In this striking analogy, Jeremiah pictures God as the potter, fashioning vessels out of clay. This would be a very familiar image to Jeremiah’s readers. The clay in this imagery represents people. God shapes the clay, but some of it doesn't work as planned. At first reading, this narrative seems to say that God, the potter, will do with the clay whatever God wants to do. But Jeremiah isn’t really saying that we are inert lumps of clay. Clay can resist the potter, and we can spoil God’s creative purposes. We are invited, not forced, to be active participants with God, the potter.
What are those purposes God has for us? Jeremiah doesn’t spell it out, and we cannot presume to know it all. But, in the deeper reaches of our faith, we can discern that God’s purposes are grounded in love. When we are fully responsive to God, we recognize and relate to the workings of that divine love wherever we are. Most immediately that means performing acts of love for those who are closest to us, seeing their potential, and enabling them to be good persons. It also means reaching out to people in need whom we may never know personally. And it means discerning the hand of God in the world of nature, treating its beauties and resources as gifts to be treasured rather than exploited. God may not plan the details of our lives, but within each of us God has planted extraordinary possibilities to be realized as we respond to the evidences of love all around us.
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. Amen. (umh, no. 382)
Jeremiah brings another warning of impending judgment. If the people will not turn to the Lord, God will break the nation and reshape it, just as a potter breaks down and reshapes clay on a wheel. The psalmist praises God for God’s intimate knowledge of each one of us. Even from the moment of conception, God knows us and has a plan for our lives. Philemon is often overlooked, but it packs a punch. A text that some used in the past to justify slavery teaches a very different message. Paul warns Philemon not to enslave Onesimus again but to receive him back as a brother. Secular power structures have no place in God’s kingdom. In Luke, Jesus uses striking examples to teach us that the life of faith cannot be lived well with half-hearted commitment.
Read Jeremiah 18:1-11. As clay, how can you better respond to the Potter’s guiding hand?
Read Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18. God knows you better than you know yourself, yet God has given you the ability to make your own decisions. How do you respond to God?
Read Philemon 1-21. How do you honor the full humanity of those who serve you through their work?
Read Luke 14:25-33. What does it mean for you to take up the cross in your life?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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