This sermon began with an experiental time of working with Play Doh.
In high school, I took a ceramics class. For most of the semester, we worked with clay that we modeled into different shapes. It was fairly easy, like Play Doh to mold and bend into different shapes. Finally, we had to throw a pot on the wheel. You start by placing a square of clay on the wheel and allow the wheel to start spinning. The clay requires a delicate hand and the right amount of moisture. The potter has to keep a steady spin on the wheel, not too fast and not too slow. The clay needs to be kept wet in order to work it. Too much water will leave your clay goopy and too little water makes the clay too hard to pull. An easy touch is important too. If you push too hard, you can push through the wall of what you’re working on. You have to stretch the clay to make your vessel taller or wider. If you pull it too thin, it will collapse.
Today, making clay pots is not a common activity, but in ancient Israel, working clay on a wheel was common. There were lots of potters in the business area of towns. Most people would see it for what it is, creating a vessel. The potters weren’t creating works of art, but common housewares. The outcome would be bowls for holding grain and pitchers for holding wine, nothing special, just everyday household items. The bowls, plates, cups, and pitchers weren’t beautiful or sturdy. They weren’t perfectly shaped or beautifully painted. They were fragile and broke easily.
People would see a trip to the potter’s as a regular occurrence to replace broken vessels. However, the prophet Jeremiah, like other Old Testament prophets, saw the world differently. Jeremiah saw God’s message about creating vessels of humans and nations.
As Jeremiah watched the potter, the vessel the potter was working on was spoiled. Perhaps his hand was too heavy or there was too little water so the clay wasn’t malleable. The potter pulled the clay back together and began to fashion a new vessel. The potter saw a new vision for what the clay could become. He went to working the clay into something new.
God tells Jeremiah that He is like the potter. God has control over the fate of the pot. God can stretch and smooth the vessel keeping the right amount of moisture on the clay to keep it spinning into something usable. But, if the pot isn’t shaping up to what God had intended, He can fold over the clay and begin to reshape the clay into a new shape.
Clay is always at the will of the potter. Unlike clay, we have free will. We can choose to do what is evil in the sight of God. We can sin and turn away from God. Also, by free will, we can choose to give way to God and allow Him to shape us and mold us into what He has fated for us. In the same way that the potter could decide the shape his vessel took, God has control over the shape of our future if we allow it.
In Jeremiah’s words of judgment against a sinful people there “is a glimmer of hope that if [we]…repent, God [will] work to reshape [us] into the vessel of beauty [we are] intended to be. The message from the potter’s house is that “God is faced with the task of working with [both sin and repentance] in order to shape [us] into the best vessel possible.” Jeremiah’s prophecy of disaster contains a “message of hope indicating that God could begin to fashion His people…anew.” “This glimmer of hope, however faint, that no matter how bad things get the possibility for good remains, is the reason why for generations people return to Jeremiah and his story of the potter and the clay.”
Though we may not always feel God’s presence, hear God’s voice, or see God at work in our lives, we can be sure that God’s hand stays upon us. Even in God’s hands, our sin can destroy us, yet God is able to begin anew with the clay on the wheel and refashion us into vessels of beauty when we repent of our sin and turn ourselves over to God. Through worship and prayer, we are transformed as we allow our hearts to be filled with God’s glory and trust in God’s good will.
God is shaping our hearts during Advent, not into a bowl or jar, but into a manger where the Christ child may be laid in swaddling clothes. We may not be called to sing Gloria and hallelujah, that is the angels’ job. We are to be a place where shepherds and wise men may come to see the Word made flesh resting in our hearts.
We don’t need to be pristine white bassinettes or beautifully varnished cribs. Jesus’ parents laid him in a sturdy crib lined with hay. We are being made into mangers with the sturdy wood of faith and the warm hay of love where the Christ child can rest. It is not our job to sing Gloria and Hallelujah; we leave that to the angels. We must allow our hearts to be a place for Christ to lay His sweet head where shepherds and wise men and all the world may come to see Him.
3) http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1762 / Clements