Servant’s Heart — From the Desk of a Deacon
“Come, go down to the potter’s
house and there I will let you
hear my words.” Jeremiah 18:1
In this reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, God invites Jeremiah to go down to a potter’s house, and there observe the potter working with clay so that Jeremiah may better hear God’s words.
I don’t know if any of you have worked with clay or watched artisans make something with clay? There are many interesting insights to be gained about how God works with us and in us by observing how a potter shapes and reshapes clay. This reading from Jeremiah tells us that God did not shape us just once for all time, but is continually changing, reshaping and transforming us for God’s purposes. This is not only true for us as individuals, but also for communities of disciples and the wider church.
God illustrates to Jeremiah just how God is like a potter and how God’s people are like clay in God’s hands, and, that God is able to re-form and re-shape us into vessels that God can use. At the heart of this scripture passage is the complex interaction between God the artist and creator, on one hand, and, on the other, God’s people, who are likened to clay in God’s hands.
After Jeremiah visits the potter’s house, God shifts gears and begins to talk about God’s plans for nations and kingdoms. It almost seems to be a new subject. God is no longer talking about individuals or just about Israel, but rather about all nations. God also sets aside the image of a potter and clay, and revisits imagery from Jeremiah’s commission back in chapter 1: that of plucking up, pulling down, building, and planting. This reinforces the image of breaking down and reshaping something that needs to change; reforming and reshaping God’s people to suit God’s purposes at that particular time and in that place.
It seems to me that during the COVID pandemic there was a lot of plucking up and pulling down followed by building, rebuilding and planting. Many institutions including the Church have struggled through challenges brought on by the need to adapt to restrictions and the precautions needed to keep people safe.
It seems that now is the time for regrouping. Now is the time to pause; now is the time to listen to what God is saying to us here and now. God is doing a new thing, or perhaps the same old thing in a new way. And, perhaps God needs to put the clay back on the potter’s wheel and reshape us for a new era, a new way of being God’s hands and God’s feet in the world.
One part of diaconal work is to discern where God is calling the church in these times, and to speak and model that prophetic call to God’s people. This is a perfect time for all of us to consciously surrender ourselves to God’s desire to reshape the “clay” of our lives and the “clay” of our communities.
Our part in God’s work is to be “good clay.” Clay that is receptive to God’s touch and God’s attempts to shape us for service. Clay that has become too dry is difficult to shape and hard to work with. Clay that is too wet will not hold its shape properly, so we need to ensure we have an optimal amount of moisture. This might look like having an open attitude and actively seeking God’s will for us. Discerning where God is leading us. This is true for us as individuals and as a community of disciples and as the church.
Being “good clay” will most certainly involve being open to change and all the uncertainty and discomfort that naturally accompany change. Imagine yourself, if you will, being a lump of clay. The potter carefully places you on the wheel and suddenly you start to spin. Then you begin to feel the potter’s hands begin to reshape you; you’re stretched, pulled and pushed in directions that are uncomfortable. All this is happening while you are spinning, so you may become disoriented a bit, perhaps even confused, but all the while, you need to remind yourself that you are in the Potter’s hands. Being “clay” requires a lot of trust in the potter’s skill and knowledge in working with clay. It’s not easy being clay!
Just as the potter returns to the wheel, so God invites us to be reshaped for service, to be transformed, renewed and changed to suit God’s purposes. Are we willing to be reshaped by the Master Potter’s hands?