1 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."
The Potter's House
• From Pentecost 10, here's a little about Jeremiah.
• Jeremiah on Pentecost 12 last week.
This passage opens with God instructing Jeremiah to go to a potter's house because the pottery-making process will be a great illustration of God's words through Jeremiah to Judah. Whether your creativity tends toward artisanal with woodworking, cooking, baking, gardening, or knitting, or maybe you're artistic with words, paint, music, weaving, sculpture… oh, artisan and artist overlap and can't be separated, and you totally get how material you work has its own mind and pleasure, you understand disappointment when things don't go as expected, the joy of a good outcome.
• How can any of the creativity you enjoy be an analogy for God's work and our ministries in the world?
Potter and Clay
An English language instructor could explain the differences with examples, but for today's purposes, metaphor, simile, analogy, likeness, comparison, allegory, parallel, and allusion all are literary devices that help us understand an event or situation in light of another object or happening. Then there's sign and symbol—different topics for another, extended conversation.
Pastor James Howell, whose preaching notions lectionary blog is one of my favorites, posted a video of a visit he made to a Potter's House to help him prepare for preaching this passage. (By the way, I've quit linking to videos because they're here today, gone tomorrow. And isn't it annoying that you don't know which one "This Video Has Been Removed" refers to?)
A condensed version of what Pastor James says about pottery:
Potters use theologically suggestive terminology. Clay gets spoiled, so the potter reworks it. If it's wonky, the potter has to redeem it. The clay talks back to the potter. The clay is passive – but has its own life and nature that can resist the potter!
The potter opens up the clay. Keeping the clay centered is key and requires two hands to shape, reshape, begin again, refine. Hard clay is a challenge, so the potter adds water (so can we think tears? Baptism?). The clay gets exhausted and gets set aside.
Analogy and Reality
We talk about comparison, analogy, metaphor, yet Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit is Living Water. Water is the literal womb of earth's creation and of our creation as individual humans. After we first see light of day, waters of baptism rebirth us in so many senses. Waterways are the planet's circulatory system.
Scripture frequently images the Spirit of God as wind or breeze. When Adam received the divine breath, he came to life. The breath of forests, trees, and other plants are this planet's lungs.
• What additional biblical and other examples can you think of?
Where We Live
God's promises carry the condition of obedience, the necessity of keeping covenant with all creation. In classic truth-to-power prophetic style Jeremiah lines out if-then alternatives. Sometimes for better, other times for worse: "if you do this, that will happen." Our behaviors have consequences, and often we have no choice but to live with the results of other's actions.
Jeremiah's God "plucks up and pulls down, destroys and overthrows, builds, and plants." God calls Jeremiah (over nations!), "to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant." God calls us to those same ministries.
To quote James Howell again, "Pottery is frustrating – and Jeremiah pinpoints that moment the potter (God) wants to start over and make the clay [the southern kingdom Judah in this case] into something new and different. Israel is wonky, needing redemption. Israel and all of us need to interiorize Augustine's famous thought: 'O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.' Not just as individuals either! – but as a people, as the family of God."
As a "professional creative" who often goes a bit crazy (wonky?) trying to get a design or a project both technically correct and lookin' good, I really LOVE knowing tearing down, ripping up, starting again from ground zero is good theology even for what's really the minutiae of everyday life.
• How about you?
Jeremiah's short essay doesn't mention firing or glazing that "finish" a plate, cup, jar, or bowl so it can't be further altered expect by breaking it. I have the strong impression God usually leaves many of our surfaces unfinished to rework later for another purpose.
• What's your experience?