During Advent this past December, when our sanctuary was decorated in white, gold, and purple, I preached this text from Jeremiah. Do you remember when we played with Play-doh? I talked about the complexity of fashioning a vessel from the clay on the Potter’s wheel.
Making a trip to the potter in the market was a common practice. The potter wasn’t creating works of art or items for display. The potter was creating vessels for common household uses, bowls and pitchers and cups, just everyday housewares. They weren’t beautiful, or even sturdy. They weren’t perfectly shaped or beautifully painted. They were fragile and easily broken.
Jeremiah saw a visit to the potter as an opportunity to hear God’s word about creating vessels of humans and nations. At the potter’s, he was working on a vessel and it wasn’t forming into what he had envisioned or needed. He folded in the clay and started over. He worked the clay into something new. Like the potter, God has control over the clay and the fate of the vessel.
The clay is at the will of the Potter. We don’t have a say in what shape we take or how we’ll look or what our purpose will be. Isaiah 45:9 says: “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker…Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’” We shouldn’t argue with God for our transformation. We are simply at the will of the Divine Potter however that formation comes.
In the process of being made and reshaped, we are tempted to think that, as God’s work, we are a treasure, a work of art. But, we are not. We are a simple, fragile vessel. We are the work of God, but we are not the treasure. The Apostle Paul says the treasure is within us.
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul says, “we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body…so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.” He says, “we have this treasure [the death of Jesus] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” We don’t contain this treasure through our own searching, striving, or work. It is our gift of faith and the source of our calling. Paul says there is a ministry to which he was called and we are called by God to preach “Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” It is God’s mercy and God’s power that empowers us to fulfill our ministry.
We may even be tempted to think that the church is a treasure, but it, like us, is just a vessel. The treasure is the church’s ministry. The church embodies the same call to preach Christ’s death as we, individually, make up the church. Many churches, thinking they are the treasure, focus on insignificant things like attendance and finances. It is the work of the church to be good stewards and disciple believers, but we get ourselves in trouble if we get bogged down on money and numbers. As bearers of the treasure, we are to focus on what is important, ministry.
Ancient Israel got itself in trouble for focusing on the wrong things. Israel was a vessel that got smashed for not focusing on what was important. Jeremiah had the difficult job of delivering God’s word to Israel. His message included the work of the Potter and, in the next chapter, contained a message of impending doom.
In Chapter 19, Jeremiah had to tell the elders and priests of Israel that they would be smashed. He took a clay jar out to the gate. He pronounced God’s judgment “for they have forsaken [God] and made [the] a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal…so beware the days are coming…” Then, Jeremiah broke the clay jar and said to them, “…the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed.”
Israel had gotten themselves in trouble for worshipping false gods and for that they fell by the sword to Babylon. They were smashed, because they had broken God’s commandments and failed to recognize they were not the treasure. They didn’t hear Jeremiah’s words that they are vessels, not the treasure.
We, too, can get smashed for worshipping the gods of attendance and finances and neglecting our ministry. Listen carefully to this point. Attendance and finances are something we should be mindful of, but we do not measure our value by how many people are in our pews or how much money is in our offering. We should be concerned about those things, yes, but they are not the treasure. Our treasure is ministry. We are able to do the ministry to which we are called with the money we have and the people who are here.
In the August newsletter, you each received a copy of the 3-year ministry plan draft. It embodies a lot of work and pray to flesh out the work we need to do to become the church God is forming us to be. At the September meeting, the Board will approve this plan and we can get to work. That will be our focus for the next 3 years. We will focus on the treasure of ministry, because this is what the Potter has prepared us for.