seem rigid. We might think there’s no hope for us to be remade. We might believe that other person is unredeemable. But we all remain supple in the hands of the master potter.

      God, Hold over my being absolute sway
      Filled with Your spirit till all can see
      Christ only always living in me

      — Keith Cardwell   

      «We all remain supple in the hands of the master potter.»


      Jeremiah 18:1–6
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      ►This is the Word of God for the people of God:

      At the potter’s house
      18 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

      5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.

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