IT IS STILL CLAY
November 30, 2014 by Ken Dale
Can you relate with Isaiah?s words from the first lesson this morning? The words we heard are from ?third Isaiah,? someone who wrote during those difficult years after the exile as they attempt the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the reconstitution of the worshipping community centered on the temple there. There are tensions, frustrations and uncertainties. Can we relate? Perhaps the turmoil of personal life or after reading or watching the news of the day and the state of the world, like Isaiah, we could cry out to God: O THAT YOU WOULD TEAR OPEN THE HEAVENS AND COME DOWN! The plea is for God?s immediate presence ? that God would just do something. The reading closes with that wonderful image of God doing something ? the potter and the clay.
Pottery began appearing about 6,000 years before the birth of Jesus. The discovery of clay and making clay pots were pivotal to the development of civilization. It meant food and water could be cooked and stored and eventually simple tools were also created out of clay. In Scripture, clay is used as a metaphor in many ways – including that human beings were fashioned by God from clay similar to how a pot is created by a potter. I hope that for many of you the image that comes to mind is when we gathered for worship at Pemaquid last year with Alexsondra Thomasulo sitting at her potter?s wheel before us as we worshipped. She just sat and created ? and recreated. I can still hear the sigh of the congregation when after creating one beautiful pot she just dropped her hand onto the top of it and destroyed it. It?s not all that it may appear to be. The clay has to be prepared ahead of time by cutting, pounding and throwing.?? Then as the potter shapes the clay, as fine as that work that may be, it takes strength and energy to create the pot. The potter is intimately involved with that clay in the creation process.
On this first Sunday of Advent we again have that image before us ? as did Jeremiah when we gathered at Pemaquid. This morning Isaiah speaks to us anew of God as the potter and we being the clay ? the work of the potter?s hands. When a potter makes an object of the clay her imprint is upon it. That imprint reflects the potter?s involvement with the clay. Understanding ourselves as created by God, the hands of God are involved in our lives as we are shaped and reshaped. The imprint of God is in our lives.
One of the greatest aspects of pastoral life for me is to see and help others see that involvement of God in the happenings (?stuff?) of their lives. It is sacred ground. While I would hesitate to attribute to God?s activity everything that happens in one?s life ? or the life of a community ? and the life of this world, I do believe that God is at work in the creation of life at all levels. Life itself can be captured in the metaphor of clay. What comes to mind is Paul?s understanding that we have this gift called life ? this treasure ? in earthen vessels. I understand that a potter will tell you that sometimes clay has a life of its own and can even resist the hands and touch of the potter. It could be said that some clay has a rebellious nature. It?s easy to see that parallel between clay and human life. In some ways we may resist the efforts of God to mold and create us ? individually and as a community. Jeremiah was very clear about that ? that if the pot didn?t turn out to be useful it would be smashed ? again, remember Alexsondra at Pemaquid? That image may be quite disturbing to us when we see God as the potter with the clay of our lives. But it is also most hopeful because if it is still clay it means it can be reformed and recreated. To say that God is potter and we are clay is a very hopeful statement.
Understanding God as potter it is sometimes challenging to see God at work ? to hear God speaking. But I believe very often those hands and that voice come to us in and through the lives of others. Recently I spoke with someone living with cancer who received less than encouraging news causing a momentary crisis of faith raising the ?where is God? question. The words that person most needed to hear that pointed that person right back to faith came from a family member that would be the least expected source of a faith-reminder. But the words were spoken in such a way that they couldn?t be missed. The stuff of our lives can be worked with by God ? we need to remember that we are the clay and God is the potter ? while the clay may have a nature of its own it is still in the hands of the potter. As Paul writes in that great 8th chapter of Romans, God works for good with all things for those who love God. Again ? there is our hope, even when the news is not good, when clay in some way does not seem workable ? God is at work. There is hope in remembering we live in relationship with God.
I wonder as we reflect on our own life?s journeys if hindsight allows us to look back and see where we were shaped and reshaped along the way. Yes by the events of our lives but also by the people who were part of our journey at that time. I remember back in seminary some close friends gave me a poster that simply read: ?They come, they go, they seldom know what they do, but they do change you.? Isn?t that how God often works in our lives as individuals and in our lives as family and as community. If we consider the biblical story, we find that more often than not when God wants something done ? someone is sent. God acts in the life of God?s people by being at work in the lives of those people.
Returning to the image of a pot ? are we open to receive that which God may be pouring into us? Are we open to receive the change that God may be calling us to? Are we open to the ways God may be using us in the lives of others in the same way?
Today our theme is just that ? God in the people. Advent?s message is that God does answer Isaiah?s plea to ?tear open the heavens and come down? ? Advent is our journey toward Christmas where we celebrate that in the life of Jesus God has come to be with us. By faith we understand that in Christ God does do something and instructs us each and all in the ways of God. God in Christ and Christ in us ? God the potter ? God the potter comes to visit this world ? but more than that God seeks to reshape it like the potter shapes the clay. No matter what shape that clay may be in – there is hope, because it is still clay and that clay is in the hands of God.