JEREMIAH 18: 1-11
Reverend Marguerite Sheehan
Focusing Scripture: Jeremiah 18: 1-11
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?” says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
On this Labor Day weekend we are given yet another story about God as a worker, this time a potter. From my limited experience trying to throw clay pots on a wheel I am not surprised that the potter keeps changing her mind or has to find ways to make good stuff out of a spoiled start. Clay in the hand is slippery. Every time I tried to make a bowl, one side would come out thick and another thin. If I succeeded in creating a bowl it never looked the way I thought it would and by the time it came out of the oven I was always amazed at the result – for good or for bad. In this story God the potter seems to be having some of the same problems and uses that age old excuse when the pots turned out to be different than expected: “I changed my mind.”
In the Book of Jeremiah God tells the prophet to go to the potter’s house and there he will hear God speak. Some people read this story as a lesson about an all powerful, “I told you so” kind of God who picks up the world, twirls us in the palm of her hand, slaps us around when we are not acting like good clay, and then makes us into what she always really wanted us to be. “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.”
Sometimes that is what daily work and even life itself feels like; out of control, in someone else’s hands, hard, punishing, manipulative, and “for our own good.” But maybe the God of work, is more slippery and creative than all that. Maybe God, like a potter, digs clay out of the hillside, wets it down with the waters of life, pushes and pulls, works and reworks the stuff of life until something new emerges. Maybe God even puts her ear to the earth and listens to what is bubbling up and wanting to be made. Maybe good stuff can come out of spoiled stuff and just as the potter turns the wheel and the slippery mess transforms into a thing of beauty, we too can turn and “turn again and amend our ways and our doings.” For the potter, there is always a second chance and sometimes the “seconds” are the best stuff.
Work is the stuff of life. It is not something that we just do until we get old enough to stop doing it and then really start to live. On Labor Day weekend we get to stop for a moment and look at our lives as a functional and hopefully beautiful works of art. As a people, as families, as churches and as nations, we get to stop and take a critical look at how our world is shaping up. And like the potter we have the chance, before everything gets “set in stone” and has to be busted up and recycled, to change our minds about the direction our very lives are taking.
Is God really shaping evil and devising a plan against us? Somehow I doubt it. I believe that God loves the slippery stuff of earth and all its creatures including us too much to get into such a game. Evil abounds and is an equal opportunity employer for all of us if we choose to join in. God does not need to bother with devising plans for evil doings because we do it well enough ourselves. So, on this Labor Day weekend, take this story to heart. Go to the potter’s shed to listen to God speak. Pick up the stuff that is your life. Feel it. Mess with it. Listen to it. Ask it what it wants to become. If you do not like what you see, amend it so that it represents a life of goodness and beauty, a real work of art. Labor Day, every day, is your chance to play around with the stuff of life and make new choices. What will your creation turn out to be? What will our world, our one precious world, turn out to be if the God of Life takes her place at the wheel?
O God of Creation, worker God and God of play, take us as we are; spoiled or fresh, old or new, and set us spinning on the Wheel of Life. Offer us a mirror and when we gaze on this your creation, help us find the courage and the freedom to step up and be re-made if we do not reflect a Godly image. Pound us, pull us, squish us, and spin us until we are ready to be fired in the burning, cleansing heat of your steadfast love.
Amen and Blessed Be.