Jeremiah 18:1-11 (NRSV)
18 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.
An art instructor is pacing around the studio. The students are doing “sketches” of models, or brainstorming ideas through molding smaller models of clay for a final project due at the end of the semester. When he sees one of the pieces a student had done, he plucked it up and rolled it back into a ball of wet earth. “You can do better. (Try) “Again.”
An artist learns the paradox of both being in control and letting go of a creation. In the case of Jeremiah 18:1-11 though, God is clearly stating his / her control over creation “for just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).
God reminds me of the art instructor in this instance, guiding a student, a co- creator, in their own creation. I believe, not only are we the clay, but we are also co- creators. And like the student, find ourselves in need of redirection, or our final project isn’t going to be the quality, the good, in which our own Creator intends for us. And when we turn to evil deeds, I believe God, like the instructor will pluck us up and say, “Again.”
Our choice lies in if we want to roll back into that wet earth to try again, or if we’re going to let the consequences do reshaping for us.
[Meredythe Braun is a member of CCC for over a year and is a new deacon.]
In my 9th grade art class we were to make a something out of paper mache - the closest thing to clay we had to work with. I chose to make a model of an octopus. I have no remembrance of where I got that idea from! But I do remember how difficult it was to form the bulbous head and attach 8 gangly legs. The head was shaped with a balloon as its underlying structure. It took one attempt. No problem. But the legs were very difficult to do. It took three weeks, three different structural attempts, three times of tearing it apart and putting it back together. In the end the various art pieces were put on display at the end-of-year art show. My piece was considered one of the most unique. Maybe that was the lesson for Jeremiah that God had for the people: I am God who will work you over and over until you are formed as I see fit. I will do so until I see no evil in you, your ways, your doings, and you live the life as I intend for you.
[Donna Prince. A prayerful Elder. A loving wife. A doting grandma. A work in progress. Ever in search of grace.]
We are taught stories all the time whether we are consciously aware of them or not. We taught by culture, society, and those who raise us. These stories can range from being harmful to helpful.
I did not grow up attending a mainstream church. Some of the speakers on Christian-identified radio and television affected my faith. One story that is taught by many Christianity in the United States is that when we decide to follow Jesus that the slate of our lives is wiped clean and we have a new beginning. With my faith journey as a teen, I found it frustrating that destructive thoughts didn’t suddenly disappear when I decided to follow Jesus. Those that were destructive were self-critiques that gave me low self-esteem. While following Jesus is a new beginning, we don’t suddenly become a completely new person.
When reflecting on this scripture, the writer of the text tells the people of Jerusalem to turn from their evil ways. The prophet Jeremiah was writing about the destruction of Jerusalem when many were displaced by the Babylonian Empire. Like the potter, God does not destroy or throw away the clay from a vessel that has faults. God will take the imperfect clay and reshape it into something new.
Those parts of us that are destructive thoughts and actions are still there in our brain. They were how we responded to pain in our lives. It is not easy to suddenly be a different person. God’s grace provides us the hope that we can be transformed gradually with God’s love. Our lives are not fixed. Each day is another opportunity to follow a healthier path to help others on their journeys with Christ.
[Reuben Sancken-Marx is an elder of Central and an ordained hospital chaplain.]