Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
September 8, 2019
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 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. Then the word of the Lord came to me: 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. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 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. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 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.
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.
Italian violinist Niccolo Paganini is thought by many to have been the greatest violinist in history. As he traveled through Europe, he was greeted much as the Beatles were in America, with almost hysterical fans. It is said that one evening Paganini was performing and as he embarked upon his last piece, one of the strings of his violin snapped. He kept playing. A few moments later, a second string snapped. Again he kept playing, although reduced to two remaining strings. Finally the unbelievable happened- a third string snapped. Yet Paganini kept going, finishing the piece on just one string. His brilliant performance caused the audience to stand as one demanding an encore. And of course, the great violinist completed the encore piece on just one string. Even with three strings broken, the master musician was able to extract beautiful music from a flawed instrument.
A colleague of mine is a potter by hobby. A few years ago, when preaching on the passage from Jeremiah we just heard, she brought in her potter’s wheel and worked on making a clay pot in front of her congregation while she preached. I thought it was very creative idea and was considering doing it myself this morning until I remember my seventh grade Art Class. Thus I am not being a potter this morning.
In her sermon, my colleague talked about how you begin with a square of clay on the wheel, about how the clay requires a delicate hand and just the right amount of moisture. She said that the wheel itself must spin not too fast nor too slow. If there is too much moisture in the clay, it will be too soft and if there is not enough moisture the clay will be too hard to pull. If your touch is too gentle, the clay will not form properly. If you touch is too rough you may push through the clay or pull it so thin that that sides will collapse. She told me that her sermon was a success and that the visual aid of having the potter’s wheel in front of the people added to the message. But she also told me that the pot she hoped to create that morning was a miserable failure. She was constantly making a mistake, having to stop and start again. Eventually she ran out of time to start making the pot over again. The pot was spoiled. She discovered she could not preach and create at the same time!
In the lesson this morning, the prophet Jeremiah watches a potter. The vessel that the potter was working on was also spoiled. But the potter pulled the clay back together and began to make something new. The potter saw a new vision for the damaged clay.
God spoke to Jeremiah, reminding him that God was like that potter. God controls the pot, stretching and smoothing, keeping just the right amount of pressure upon it, spinning it into something usable. And despite the faults of the pot, God finds a place to use each and every vessel.
This visit to the potter’s shop was a revelation for Jeremiah. He learned about the power and presence of God to shape and transform each and every person. He also learned that just as the potter reacts and is moved by the condition of the clay, so God is touched by our condition and our situation. And finally he learned that no matter what shape the pot is in, God finds a place and a use for it. At the time Jeremiah thought he was too young, too inexperienced, too broken to be a prophet. But God showed him that in the hands of the Great Potter, he was just the right person for the right job at that right time.
E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web once said, “Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one.” That is the way of God!
There is a familiar story that is attributed to many Eastern cultures. It is called “The Cracked Pot.” There was once an elderly woman who had two large water pots each hanging on the ends of a pole which she carried across her shoulders. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfections, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, one day by the stream the cracked pot spoke to the woman. “I am ashamed of myself because of this crack in my side. It causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.” The old woman smiled and said, “Did you not notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back home, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick those beautiful flowers to decorate my table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace our house.”
The Japanese have a way of supported the beauty of the broken. When they mend broken objects, they often fill the cracks with gold. It is said that when something suffered damage and has a history, it really becomes more beautiful.
We may not always feel God’s presence, hear God’s voice, or see God at work in our lives. But we can be sure that God’s hand is upon us working with us, reacting to our pain and misfortune. We may not always feel that what we can contribute is worthy. We may feel as if we are flawed and imperfect. Yet we can be sure that God redeems us, that God reconciles us, that God finds a good purpose in us, and that God uses even cracked pots to carry the message of the gospel. That is what this visit to the potter’s shop is all about. Reworking the clay isn’t a punishment. And a crack isn’t a curse. God will use each and every one of us. Something more than we had hoped for just might happen.