Sunday, April 19, 2009

God's Will and Your Life Jeremiah 18:1-6

Holding pottery goblet in hand. One of my family’s favorite places to get away is Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I know that it is more than a bit touristy, but we have found a cabin that we like that sits on the edge of the mountain. When we are there it is like we have the mountain to ourselves. As many of you know, the downtown area is filled with shops of every kind. Along the upper slope you can find a rather remarkable pottery shop. I love to wander in there and see the latest creations. It is where this goblet comes from. If you look closely at the goblet you can see the subtle groves left by the tips of the fingers of the potter. Put goblet down.

Jeremiah’s vision carries him to the potter’s house. Jeremiah hears; "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. The potter’s house was a vital part of every community. The products from his wheel would hold the water, store the food, act as plates and cups, and even store the treasures of the house. The hearers of the vision would have understood how pottery was made and had probably stood and watched the potter at work before.
[i] While the place of pottery has changed dramatically over the centuries, the core process has changed little. The clay lays on a spinning wheel and the potter’s hands reaches in. With a slow and steady movement the potter begins to shape the clay. The clay rises as the hands of the potter. His finger tips molds it, guides it. There are times when the clay gets out of perfect round or when a small grain of sand disrupts its purity and the potter- in a quick motion flattens it - and begins again. I remember one of the first times I watched a potter at work. When he flattened the clay my heart leaped. The bowl he was working on was almost complete. He saw something I did not see. It looked good enough to me. Apparently good enough was not good enough. This seems to be true of God as well.

5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. How do you know what God’s will is for your life? Where does God’s will and your life come together? This is the core question of Week One in the Experiencing God study our church is claiming together over the next twelve weeks. This passage draws us into the heart of the question.

Jeremiah’s vision from God was took him to the potter’s wheel. In Chapter 19 Jeremiah will go back to the potter’s house and buy some well baked pots that will come to symbolize the destruction of the city and the nation. That is another image for another day, but it is important because this first vision was not the finished product, baked and fired. It summons us to the wheel when the clay is fresh and wet, ready to be shaped, ready to be molded by the hand and eye of the potter. God wanted Jeremiah to communicate with His people that they needed to be malleable – shapeable – by God’s will and God’s way. The problem was that they were so focused on doing things their way that they resisted being guided –shaped – molded by God. They lost their connection to the potter. Their problem is our problem. We can become so focused on our own path – our own way – so driven by our own plans and desires – that we stiffen up and find it hard to be shaped by the will and way of God.

We stand in the shadows of the Easter pronouncement of resurrection. This is good news! But, in my heart of hearts I have to wonder if it sounded like good news to Peter. I imagine that his three denials of Jesus – the one that he called the Christ – and his friend – must have still echoed in his ears. Jesus had told him that he would build his church on him, but in the moments he must of have felt far from God and far from the will of God. In an act of fear and perceived self-preservation, he failed himself and failed Jesus. The vision that Jesus had projected as His will for Peter must has seemed very distant – even impossible. Then, on a lakeside in Galilee, the same lakeside where he had called Peter, Jesus restored him – redeemed him – reclaimed him for his will. Peter would play a vital role in the birth of the church. Other names would join him; Barnabas, Paul, John Mark, Timothy and the list goes on.

Peter is not alone in his story. In our own congregational history Jack Thrower wondered how God might use him after his divorce demanded his resignation as a missionary. God moved. Jack and Betty were married and began a life together. Jack spent the rest of his career with the State Department, serving in settings across the globe. Missions leaders will tell you that Jack and Betty accomplished more from that setting than he ever would have as a missionary in a single location. He opened the door for new mission opportunities everywhere he went. Jack was obedient. God shaped and reshaped his life for the good of the Kingdom.

If we want to find God’s will it requires us to become so obedient to the way of God, so focused on the voice of God, so securely in the hands of God that we can be shaped for God’s purposes. It means we remain connected to the Potter. We sometimes speak of God’s will in monolithic terms – a singular plan where if we vary a single step, make any decisions contrary to the singular plan then we live our lives forever out of step with God’s will. Peter’s story reminds us powerfully that God is in the redemption business – reclaiming his children – redefining them for His will and way. God’s will is more than a railroad track that we chug along from Point A to Point B. It is about living the kind of life that keeps us malleable in God’s hands; it is about allowing God to continue to shape us and mold us for each unique moment, in every decision, and in every relationship. It means that we believe in God enough to entrust our lives into God’s hands believing that God’s way is better than the way we would build for ourselves. It is about allowing God to redeem us – renew us – and redirect us when we falter and fall.

Our journey together over these next twelve weeks will help us to listen more closely for God’s voice, to seek more passionately God’s way. Each of us will have to determine what that means in our lives. We will be asked to soften our hearts and be willing to make the adjustments necessary in our lives to act in obedience to God’s way. We will discover that the Biblical mandate is that God’s will and our lives should become one and the same thing. We will find the power of redemption that will lift us when we falter and redirect our steps. "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. May we be shaped by the will and way of God.


[i] Frethem, Terence E., “Pottery Making” in Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, (Smyth & Helwys Publishing: Macon, GA, 2002), p.270

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