"Yielded And Still."
A homily based on Jeremiah 18:1-11
by Rev. E. A. Peterson, edited by Rev. T. N. Hall.
Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his
mother, "I am running away."
"If you run away " said his mother "I will run after you, for you
are my little bunny."
Well, the little bunny proposes all sorts of ways to run away. But his mother
insists that no matter what he does, she will run after him. The little bunny says he will
turn into a fish and swim away. "If you become a fish" . . . says his mother,
"I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you . . . If you become a rock on the
mountain . . . I will be a mountain climber, and I will climb to where you are . . . If
you a bird and fly away from me . . . I will be a tree that you come home to."
Nothing is too far, too high, too hard for the mother bunny in pursuit of her baby.
Nothing he can turn into will take him away from her. Finally the little bunny decides he
might as well just stay where he is. "And so he did. Have a carrot, said
the mother bunny."
I think God is a lot like that mother bunny. We are busy little folks, turning
from this interest to that, running away from those who love us, ever looking ahead to new
heights, new vantage points, new adventures. And still God pursues us! It doesn't matter
what we turn ourselves into; God still comes to claim us. We are slower than the runaway
bunny to turn around and learn the answer: we might as well just turn around where we are
and belong to God.
The prophet Jeremiah didn't grow up on the story of The Runaway Bunny. But right
here in the middle of his catalog of woes, his warnings and his wailing, Jeremiah offers
us an object lesson. Actually, it was God who showed it to Jeremiah first. The word of the
Lord came to Jeremiah: "Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you
hear my words" (Jeremiah 18:1-2). A potter's house!
"Okay, God, I'll go watch somebody make an earthenware pot." The potter
was working at his wheel. But the pot, or vessel he was making, "was spoiled in the
potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him ( 18:4).
Jeremiah, you know, was a preacher. He could find a sermon illustration in
anything! So the word of the Lord came to him: "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" (18:6). That's quite an
Ever had a can of Play-Doh? Red, yellow, blue? You can roll it up in a ball on the
table, and then squash it with the palm of your hand. Smell that Play-Doh on your hands,
cant you? Then you mold the sides up into a pot, or a bowl. Pinch the sides
together, smooth out the cracks, make it rounded. Mistake? Well, just wad it all up in a
ball again, roll it around on the table, and start over. Thats the beauty of
Play-Doh, you know-as long as you remember to put the lid back on, its reusable.
Over and over again, the same glob of Play Doh can be a bowl or a snake, a bear, a face,
anything your little heart desires. You can turn the Play-Doh into a fish, or into a tree,
or even into a rock. You are the potter! You are the master of the Play Doh.
Jeremiah thinks God is a lot like that potter. Thats good news in some ways.
If we are like Play-Doh in Gods hands, then God can keep working on us until we turn
into something pretty good-looking! God must enjoy playing with us, too-making us right,
making us into Gods image. God delights in us like a potter delights in his craft,
like a child delights in her new creation.
But Jeremiah offers a warning, too. If we are like Play-Doh in Gods hands,
then God can also squash us on the table. God says to Jeremiah, "I will pluck up and
break down and destroy [nations and kingdoms]." If God is the potter; then
doesnt God have ultimate control over the clay?
Yes. -And no. As humans, we have a distinct advantage over clay. Not only are we
turned by God on the wheel, but we can also turn ourselves! Now, God could have designed
the world in such a way that God had ultimate control over the clay. God could have
designed the world in such a way that all of us were merely cookie-cutter shapes on a
conveyor belt, towering stacks of identical pots at a garden store. The good news, though,
is that God has chosen to be affected by our behavior. A friend of mine says that
Gods first mistake was giving us free will. It sure looks like a mistake-it looks
like a disaster!-from our vantage point, but God chose to be surprised. God chose to be
affected by our behavior. God chose to be fully responsive to human choices and actions.
On the sixth day of creation, God didnt make clay pots. God made living, breathing,
walking, talking-talking back!-earthlings! Human beings. In the image of God, God created
us and said that we are very good.
I think God is a little bit like the Highway Department. It is the business of the
Highway dept. to keep people safe, well-informed, capable of reaching their chosen
destinations. Im not talking about police officers here. Im talking about
signs. God isnt hiding a patrol car just beyond that clump of trees to catch you
when youre speeding. God is putting up signs to let us know what the safe speeds
are. God is putting up "No Passing" signs where we cant see what lies
around the curve or beyond the hill. And Gods truck is full of those red and white,
triangular-shaped signs that say "Yield."
Yield. I don't know about you, but "Yield" signs are not my favorite
signs. At least "Stop" signs come with rights and privileges. If you stop first,
you get to go first. But "Yield" signs are all about giving somebody else the
right-of-way. No rights for you! When you're waiting at a "Yield" sign, you are
at the mercy of all those people who decide to slow down-or speed up-just because they see
you sitting there, waiting.
However, it is a smart choice to yield at a "Yield" sign. Why? Not so
much because people are out to get you or to run over you, but because the law of gravity
says that they will hit you if you pull out too closely in front of them. There are
consequences to our actions, in driving or bike-riding as well as in life. God isn't
speeding up just to wipe us out; God isn't slowing down just so there will be a collision.
God has simply set up an orderly world where gravity reigns and actions bring
consequences. And I'm grateful for that order! Yielding at a "Yield" sign may
not be a favorite pastime, but it's a smart choice. Yielding is a decision for life, a
decision for self- preservation. Choose life! Yield at the "Yield" signs.
I can't talk about yielding without singing a line of the old hymn, "Have
Thine Own Way, Lord." "While I am waiting," the hymn says, "yielded
and still." Sing a couple of verses next time you're waiting at a "Yield"
sign! That hymn was actually written by Bible teacher Adelaide Pollard, who died in 1934.
I don't know whether she did any driving or not. But one night, Ms. Pollard was at a
prayer meeting. She was disappointed that she had been unable to raise enough funds to go
to Africa to do mission work. At the prayer meeting, an elderly woman prayed, "It
really doesn't matter what you do with us, Lord, just have your way with our lives."
Pollard went home to meditate on this very passage from Jeremiah.
Have thine own way, Lord, Have thine own way . . .
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am
Waiting, yielded and still.
Yielding is a good idea. We could all benefit from a few more "Yield"
signs in our lives.
There's another sign, though, that the Highway Department puts up a lot more often
than God does. I'm somewhat directionally impaired, and so I spend a lot of time when I'm
driving looking for those nasty little "No U-turn" signs. You've seen them.
There's a big red mark through a picture of exactly what I was going to do. It seems there
is always a "No U-turn" sign just exactly where I wanted to make that U-turn.
And the sign I dont see the Highway Department putting up is a big welcoming
"U-turn Here" sign. A place to turn around There is hope.
I think God makes "U-turn Here" signs. Sometimes yielding just isn't
enough. Sometimes we are like Jeremiah's people and have done more yielding to temptation
than yielding to the right way. Sometimes we are like the house of Israel and have
Done evil when God has planned good things for us. Sometimes we dont just
need to turn into something else. Sometimes we need to make a U-turn.
The word "repentance" involves this notion of turning, changing our
minds, making a U-turn. The Greek is metanoia, and it means changing course. Repentance.
Jeremiah says that if we turn from our evil or wrongoing-if we repent-God will also make a
U-turn. In the text, God says,, "I will change my mind" about the consequences,
about the disaster that was coming. Because God has chosen to yield to our decisions and
free will, God also has to make U-turns.
And the good news is that every time we make a U-turn, God goes with us. When
Im really lost, Im known to make several U-turns in a row, on the same
highway, even. And exactly half of those U-turns are taking me directly away from the way
I intended to go. But God does not abandon us in our wrong turns. Just like the potter can
re-form the clay over and over again, God can still work with us until we are dried out
and stiff. As long as the clay is damp, there is hope for turning. As long as there is
life, there is hope.
Yielding means not only lobbying God to turn around the situation, but being
willing to make a few U-turns ourselves. We pray not just "change my situation, O
God," but "change me." Go, who has begun a great work, will bring it to
completion. There is a plan for us, and it isnt just to run around here like a
little bunny. God is busy turning the wheel and watching us turn and grow and change and
Youve see the childs wall-hanging that reads, "Please be
patient-God isnt finished with me yet." God isnt finished with any of us.
There is always room for a U-turn in Gods world. We might have to slow down quite a
bit to make that U-turn. We certainly have to yield the right of way in the midst of the
U-turn. Our relationship with god is not some kind of a cosmic insurance policy that keeps
the laws of gravity suspended so that we can do whatever we want without consequences. But
neither does God ever leave us . . . no matter how lost we may become, no matter how many
U-turns we have to make, no matter how many times we bend the fender, hit the curb, or mix
:"Turn now," pleads the prophet Jeremiah, "turn . . . all of you
from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings" (Jeremiah 18:1). And the God
who loves yields and U-turns will be with you always. Amen.