At the house of the Potter

March 5, 2017

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Preached by Canon Sue Wallace using, Jeremiah 18.1-11 at Evensong on Sunday 5th March 2017, the First Sunday of Lent.

When I was preparing my sermon this week, I was struck by

just how many metaphors and titles the bible has for God – and, although I have in the past pondered individual metaphors, I had never considered them together as a group. A lengthy list of the gathered titles of God can be a wonderful and almost overwhelming thing to contemplate and one of the things that struck me whilst I was reading, was that each and every one of them would provide food for further thought and prayer. I wonder which ones spring to your mind? Which ones would you use to describe God to someone who asked you about your faith?

Perhaps one of the more famous ones such as Shepherd, Light or King…

Yet there are many many more including: a Bridegroom, Builder, or a Purifying Fire; a Just Judge, a jealous Husband or an Everlasting Father; a nursing Mother, a Rock, a Fortress or a Strong Tower; a Lion, an Eagle, a Shield, a Banner, a Shelter, a Spring of Living Water or even a cup.

One reason I believe the bible mentions so many of them, is to discourage us from fixing our minds only on one metaphor and in the process making God smaller in our minds than he truly is. Each metaphor teaches us something, and sometimes also challenges us, and we can learn much about God and ourselves through meditating upon them.

Looking at the large list of biblical metaphors, the thing that really strikes me is just how positive they all are. These are images of care, of protection, of love, nurture and guidance. Even the metaphors which could be regarded as challenging or negative such as Judge or Fire have an element of love and compassion about them; the judge is a just and good judge, not a corrupt judge, and the fire is a purifying fire which burns away base metals such as copper, zinc, iron and silver from gold to bring out it’s true beauty, not a destructive fire which only brings pain and poverty.

This brings us to today’s metaphor from the book of Jeremiah – a potter. I don’t know if you have ever taken pottery yourself or watched a potter at work but the way they work at the wheel is fascinating as it is so tactile. This is not a job that can be done at a distance from the clay. Maybe you have been watching the Big Pottery Throwdown on TV this spring, which is exactly like Bake off, but with pots – and without Mary Berry. No-one can eat the results but the best pots do get to go in a gallery.

In today’s Old Testament lesson Jeremiah is encouraged to visit the potter’s house and as he watches the wheel the potter has a mishap. The pot he is working on is damaged. Perhaps the potter has been distracted by the intent stare of the prophet who has invaded his workshop.  Yet the most positive thing about what happens next is that the potter does not simply bin the damaged clay or throw it on the floor. Instead the potter takes the spoiled vessel and gently reworks it into a new vessel, one which is both beautiful and also useful to others.

The challenge of this passage was first delivered to the nation of Israel who had turned away from God. The book of Jeremiah was written just before and just after the exile of the Israelites to Bablyon. Jeremiah is foretelling destruction, warning Israel and pleading with them to return to the ways of justice and goodness so that they might avoid disaster. The passage foretells destruction but it also promises restoration The audience of this book’s final form was probably the Jewish survivors of the Babylonian invasion. Therefore the memory of the destruction of Jerusalem and exile foretold by Jeremiah would have been fresh in their minds.

Yet this message and warning also echoes across history into each and every one of our lives. We have all, at one time or another, been like a broken vessel because none of us have yet achieved the fullness of what God intends us to be. God does not make mistakes with his people but every one of us is a work of art which is still in progress, and sometimes through our own sin and selfishness we spoil the work that God our creator is doing within us.

However, the truly hopeful part of this image is that God does not then desert us. If we allow God to work in us and through us he can begin to re-shape those parts of our lives which are most in need of reconstruction and healing. One of the moving aspects of the potter image is that the potter’s hands almost constantly surround the clay, gently moulding and shaping it, gently pushing it upwards, or outwards, or carefully creating an opening in a vase which was closed off from the world.  However, if a piece of stone was placed upon the wheel and the potter tried to mould it, it would only bruise and wound the potters hands just as the soldiers wounded the hands of Christ upon the cross.

Therefore this Lent let us resolve not to harden our hearts and bruise the one who only wishes good for us, but  to take the time to allow ourselves to be shaped and moulded by the loving hands of our creator into the people that he truly wants us to be.  Amen.