Monday, September 6, 2010

Throwing Pots

Morning Worship with Holy Communion, September 5, 2010
Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Luke 14:25-33

Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of each of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

From the prophet Jeremiah: “Then the word of the Lord came to me: … Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

I’ve never used a potter’s wheel. Maybe some of you have or have handled clay enough to know that it can really give your hands a workout. It’s messy. It can push back and that also allows it to be molded and to take and hold a shape. So I love Jeremiah’s comparison of God to a potter. God can be imagined as a five-star general (the Lord of Hosts) or, in Matthew, as a mother hen longing to gather her chicks under her wings. But for us, this morning, God is a down-to-earth potter working at the wheel, working hard because some of the pieces aren’t turning out so well and badly need reworking.

Now a potter can obviously smash, discard, or at least smush down a faulty pot before it’s dried. But what draws me is the way Jeremiah presents God as a creative force in our lives. First, this God is a professional, fully engaged, intent on drawing a good vessel from the clay, one that is useful and beautiful. Every turn of that wheel must be watched. This is not aimless, casual, or part-time work. Secondly, the clay itself is not passive like water or sand. It offers resistance to the potter’s hand. It can also be flawed because of impurities or because it has not been worked enough, prepared, before the actual shaping begins.

The comparisons to God and us are all too obvious: God, as watchful potter, intends—longs—to shape us as vessels. God knows there is something of sterling quality in our clay. It is too valuable to be thrown aside and discarded, and so God reworks and reshapes “as seems good.” God is aware of the condition of our clay and will do God’s best to draw us in ways that we could not imagine or were not willing to strive for. Throwing pots requires constant discernment of the piece and response to how it is coming along. The work of God-as-Potter is to help us become vessels of divine love and justice. And our Potter’s Grace will reach us, often when we are at our lowest or least expect it.

But there’s still us, so practiced at resisting over and over again that shaping—and reshaping—hand, that watchful eye and often fast-turning wheel. Jeremiah’s words describe us too. In our personal and common life together, we can choose to hear and respond. Or, like the crowd Jesus tries to shock into awareness in Luke this morning, we can care less about discipleship and relationship with God than we do about our own concerns, our own individual lives, acquisitions, achievements.

I didn’t include our usual Prayer of Confession this morning, but our Invocation asks that our worship may be a longing to find God and ourselves through God. It is that longing and a joy in finding that shapes our time together into worship. This morning, we do not have special Words of Assurance either, but in our prayer after the holy receiving of Communion, we will thank God from the bottom of our hearts for the “mystery in which You have given yourself to us” as Creator, ever-creating and shaping our lives. Without the mystery of God’s ever-present love, we are lost—just so much clay. Without the mystery of God’s ever-present commitment to us, we cannot experience the release of forgiveness, or any relief of pain and sorrow. After all, God-as-Potter is not only willing to take creative risks and get all messy for our sakes. Through the Incarnation, God was willing to live as clay—though without sin. God was willing to live as clay the better to understand us and the more fully to shape and to draw out our stubborn, self-involved selves.

Finally, the mystery of God-as-Potter and the often-resisting stuff with which God is committed to work—that would be us—calls me to separate the redemptive work we are given to do as disciples from those moments of pure Grace that can truly be considered miracles. Miracles do occur and we are right to pray for them, but let us first do all that we can to transform our lives and our world by the hard spiritual work of discipleship—by the hard spiritual love of discipleship—by actions that are in fact within our power. It’s sometimes easier to long passively for a miracle—“Wouldn’t it be a miracle if….” than it is to allow ourselves to respond to the firm, guiding hand of our ever watchful, laboring, and loving Potter.

Hear now our concluding prayer by the theologian Jack Riemer (slightly altered):[1]

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end war;
For we know that You have made the world in a way
That man must find his own path to peace
Within himself and with his neighbor.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end starvation;
For you have already given us the resources
With which to feed the entire world
If we would only use them wisely.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God,
To root out prejudice,
For You have already given us eyes
With which to see the good in all people
If we would only use our eyes rightly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end despair,
For You have already given us the power
To clear away slums and to give hope
If we would only use our power justly.

We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end disease,
For you have already given us great minds with which
To search out cures and healing,
If we would only use them constructively.
You have already given us great hearts with which
To bring comfort and support to those who are ill
And to be present with them.

Therefore we pray to You instead, O God,
For strength, determination, and willpower,
To do instead of just to pray,
To become instead of merely to wish.


[1] Quoted by Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Anchor Books, 1981), 130-1.

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