Jeremiah 18:1-11; 2 Timothy 2:20-26
The prophet Jeremiah spoke for God to Israel 600 years before the birth of Christ. He was called to be a prophet during one of the most difficult periods in the history of Israel. To understand the words of Jeremiah 18, a little Biblical history is helpful here. Let me take you back some 3,000 years ago.
Israel was a small nation, about the size of New Jersey, surrounded both to the north and south by larger and more powerful nations. For a brief period, the nation flourished. It went from a loose federation of tribes, to a monarchy under King Saul, then King David, and flourished under King Solomon. But after Solomon, things fell apart. As a result of internal struggles and political violence, the nation divided into two kingdoms, northern Kingdom of Israel with Samaria being the capital, and the southern Kingdom of Judah with Jerusalem its capital.
In the eight century B.C. E. a powerful nation, Assyria, conquered and destroyed the northern Kingdom of Israel. Its cities were destroyed, and its people were taken into exile. Then, in the sixth century (586 BC), the time of Jeremiah, Babylonia was growing in power, devouring smaller nations, and was threatening to invade Judah. As did Assyria, Babylonia would destroy cities, ruin the fields, and move entire populations, sending them into exile into foreign lands. People of Judah lived in fear, wondering if they would be next and if God would protect them.
That is the climate in which Jeremiah receives his call to be a prophet, and in which Jeremiah 18 begins: “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Come down to the potter’ 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.”
Jeremiah goes down to the potter’s house and begins to watch the potter work. While he is watching, the vessel the potter was making was spoiled. It begins to tilt, to get out of round. So the potter reworked it into another vessel. Basically, he broke it down and started over again. The word to Jeremiah became clear: the nation of Israel was like clay in the potter’s hands. God had called the nation into being, created it with a purpose in mind, just like clay on the potter’s wheel.
Israel was chosen not for privilege but for service. They were to be a nation through whom others would come to know the way and the beauty of the living God. They were to first of all be people who worship the ONE God. They were to be people of mercy, justice, and compassion, and above all, of peace. They were to be a light to the nations. They were to make visible God’s care for all people, especially the poor, the orphans, the widow’s, the aliens residing among them. Through them, by their obedience to Torah, others were to see what justice, mercy, and compassion looked like. That was their role, their place, their calling, and their mission.
Second: The Sad Reality
But here is the sad reality. Jeremiah, like the prophets before him, was painfully aware of this reality: the nation had failed to live up to its calling. Instead of worshiping YHWH, they turned to the worship of foreign god’s who promised power and wealth. Arrogance, greed, violence and injustice became common. The poor were pushed off the land. The leaders became more concerned about their own wealth, power and position, than about justice and compassion.
Friends, at times, sin and failure spoil what God is creating us to be. We all have character flaws and weaknesses. We are tempted, and we succumb to patterns of sin. We yield to temptations. But God doesn't throw out the clay. Even though our sin may frustrate God’s purpose for us, He is never discouraged. He doesn't give up. And that takes me to the second half of the equation.
Second: There is a Living Hope Where is None
Jeremiah watched as the potter remake the vessel on the potter’s wheel. The potter would simply take the lump of clay, breaks it down, and begins working with it again. He keeps working with us until He is pleased. That phrase at the end of verse 4 “as seemed good to him” literally means, “until we are right in His eyes.” God has a vision of what we are going to be. He is an artist, and like most artists, He is not satisfied with something less than what He wants to create. So He molds, shapes and remolds until we are perfected, until we become what He is creating us to be.
Jeremiah then spoke God’s word to Judah: you are like clay in the potter’s hands. You can now choose to become once again God’s people. You can begin to live the way God has taught you to live.
God is in the business of taking men and women with impurities and blemishes, spoiled vessels, and skillfully shaping them into something useful. He knows our flaws and our possibilities and, like a true artist, He creates something beautiful out of us. Sometimes that can be a painful experience. God has to apply pressure, like a potter does with the clay. It hurts when he has to work out the blemishes in us or remove a stone. Our circumstances on the wheel of life may not be pleasant at times, but we have to remember that God knows what He is doing.
Jeremiah chapter 18 is a message of HOPE, of GRACE, and of MERCY! Even when Jeremiah delivered those words to the kingdom of Judah, he made it clear that there is still a chance to escape and to spare God’s judgement. These verses are actually a comforting reminder to all of us that no matter how badly we have messed up in life … no matter how many mistakes we have made … no matter how miserably we have failed........GOD DOESN'T THROW AWAY HIS PEOPLE! Instead, God takes us, all the broken pieces, and remolds us and reshapes us into a new creation. 2 Timothy 2:21 reminds us that we are to be “instruments for special purposes, dedicated, made holy, useful to the Master, and prepared to do any good work.”
Jeremiah chapter 18 should be read less as a threat and more as an invitation. Am I, are we, willing to become like clay in the hands of the potter? Are we willing to let God get a hold on us, to shape and mold us, so that we might be people who can be God’s servants in the world today? May it be so. Amen.
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday June 2nd, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor