Often I take a manuscript into the pulpit. The preached sermon will vary. Below the post will be a link to the preached sermon.
Text: Jeremiah 18:1-18
Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, who loves with an everlasting love, there are times where we amaze those around us not for our faithfulness, but for our faithlessness. They don’t shake their heads at us out of disgust or disappointment. They are amazed that we would demonstrate such willful stubbornness to the One we name our God. Keep spinning us on your wheel, shaping us into something different – a faithful people whose lives are nothing if we are not in Christ. And all God’s people say . . . Amen.
We have driven west out of Creede, Colorado toward Lake City on Highway 149 almost annually for more than 15 years. We flat landers never tire of taking in the mountain vistas. Looking up to the west as the road turns north we spotted a small dash of white just below the peak of the mountain ridge. Was it snow? Nah. It couldn’t be. It was late summer, maybe even Labor Day weekend when we first spotted it. Surrounded by trees below and dark rock above, the sort of rock that these mountains were made of, lava rock. There was no snow anywhere else but there. Couldn’t be.
Curiosity got the best of us during one visit. We pulled off the road and stopped. I pulled out my camera and attached the longest telephoto lens I had. Carefully zooming in I could not believe it. Snow. Maybe it does not surprise you but there was no snow above or below this spot. Evidently the annual winter snow filled a crag in just the right place that kept it from the angle of the sun necessary to melt. Snow belongs on the mountain. If the snow were any where else, say in the meadows below, it would cease to be snow. Why would snow leave the mountain?
Jeremiah never made it to Creede. But he knew the crags in the mountains of Lebanon. The snow never left the mountain. And as such it was always a source of water for those below. So when he observed the stubbornness of his own people, of Israel, even heard their determined faithlessness in their own words, he used the image poetically to call out his people for failing to be where they belonged – with Yahweh.
We don’t all live where there is year round snow on the mountains to remind us where we belong. But, we do live among people who express amazement when we decide to make the potter’s job more difficult.
That is, when we read Jeremiah call for the people to turn from their evil ways, the people, God’s snow in the highland crags of Lebanon, reply,
It’s hopeless. We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.
we cannot help but call back to the opening story and make the connection. The potter is finding the clay difficult to work. Then in a shocking move, God asks, “Who does that?!” He does not ask the question rhetorically, as if to say he already knows the answer. He calls witnesses to answer the question,
Ask among the nations, who has heard things like these?
Who does that?
Do you see the irony? God asks the nations, who follow their own gods, really no gods at all, if they had ever heard of any of their people abandoning their gods. Two things to keep in mind. First, Israel had a well-known history. Yahweh had written into their story God’s own faithfulness to the promises he has made his people. Second, the response of the nations bears witness to the way the clay has made the Potter’s work more difficult.
All who pass by will be appalled and shake their heads
The force of the language is that the reaction is amazement. Those who pass by witness the consequences of stubbornness and hiss and shake their heads in open disbelief.
And that is my first point. People find it hard to believe when Christians decide for an allegiance other than the One we claim that saves.
Hemant Mehta is the editor of The Friendly Atheist, a channel on the Patheos website. He and other contributors write pieces that draw attention to Christians whose words contradict what the Scriptures reveal about Godself. For instance, a recent article draws out a self-proclaimed Christian prophetess who said God destroyed the Bahamas to put an end to human trafficking, going so far to allege underground tunnels, on an island no less, were destroyed. To add insult to injury she claimed the reason Hurricane Dorian did not wreak the havoc on the U.S, as if we don’t have our own issues with human trafficking, was a result of her prayers. She is not alone in making that suggestion, by the way. No prayers for the thousands of destroyed homes. What about the yet to be numbered dead?
I imagine you are thinking, “Pastor there are all sorts of nuts out there who say things that you and I both know are not true.” Yes, I do. But hear me. These folks provide cover for the rest of us. It is far easier to point out the way these folks fail to represent Christ faithfully while our advocacy on issues more close to home go unattended. In other words, we need these types so that we are not scrutinized by our own lack. Somehow we think our lack gives the Potter less trouble.
Where are our voices when we learn that the effort to fight human trafficking is reduced by our crackdown on immigration because many people who come to our Country are fleeing human trafficking themselves? Budgets have reportedly been cut. What will we do when we see fewer and fewer arrests and convictions of perpetrators? We cannot fall back and point to those we think are crazy if we ourselves have more interest in what harms us rather than what harms others.
If that is too abstract, what are we doing about the increased performance anxiety both young people and adults face? Rather than slow down, we witness the secular religion of busyness become the default religion we give for justifying our worthiness. If we aren’t busy doing something, all the time, every moment filled, then where is our value? This is not just the religion of others. It has been mingled with the same faith that points out that it is God who justifies in the life of Christ for us and with us. We point our children away from the mountain and set them in the meadow. We fail to point them where they belong – in Christ – leading them to believe they belong in the arena of performance, that their value is in being the best.
But, alas we don’t want to hear the ways we may be stubborn in our own rights.
And that is my second point. Jeremiah’s words were met with adversity and those of us who speak out about us being where we belong, in Christ, will too.
We don’t care to hear what friendly atheists say. And, we certainly don’t want anyone in our own group calling attention to our decisions to do our own thing.
Many have bought into the fanciful idea that they prefer to be faithful to Jesus on their own, in their own time and in their own way. It sounds liberating, freeing. But, the nations, people, whose gods are no gods at all bear witness in their amazement that we pattern our lives in the same way they do. There are few if any distinctions.
And that takes us back to the start, back to the potter. If Jeremiah relays God’s query to the nations, “Who does that?!”, then when we look at the opening story, the focus should return to Godself. Who does that?!
Who takes clay and works it on a wheel and continues to work the clay remaking it every time it resists its form? Who does that?
We have had Colin Rosebrook here to both demonstrate his skill on the potter’s wheel and to relay his work to the activity of God. He has a studio, still, in the Paseo. While Colin uses an electric powered pottery wheel and makes many different objects with great skill, potters were an integral part of ancient culture. Every town had at least one potter. Most everyone was familiar with their art, their craft. Two stone wheels connected by an axle. The potter would turn one with his foot, speeding it up and slowing it down as needed. He or she would work the clay on the other wheel. It is not likely that this was Jeremiah’s first visit to the potter’s house.
But whereas before he may have simply taken in the skill and products produced, here he was invited to make some different observations. He was to resist suggesting he already knew what potters did on their wheels. He was to gain something new this time around.
There it was. Studiously taking in the work of the potter, God drew Jeremiah’s attention. This time Jeremiah paid careful attention to the patience of the potter as he worked the clay. When the clay resisted the form intended, the potter would continue to work the clay to make something else. Over and again. Maybe the clay was of poor quality, Maybe it was too dry. Maybe it reacted adversely to the touch of the Potter. Whatever the reason, the Potter was undeterred. He kept working the clay.
While it is our inclination to make the story about the clay that represented Israel and all nations, and us, Jeremiah was learning something about the Potter – the figure that represented Yahweh, Godself.
And that is my final point. The Potter keeps the promise made to the clay. For without the Potter the clay has nowhere to belong.
When Israel leaves Yahweh, it ceases to be Israel. When the snow leaves the mountain it ceases to be snow. Surely you have made the connection. We are not immune from receiving the promise of God as punishment. There it is glaring like a neon sign in the dead of night. God keeps God’s own promises, a light for all to see, especially his people. Driving right by we experience the promise as punishment. We remove ourselves from its safety. We leave the mountain.
Who does that?
Evidently it is a common human malady. It is the tendency of the clay on the wheel to resist, for whatever reason. To stretch the image to the point of breaking, we could say the clay needs an example for how to rest on the Divine wheel. If clay is, as the Apostle Paul used it, a metaphor for our earthen, flesh and bone, vessel, then we need someone to be clay for us.
Do you see how the conditions Jeremiah addressed are oft repeated? It is as if we could map Jeremiah’s words and experience onto the situation and stories Jesus told in his day. Met with the same adversity by the religious folks, who protested with religious criticism, Jesus was resisted just like Jeremiah.
Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah – for instruction shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us bring charges against him, let us not heed any of his words.
Those haunting words may be heard in the plotting against Jesus,
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him.
Despite resistance to his message,
Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.
What drove him was not the reaction of the people. Instead it was the promise of God. We may want all the attention on us. But when we invite the light, our dark hearts are exposed. Jeremiah discovered that God’s authority would not diminish, nor would his work, for Yahweh aimed for the snow to stay on the mountain. The Spirit works the clay so that it will have a place to belong, in Christ.
We gather to remember our own stubbornness that highlights God’s mercy and patience. About the time we think we are finished, we are through, we have failed, the Potter determines to work the clay again to make it something different.
Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a recognition that by God becoming flesh and blood, clay, he provided not only an example of true humanity, but in his suffering and death, he defeated the forces that make the clay hard to work. He defeated the powers of Sin, Satan, Death and the Grave. Now we, the clay on the wheel, may trust the promises of God that the different he makes of us, in us, is to ensure the snow remains in its place – that we remain in Christ.
Who does that?!
God in Christ Jesus – that is who does that!