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"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 image.

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, can’t 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. That’s the beauty of Play-Doh, you know-as long as you remember to put the lid back on, it’s 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. That’s good news in some ways. If we are like Play-Doh in God’s 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 God’s 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 God’s 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 doesn’t 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 God’s 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 didn’t 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. I’m not talking about police officers here. I’m talking about signs. God isn’t hiding a patrol car just beyond that clump of trees to catch you when you’re speeding. God is putting up signs to let us know what the safe speeds are. God is putting up "No Passing" signs where we can’t see what lies around the curve or beyond the hill. And God’s 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 I’m really lost, I’m 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 isn’t just to run around here like a little bunny. God is busy turning the wheel and watching us turn and grow and change and mature.

You’ve see the child’s wall-hanging that reads, "Please be patient-God isn’t finished with me yet." God isn’t finished with any of us. There is always room for a U-turn in God’s 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 the paint.

:"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.