Blessed to Be a Blessing | Formed to Be a Blessing
The potter’s house - if I were a betting man (and because I am a United Methodist pastor I am not a betting man but if I was) I would wager that the number of people here this morning who have visited a potter’s house could be counted on one hand. The ancient version of the Container Store, the potter’s house was the place in town where one would visit to purchase newly formed and fired clay pots. Clay pots in the ancient world, pre-Tupperware parties, were the vessel used by nearly everyone for storing and preserving food, transporting goods, and collecting and storing water. The potter’s house was a necessity within the community.
We live in a world of mass-produced plastic containers. We can purchase plastic storage vessels in a variety of sizes and colors, and better yet, because of the Amazon’s amazing distribution network, we do not need to even venture out of our homes to procure these vessels. The Container Store - the modern day potter’s house - and stores like it are becoming obsolete as the internet has made the availability of vessels for the storage of and transportation of goods even easier. Here in Arlington, the idea of using a clay pot, or even a plastic storage vessel to transport or store water is a foreign concept. We open the tap and water comes out. There are times when we may choose to carry our water in a plastic vessel but more often than not the places we visit have water readily available for us.
When I first read this passage in preparing for this Sunday, I would like to tell you an image of hands working a piece of clay came to mind. You see, I have several friends who are ceramicists. They are experts in throwing clay on a wheel, spinning the wheel, and drawing out of the clay the potential only the potter is able to see. Images of hands working the wheel, moving the clay and forming maybe circling through your mind this morning. A potter in complete control of the clay, moving, forming, and shaping the forming vessel. Or, if you are like me, the first thing that came to your mind was the classic image of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in the 1990 hit movie, Ghost, with the sweet melodies of Unchained Love by the Righteous Brothers playing in the background.
The funny thing though, whether you are thinking of an ancient potter’s house, a friend today who is a ceramicist, the Container Store or Demi Moore creating a vase while her ghost lover watches from a distance, the technique used by the one molding and shaping the clay remains the same. The music playing in the background, the sights and smells of the community may be different, and the wheel may no longer be foot-powered, but the process of throwing clay has not really changed since the prophet Jeremiah received this vision from the Lord.
Jeremiah was a prophet, listening to the Lord and then communicating what he heard to the people of Israel. The role of the prophet was central in the community, just as necessary as the potter. The prophets guided the religious and political leaders of the day by communicating the visions the Lord revealed to them while at the same time carrying the charge to rebuke kings and leaders when required by the Lord.
Jeremiah was called to a potter’s house, a place in the community that would have been familiar to the prophet and there the Lord revealed to Jeremiah that the passive lump of clay would be formed by the potter and if necessary, the potter would start the process over should the clay not respond to the potter’s actions in the manner the potter expected. The Lord told here Jeremiah that this metaphor, the potter and clay, was the relationship G-d had with Israel - the Lord G-d being the Potter and Israel being the clay. The local potter had the task of providing for the needs of the community and the Divine Potter, revealed to the prophet, had the task of forming and shaping the community.
Since Abraham received the promise of being a blessing to the nations, and Jacob received a new identity and was blessed by the Lord, Israel had been set apart by the Lord to be a blessing to the nations.
The Divine Potter shaped the community, taking the community’s collective soul, religious identity, and political vocation to serve a divine purpose. Sure the daily religious and civil tasks needed by the community were served but according to the vision revealed by the Lord to the prophet, those religious and civil tasks would be shaped and guided by the Lord and if necessary, the Divine Potter would begin from scratch the molding and shaping of the clay on the Potter’s wheel.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord revealed that our Creator would not be a distant, hands-off deity only concerned with eternal punishment. No, the Lord assured Israel that the One who fashioned humanity out the clay of the earth would continue to be a part of the earthly affairs humanity finds itself engaged in for the purpose of fulfilling the divine agenda of the Potter. The Potter will exercise constant judgment on the clay and instead of reacting with harsh corrections or tossing the piece to the scrap pile, the Potter will rework the clay into the vision of the Potter.
We are a community being formed by the Divine Potter. Generations upon generations removed from the words of the prophet, it can feel as though this metaphor for a relationship with G-d begins and ends at the ancient potter’s house with the prophet. We today are the recipients of the Divine Potter’s mercy every time we gather for worship, prayer, study, and service. Whenever we engage in acts of worship or open ourselves to experiencing this community of grace, formed by the Potter and centered on Christ, we are being shaped by the Divine Potter and moved towards Sanctification - the churchy word to say we are growing in G-d’s holiness. A process we cannot be a participant in without the actions of the Potter.
It is easy to sit here and read the words of the prophet and think that the potter is only working on me as an individual and then I must somehow figure out how I fit into the work of this community. Instead, the Diving Potter is forming this community by shaping each us according to G-d’s will not just for us as individuals but for G-d’s will for this community of faith. The journey we find ourselves on is about us having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (a frightening thought) but at the same time, we are part of a community formed by the Potter for the task of being the Potter’s hands and feet in the midst of what the Potter has created.
Jesus was the ultimate vessel created by the Potter. Taking the form of the first human created out of clay by the Potter, Jesus, from the manger in Bethlehem all the way to the cross was shaped and moved by the Potter. Jesus did this by remaining open to the will of G-d. In worship, in community, through spiritual disciplines, and in his generosity, Jesus remains the unbroken vessel that we now follow.
The Good News is that while we individually may be broken vessels and at times our community may fall short of what the Potter has formed us to be, the Potter is not done with us. The Psalmist writes that G-d is distant and still intimately close with every aspect of our lives. We were created and we exist today to marvel in the Potter’s brilliance. When we turn towards G-d we are no longer passive lumps being formed but rather we, a community, are a vessel open to the possibility that the Kingdom of G-d may take shape through G-d’s work in us. The journey we find ourselves on places us in the hands of the Master Potter, and in the process we relinquish our own will and turn towards the One who will mold and shape us despite our own desire to mold and shape ourselves. The mercy of the Master Potter is ours.