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
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
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
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
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