Scripture: Jeremiah 18:1–11
Time to play! With some modeling clay, or play-doh, or even silly putty, take a few minutes and create something…and then hold it in your hand as you read today’s narrative from Jeremiah:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 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. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
And now, holding it [the moldable substance] in your hand, I want you to smash it!
I want you to think a minute about the experience of the Potter from Jeremiah 18. The prophet hears a word from God to go down to the potter’s house. There he sees the potter creating, but in the process of creation, he sees something that isn’t working right. Maybe a weak spot in the vessel or an imperfection that will keep it from firing correctly. So, the potter takes the pot and throws it out. Undoes the work.
We talked a lot last week about this in the Two-Way, the Bible study and discussion group that meets after church each Sunday (anyone and everyone is invited, by the way). We talked about the judgment of God, especially in the Old Testament. A lot of folks read these passages of judgment and see God as vindictive, or arbitrary, or gleefully violent. Kind of like that kid that goes around kicking over other kids’ sandcastles. That’s who God is in the Old Testament. Mean jerk God.
In fact, around the time that the Early Church was figuring out what books needed to be included in our Scriptures, there was this guy named Marcion, who suggested that there should be NO books from Hebrew Scripture because, he suggested, the god of the Old Testament is a completely different deity than the God found in Christ. A different god all together, and so we shouldn’t waste any of our time talking about him. There is a strain of theology running through the history of the Church that suggests that this is true…we should ignore, or at least take with a grain of salt, the God found in the Hebrew Scriptures, because who wants to worship a Mean Jerk God who kicks over other kids’ sandcastles?
But the folks in the Two-Way, we talked about the experience of judgment in the Old Testament. It seems to them, and I think there is good theology there, that what we call the judgement of God in the Old Testament is really just the natural consequences of the actions of the people. The people ignore justice, and community, and shalom, and only care about violence, and overpowering the weak, and taking care of “me and mine.” That kind of society will eventually fall in on itself…as Jesus will later say, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” What is seen as God’s judgment is actually God letting the people judge themselves. And perhaps what is happening is that God is not gleeful and rejoicing in the violence, but more like the parent who lets their children make decisions that they know are going to hurt them in the long run. Or, like the Potter who grieves the loss of their creation. Or like the Baptist who grieves the loss of their play-doh sculpture. God is not happy or vengeful that the Babylonians are going to sweep in out of the east and destroy everything that God’s people hold dear. Or the Assyrians. Or the Philistines. Or any of the destructive forces that cause violence to God’s people in the cycle of injustice and destruction and repentance that continues over and over again. Each time it happens, God weeps that the people still don’t live in the ways of peace.
And yet, each time, each cycle, remember what happens:
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. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.
God is a God of second chances! God is a God of grace! God is a God of remade vessels! When we turn from our evil, and turn back to the ways of peace and justice, God shows us how to rebuild our lives. And our community. And our nation. And our world. After the Philistines. After the Assyrians. After the Babylonians, there is God, picking up the pieces of clay, and starting over with God’s people. And after our falls and failures and falterings, God is there to bend down, and pick up the pieces, and start over again. Every. Single. Time.
Did anyone destroy their play-doh? Like not just smash their creation, but completely destroy the material, wiping it off the planet? Or is there something left? Is there something that might be remade?
This time, I want you to create something that symbolizes for you the ways that God is remaking you. What is God’s creation in you? How is the Creator molding and making you in new ways? Take a few minutes and create again.