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God the Master Potter
a sermon based on Jeremiah 18:1-11
by Rev. Randy Quinn

I have never done any pottery, so I can only guess as to what it would be like. I imagine that it is rather tedious, and that it takes great patience. In that sense, it is probably like other things that I have done, or perhaps that you have done. Maybe like putting together a model airplane. I tried that once a long, long time ago. I found that the pieces were too small, and that each must be put in exactly the right place or it will not work. And invariably it would happen that the piece I worked so hard at cutting out was the wrong size. Or if it was the right size it wouldn't fit in the place that it needed to go. And so I would force it to fit and the other pieces would stretch and bulge and rip or break. It always seemed that the pieces had a mind of their own and would not go where I wanted them to be.

So I gave up making model airplanes. It was too hard. It was too frustrating for me. I needed to do something where the pieces would do what I wanted them to do. Otherwise I was going to get made at the model and break it -- or trash it before I ever finished making it.

Or maybe Jeremiah is witnessing something like sewing. If you take your time, and measure twice, you only need to cut once. But many of us are in too much of a hurry. And so we cut wrong. And then we get angry -- at the cloth and at ourselves. A simple mistake easily becomes an expensive mistake -- not to mention the amount of time that was lost.

Sewing can become very frustrating when the cloth begins to bunch up or twist as if it had a mind of its own. And if that happens too often, we give up sewing as a hobby, don't we?

And if you have never tried that, perhaps you have tried baking or gardening and found yourself frustrated by the way the dough worked or the weeds grew. There is usually something in our lives that can help us identify with what Jeremiah is watching as he observes the potter working with the clay. He works carefully, meticulously, and then -- as if the clay has a mind of its own -- the pot loses its shape and he has to start over again.

It is easy to get frustrated when the things you are working with try to go their own way and do their own thing, isn't it?

Some of the world's best humor has been based on puppets that begin to take on their own personality and defy the puppeteer, isn't it? That tension between the artist and the work of art makes us realize how foolish it is when we get frustrated over a piece of a model, or a piece of cloth, or a weed, or anything else that is inanimate. In our minds we know the truth that those things do not really have a mind of their own and that the focus of our anger and frustration is really at our ability to work with the materials at hand. Maybe you can remember the story of Gippetto and Pinocchio. Here was a gifted artist who became frustrated when his own creation began to go out on its own. He has a right to be frustrated -- the puppet does begin to act on its own and he can only watch with dismay.

I guess I can really identify with him. It never fails as I am trying to feed Melissa that she has a finger in her mouth and I can't get the spoon in, or worse, she tries to grab the spoon as I bring it close to her mouth. When she catches the spoon, there is food everywhere because she still does not know how to get the spoon into her mouth. And so we spill food all over the floor. And I get frustrated.

And every parent has similar stories of how frustrating our children can be. It is easy to become angry -- even though we know that it is not their fault that they are not mature adults yet -- in fact that is our role as we raise them, to help them learn the appropriate ways to behave. It is not their fault that they have not learned the simplest of activities yet -- nor is it their fault when we have failed to teach them.

And if we can become that angry with our own children, with our own crafts and puzzles, things that really don't have a mind of their own, imagine how frustrated God must be with us. God made us, gave us the freedom to choose our own paths, while making plans for us, and we get in the way. God has hopes and dreams for us and we foil them whenever we can.

God makes Adam out of the clay of the earth, carefully forming the man and woman in God's own image, only to have them turn their backs on their creator in search of something better. And so God reluctantly punishes them by sending them away from the garden of Eden, away from God's presence. But God continues to call to them in hopes that they will eventually begin to fulfill their intended purpose.

And occasionally, they do. But not for long and not very often. God even tries to begin anew with the family of Noah, in hopes that the world will eventually become a place of beauty and wonder and reverence for God. When that fails, God creates the people of Israel, drawing upon the slaves of Egypt, the nomads of the Desert, who God chooses as a special people. Again, it seems that the purpose of God in this is to find a people with whom God can commune and share life.

By the time that Jeremiah was around, it was clear that this too would not work. God was about to destroy the city of Jerusalem and try a different approach to the human dilemma.

And reading about Jeremiah and his life, it becomes clear to me that I have done no better than the people of his day -- or any of the people of Israel. I, too, have frustrated the will of God by seeking my own pleasure, by following my own ideas, by neglecting to seek God's guidance before acting or making decisions.

And when I realize that I have not often done any better than the people of Israel, I can only bow my head in humble adoration. The sin in my life makes me aware of how undeserving of the grace of God that I really am.

Reading about the Master Potter, I am also reminded that the root word for humility is the same root work for humus, the soil out of which Adam was originally created, the soil to which we will all return at the end of life. I read once that the human body is 70% water. That means that there is only a 30% difference between me and a mud puddle. And in God's eyes, perhaps the mud puddle is less of an irritant because it has not turned its back on God.

I guess the question that this passage raises for me is one that we must all face: How often have we frustrated the desires of God? How often have we, as individuals, ignored the calling of God in our lives or turned our backs on the clear will of God as we chose other activities and sought other Gods? Or how often have we, as a church, refused to hear the call of God for us and sought our own interests and benefit?

Some of you know that I go running in the mornings. I do that for my own health and because the Navy requires me to be in good physical shape. I am also doing it now because I need to lose weight -- for my own health, and for the Navy.

Right now my running route is the 2 1/2 miles around the block south of the parsonage -- around Bradley Rd. Each time I run around that road I see the homes -- if you can call them that -- of the migrant workers and I wonder if this church has ever heard the call to ministry with the Hispanics in our county. If so, what have we done about it? If nothing, I wonder if that was a case where we stood in the way of God. If we did try something and it didn't work, then maybe it is time to try something else. I don't know. I do know that I don't want to stand in the way of God when God is calling us to ministry.

Maybe you name a time when it seemed as though you were standing in the way of God. Has there ever been a tinge of guilt over a decision that you have made or that we as a church have made that made you feel as though God was forgotten? Maybe you have found yourself gloating in the satisfaction of something, knowing all along that the true loser was none other than God?

For us, the most important lesson from Jeremiah's image of the potter is that we are the clay, not the potter. We are the ones that God is trying to shape and mold and use. And when we get in the way we are frustrating God's purposes.

Whenever I try to do things MY way with no regard for what God desires, I become like the piece of my model that doesn't want to go into place. Whenever I pass an opportunity to serve others in the name of Christ, I become like Melissa who tries to grab the spoon before the food gets to her mouth -- and I make a mess in the process. Whenever I foil God's plans by doing what I think is a better idea, I make God the straight-man in a comedy that is really rather tragic.

What we need to do is to wipe our slate clean; we need to start over; we need to allow God to mold us and use us according the Divine plan -- not our own plan. We need to become like the clay and allow God to work through us rather than around us.

When we become like the pieces to my model airplane and get in the way, or when we become like Melissa and throw food on the floor, God cannot answer our prayer when we pray, "Thy will be done. . ."

We must let go of the things that are important to us and find the things that are important to God so that we may serve God and bring about the Kingdom of God.

Some time ago, a man sat down with me and began asking questions about what I do, what the church does, and why. In our conversation, John asked me a very profound question. "Do you believe the world is a better place because of your preaching? Do you think the world will ever be converted to your way of thinking or is it just a way to appease your own self and those who attend your church?"

In answering his question, I realized that the world can only be a better place when I take seriously what I believe God has called me to do -- to preach the Gospel -- and that when I am only appeasing myself (or you) then I am getting in the way of God and God's desire for all of the world. It is at that point that I began to allow my preaching to become open to the leading and direction of God. I allowed my own plans to be flexible enough to respond to what I perceived as God's call for me, for the Church, for each of us. But there are also times and places where we have become so hardened that even God cannot remold us, but there is still hope.

Later in Jeremiah, we read how Jeremiah used a finished pottery bowl to make a point. He smashed the bowl in the streets and told the religious leaders of Jerusalem that this is what God was going to do to Judah. When God does that, there is still hope, however. There is at least the hope of becoming part of a great mosaic, part of a grand work of art that only God can create and only God can fully appreciate.

When we allow God to use us, as we are, God can make something wonderful out of us. When we open our hearts and minds to the will of God, wonderful things can begin to happen. The first step is to let go. To stop being in control. To turn over our lives -- our entire lives -- to God. This is true for each of us as individual Christians AND for us as the Body of Christ, the church.

Let us wipe the slate clean. Let us confess our sin, ask for the forgiving grace of God, and begin living life in the manner God intends. Let us live life in the image of God. Amen.