Yet you, Lord, are our Parent.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
- Isaiah 64:8-9
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 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. - Jeremiah 18:1-4
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. - Jeremiah 18:6
Has anyone here ever worked a pottery wheel?
In high school, my youth group every year would do a 40 hour famine where we would fast for two days to raise awareness for world hunger. We would break our fast with a ritual meal similar in tradition to that of a Jewish Seder -- where each item on our plate symbolized some aspect of the Passover story -- and while I won’t get into detail about some of the cultural issues inherent in the appropriation of such a ceremony -- part of our preparation for this experience was making our own plates out of clay. We’d spend weeks on our projects -- my youth group leader had a pottery wheel in her basement, and each of us would take turns getting our hands dirty in the wet clay, trying to shape these lumps of earth into something resembling plates. After firing them in her kiln, we’d glaze them and refire them into semi-useable objects.
Now I am definitely no expert in ceramics -- this is all based on my very limited knowledge of pottery, but working with clay is a lot more difficult than it sounds. First of all there’s a certain degree of coordination involved with kicking your feet at just the right speed to spin the wheel. Once it’s up to speed, you have to keep the motion going while at the same time working the clay with wet hands to shape it the way you want it. It’s almost like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time -- all the while trying to figure out how you are ever going to bring forth something out of this formless lump on the wheel.
Secondly - the clay has to be perfectly centered on the wheel. If it isn’t centered, the force you apply to the clay won’t be even and you’ll end up with a wobble that gets drastically more wild the more you work with it. So you first spend a lot of time making sure the clay is centered -- molding it with your hands and pushing it toward the center as it spins around and around until you have a centered lump. This is, of course, after you have presumably wedged out all the inconsistencies and air bubbles in your lump of clay - if you haven’t, you’re in for trouble down the road.
Next, you start to shape your piece. In my case, we were making plates, so it involved applying a steady, even pressure with the edge of your hand on top to open the clay. Vary the pressure - even a little - and the clay can go off-center.
Suffice it to say, you can’t force the clay to do one thing or another. If you do, you won’t end up with what you want. The clay will work against you, fighting with your will. To put in in the words of Jane Gross in a column on the On Being blog, “try to bully the clay with strength, not stillness, and it turns into a guided missile rather than a bowl.” You can only patiently shape it with steady guidance. If you apply pressure in the wrong place or in the wrong way, it can go out of balance. It’s easy to trap air bubbles, end up with weird ridges, or have your piece collapse on you. And then it’s back to the drawing board. Throwing a piece takes time, patience -- a steady, gentle hand -- a mindful presence.
So when I think about God being the potter, and us human beings as the clay -- I think about this experience, and imagine God at the potter’s wheel...slowly shaping and forming each of us -- working with each of us gently and patiently -- centering and recentering us when we wobble out of place, smoothing out our rough edges, opening us surely to be fashioned into the beautiful pieces we were intended to be.
God doesn’t bully us into shape. God doesn’t force God’s will upon us - but instead God guides us and fashions us.
The Genesis story calls out that we were made in God’s own image. That each of us bears the divine likeness within. But it takes God molding and shaping us to bring it to its fullest beauty -- making and remaking and remaking us again into vessels for God’s holy work in the world.
When we stray -- when we falter -- God doesn’t throw us off the wheel. Instead God takes us once again, centers and grounds us, and makes us anew.
We are all formed and fashioned by God. We are all works in progress.
I think about this fact in light of the events of this past week - with the violence and fear suffered by our African-American sisters and brothers, and with the violence experienced by the police officers in Dallas. I find it terrible to think about the ways we perpetuate cycles of hatred and violence -- and how a disproportionate amount of that violence is experienced by Black young men. The same blood flows in our veins, the same God created us all - and yet, our system is rigged to privilege one class of people over another, simply based on the color of their skin.
It’s not the only place we have gone astray as a nation -- but it’s one where God and God’s people are going to have to do a lot of reshaping to fix.
That is the call -- as people who are created and formed by God to be vessels of God’s spirit, to be agents of transformation, we have a responsibility to be a part of the redeeming work God is doing in the world -- the fashioning of a kingdom of peace and justice, of righteousness and compassion, of hope and love.
Later on in our time of worship, we’ll have an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to that work by remembering our baptismal vows.
That work requires us to be open -- open to God working in every part of our lives -- even the parts that we prefer God to stay out of. It means that we have to yield our spirits in service to God’s. It means that our say over our lives is only good insofar as it’s God’s say over our words, our actions, our time, our energy, our money, our resources, our gifts, our very being. God’s gotta work through all of it. There is no part that is free from God’s transforming touch, from God’s patient and steady hand, from God’s reshaping power.
The words of the hymn we just sang - Have Thine Own Way, Lord -- it’s our daily prayer, so that every part of who we are is open and at the ready for God’s spirit to fill us so that it’s Christ only, always, living in each and every one of us, willing to go forth to participate in the healing and mending of a broken and hurting world.
Let us continually invite God to shape and mold us. To be the clay in God’s hand, who creates us - recreates us -- into vessels for God’s holy work. And may our prayer always be,
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.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the Chebeague Island United Methodist Church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and two dogs, and soon will expect a new addition to her family. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the chuch community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.