This week in our journey with Jeremiah, Jeremiah has had recently had a breakdown in his relationship with God. He cries to God because God is not giving him the words he wants and the people are only wanting to listen to what “they know” is what God is telling them. In Jeremiah 17:14-18, we see this frustration through a prayer when Jeremiah turns to God asking for vindication.
Following a short decree on keeping the Sabbath, Jeremiah reflects on an experience when God directs him to go visit a potter, you know, one of those holy field trips. So Jeremiah goes and witnesses to what the potter is doing. This is the focus for the service this week. The potter builds up the clay pot, making sure that it is as good as he can.
Having spun a few pots when I was younger I understand the process. For in the creation of the pot, as the wheel is spinning the artist has to pay close attention to the movements they make. To a novice who has never seen a pot being made, the process looks easy, but once you sit and try; you realize the work needed. Often when watching a potter, even the best of them, when they stop the wheel and notice what is wrong, without sadness or any emotion you watch as they collapse the clay into itself and start over.
In this story, God is the potter meaning that God has the power to build up and to destroy. The problem that is apparent for the modern reader is that God is clearly the one that is acting both in good and bad. Often when we hear stories of destruction or devastation, we want to affix an evil causing it, creating a devil or some other entity. Ultimately, the evil that is present in this passage is not divine in nature, rather it is among the nations. While this is pointing to the ultimate fall of Judah to the Babylonians, the destruction of what God created is solely on the people who have chosen a different way.
In response, God lays out a plan for the destruction and ultimate re-creation of the Hebrew nations. The image of the potter becomes central for our understanding of life with God. When we accept that God is shaping and molding us, we are able to open our eyes and recognize that God is very active in who we are, and we also begin to see how God at times is at work recreating who we are.
I think about this often. When I think of who I was in the various points of my life, I recognize and know that often, while the core of my identity is the same, who I am and the strength of my faith is very different. It is interesting that every time I come at a point where I think God is done with me; I get a nudge, and often those are the times when I know within my heart, I have lost the faith.
The thing about this story that is the most difficult to handle is that the evil that is present is not God or Jeremiah, but it is the people that have turned their backs on God, giving God no real choice but to start over. When we examine our own lives, we have to ask: is the evil in our lives something which is outside of ourselves, or is it something that we cause for ourselves?
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen