The Clay and the Potter

The Clay and the Potter

September 4……..13th Sunday after Pentecost

Elaine York, Commissioned Lay Pastor

Psalm 1; Jeremiah 18: 1-11; Philemon 1-7

Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church

Good Morning, and Welcome to Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church!  I am Elaine York, your Pulpit Supply Pastor for today.

I know that many of you may be sad today because of the departure this week of Pastor Pat and Melissa and I will also miss them.  I want you to know that I was a part of the interview with your new Interim Pastor and in the words from the gospel of John, chapter 14, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  I believe that your new Pastor was also sent to you by God as was Pastor Pat and that you will find joy and thankfulness in getting to know your new Pastor.

Let us begin with a little humor! These are from church signs in the front of churches:  Sent to me by Barb Haven, Clerk of Session from Christ Presbyterian Church in Gardnerville.

  • The fact that there’s a highway to hell and only a stairway to heaven says a lot about anticipated traffic numbers.
  • Don’t give up!  Moses was once a basket case!
  • God didn’t create anything without a purpose, but mosquitos come close. 
  • Adam and Eve, the first people to not read the apple terms and conditions.
  • What happens In Vegas is forgiven here!
  • Come hear our Pastor.  He’s not very good but he’s quick!
  • Noah was a brave man to sail in a wooden boat with two termites!
  • We are still open between Christmas and Easter!
  • Keep using my name in vain, and I’ll make rush hour longer.  God

And now we turn to our Old Testament Psalm 1. We are told that we will be happy if we do not believe advice from wicked people.  It tells us that we are given paths in which to choose from.  We are not to believe what the scoffer are saying to us.  Scoffers are defined as people who mock or make fun of someone or something, often of religion or moral values.  We need courage when facing scoffers who jeer. From Sermon Writer we learn. That this psalm is called a wisdom psalm that calls people to a path of righteousness in order to seek the happiness and blessings that God intends for us.

Jesus calls us to the narrow, difficult road that leads to life rather than the wide, smooth road that leads to death (Matthew 7:13). All of us must rub elbows at some point with people who live excessive and uncontrolled lives. The trick is to keep moving, so that we don’t absorb their values, join in their wanton activities, or give the appearance of approving their lifestyle.

• The blessed person delights “in Yahweh’s law” (Hebrew: torah). The blessed person loves to learn about God and God’s expectations.

• In keeping God’s laws, the faithful obtain great rewards.

That last line is key. In keeping God’s laws, the faithful obtain great rewards. Are those rewards the natural product of keeping God’s laws, or does God confer a blessing on those who keep his  laws. Both are true. God has structured things so that virtue produces its own rewards. God also often adds rewards as a gift to those who are faithful.

Where the psalm says,

“He meditates day and night” on God’s law. If we truly love something, we are likely to study it in detail and try to master it. That’s true of sports fans, woodworkers, golfers, hunters, and devotees of classic cars. They not only study those things, but also spend irrational sums of money in their pursuit.

• A tree planted by a stream of water is truly blessed, because water is always in easy reach. The tree can be assured of bringing “forth its fruit in its season,” because it always has water. In like manner, its “leaf also does not wither.” Life is easy for trees that have a dependable water supply.

Keith Harms says, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season.” People who don’t want to wait 4 decades for a globe Norway maple to grow in their front yard when they can buy a 30-foot specimen form a New York nursery for $42,000. Years ago, I remember my dear friend, Tom Moss, Dottie Moss’s husband saying that he bought mature trees for their new house so that he didn’t have to wait around for them to grow.

We humans are always in a hurry, looking for shortcuts to skirt the process and grasp the product. And sometimes we expect instant maturity in our Christian walk and growth in faith. What a contrast to the enormous leisure of God in His dealings with us!

We now turn to our scripture readings from Jeremiah! 

“Whatever he does shall prosper.”

Godly people often do prosper as a direct result of their faithful lives. My church history professor used to talk about Quakers, who worked hard, developed reputations for honesty, and lived simply. He noted that their lifestyle was a prescription for growing rich. While the Quakers might not have had the accumulation of wealth as their goal, many did become quite wealthy as a direct result of their Godly lives. It is also true that a Godly person who tries to live according to God’s will can expect to avoid many common pitfalls that ruin other people. They are also more likely than most to live in harmony with their neighbors and to waste less time, energy, and money on frivolous things and unnecessary worries. Godly virtues won’t always lead to wealth, but they are likely to lead to a blessed life.

Our second scripture verses come from Jeremiah18:1-11.  Chapter 17 tells of the sins of the people of Judah (17:1-4) and promises that those who trust in human powers will be like dry  shrubs in the desert, but those who trust in Yahweh will be “as a tree planted by the waters” (17:8)—for those who have turned away from Yahweh have, in fact, “forsaken Yahweh, the spring of living waters” (17:13).

The last part of chapter 17 (verses 19-27) are an especially fitting prelude to our text.  In those verses, Yahweh commands the people of Judah to keep the sabbath holy, and promises prosperity to those who do and a devouring fire to those who don’t.  This same promise of prosperity to the faithful and punishment to the evil is reflected in our text.

Jeremiah was an active prophet for the four decades leading up to the beginning of the Babylonian Exile.  Scholars believe that editors continued to add to the book after Jeremiah’s death. We are not sure whether chapter 18 was written prior to the Exile (Thompson, 432) or during the Exile (Stulman, 182). Our text constitutes a warning and a plea from Yahweh to Judah.  The warning is that continued faithlessness will bring disaster, but the plea holds out the hope of prosperity to those who are faithful.

God often revealed his word to his prophets, who then had the responsibility to proclaim God’s word to the people.  Jeremiah has been on the receiving end of the word of Yahweh since the beginning of this book and has been proclaiming the word of Yahweh since the beginning of  this)—but the people have been rejecting the word of Yahweh for quite a long time (8:9).

“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear my words” (v. 2). Yahweh has been revealing God’s word to Jeremiah through ordinary things—the branch of  an almond tree (1:11) and a boiling caldron (1:13). Now God chooses to reveal God’s word through one of the most ordinary aspects of life in those times—pottery.

In the ancient world, pottery was everywhere.  People used clay jars for storage and cooking. They used clay tiles for roofs. They used clay bricks to line their ovens. They used clay figurines for decorations—and even for toys. The potter was one of the most important craftspeople in the community. God is preparing Jeremiah for an object lesson—revealing God’s word using pottery as an example—and people will be reminded of this lesson every time they see a clay jar.

“Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he was making a work on the wheels” (v. 3). There were two kinds of potter’s wheels—one known as a slow wheel and the other known as a fast wheel. The fast wheel has a large circular stone parallel to the ground near the potter’s feet and a small circular stone, rather like a circular tabletop, near the potter’s hands.  The two stones would be connected by a vertical shaft. The potter would push the large bottom stone with his feet, causing it to rotate, and the top stone, connected by a shaft to the large stone, would rotate at the same speed.

Here you see a small potter’s wheel sold for children that want to make their own pottery. Here is an example of a piece of pottery that my 17-year-old granddaughter made for me.  She even fired it to match my colors.  It is special to me because she made it as a gift for me.

As Jeremiah watches, the potter determines that the clay piece on the potter’s wheel is unsatisfactory, so he reworks the clay into another vessel. We don’t know what the defect in the original piece was.  It could have been that the clay was too wet or dry. It could have been that there was a small stone or other foreign object embedded in the clay. Whatever the problem, the potter must destroy the imperfect piece before forging the clay into a new piece. He must take the imperfect piece in both hands and crumple it so that it becomes a  lump of clay again. He must work the lump in both hands until it has a smooth consistency. He might need to add water to make it more pliable—or add clay to give it more structural integrity. Only after this careful preparation can he begin again to create a new, more perfect, vessel. It is important to note that the potter does not pitch the imperfect piece into a pile of rejects, never to be seen again. The clay is still usable, so the potter begins what appears to be a destructive process but is really a creative process.

Have you ever driven by a church named, “The Potter’s House” in Reno where there are two with that name. It seems on researching churches with this name that there are many including a huge church in Dallas with over 8,000 members.  They are generally Charismatic Pentecostal churches. In this parable we learn from Brandon Park, a Baptist Pastor that the

  • Potter = God the Father
  • Wheel = The revolving circumstances in life
  • Clay = you and me as Christians

Gen. 2: God formed man out of the “terra cotta” of the ground. Clay is simply dust and water. The same elements that are in clay are the same elements that are in us…the only difference is, we have the breath of life that has been breathed into us by God Himself! Clay cannot mold itself…only God has the power to mold and shape our lives.

LOOK AROUND: Each of you is a vessel in the hands of God.  And God does not make junk and He does not give up on us.  He continues to shape us to be more like Jesus each day as He  was doing with Judah.

Our final scripture today is from Philemon1-7.  This is a very short book that is a letter of Paul to  Philemon.  It has only 25 verses. According to John Slythe, a pastor, The Book of Philemon is very interesting. It’s probably a book we hear quoted the least out of all the books of the Bible and probably one that we look at the least. The book is a letter of Paul. But instead of a letter to a church, it’s a letter to a person – Philemon.

The book probably doesn’t turn heads because of the subject matter. It’s about a slave. Actually,  it’s about a runaway slave named Onesimus who had stolen something from his master, Philemon and ran away to avoid being caught. Paul, in this short letter, is telling Philemon that Onesimus, the slave, has been saved under his ministry, and now he is sending him back to Philemon to see if Philemon will release forgiveness and freedom to Onesimus despite what wrong he had done.

And the amazing thing is that we have all heard them from Christ himself on our behalf. So, for us has Christ written home to his father on our Behalf. For even on the cross, the love of God through Christ gave these words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” While saying those words, it is striking that Christ is commending forgiveness for the sins of the world which put him on the cross in the first place. Christ took our offenses and paid our penalty.

Christ took upon Himself the price of our sin. And in dying on the cross he paid the debt we could not pay. Isaiah 53:6 (KJV) Amen.