Pottery Lessons (Jer 18:1-12)

This morning we are continuing on with our Sermon from a Sack theme. Visual aids can be helpful in connecting physical concepts, tangible things…with spiritual things. We see the physical all day long, but behind it, there is the spiritual. There are the greater, deeper things that God wants to get across to us. So each message I’m pulling out an object that relates to the story at hand. We’re also continuing to look at passages in Jeremiah. God was so good to give Jeremiah explicit instructions on what object lesson to use. He didn’t have a book on creative sermon illustrations. He just had God and his willingness to do what God told him.

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Today we will read the scripture as the story unfolds. 

Let’s begin with verse 1-2

1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”

Jeremiah 18:1-2 NIV

Jeremiah receives a direct message, a personal message from the Lord. “Go to this specific place.” God doesn’t tell Jeremiah everything. The only other detail is that that location is where he will get the Lord’s Message.

Have you ever gotten a sense you needed or wanted to go to some location?

Maybe you knew it was a place you could draw near to hearing from God, maybe you didn’t until you were there. What was that place? __________________

For me, there were various places. In college, I would go to the small music practice rooms in the Fine Arts Building. I am not skilled at piano by any shape of the imagination, but I know notes well enough to play a little by ear. So in my times of stress, distress, and confusion I would go into that closed room, lock the door and pluck away at those keys. It opened my heart and gave me time to deal with whatever I was facing.

Maybe the place you go is your favorite chair or couch, with bible and notepad in hand. Maybe a pen and paper to write down what you hear from God. Maybe a cup of coffee, tea, or soda by your side as well. I think we all need some time alone with our thoughts and with God. Surely he can speak to us in the midst of a crowded area, but there is just something clarifying about being isolated from distractions. It can help take away the question of “Is God really saying that to you?” In the quiet stillness, there is very little doubt when God speaks.

So Jeremiah is told to go and  in verse 3 it says:  

3 So I went down to the potter’s house,

Jeremiah follows those instructions. The interesting thing about a word from God is when he gives you specifics, i.e. where you will receive a word from Him…you CAN’T force it anywhere else. I know this as it relates to me and sermon writing. I know when I’ve plowed on with a theme passed when God has said “That’s enough” or “Your choosing entertaining topics over biblical ones. Not a great call.” I find I hear that when I hit “A Wall.” I can’t seem to go any farther with a topic and the instruction or information from the passage doesn’t even make sense to me…the communicator! Why should I pass it along and make others even more confused. That’s usually when I stop, pray some more and try reading other passages.

We find clarity when we go where God wants us to go.

Verse 3 continues with Jeremiah’s observations:

“…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.

Pottery 101

Here’s the moment you probably saw coming. I have in the sack today: clay. We found several fun colors of oven baked clay at Hobby Lobby the other day. They have all kinds of clay for different artistic pursuits. Air Dry, Never dries out clay, oven baked and the kind that we are most likely familiar with when we see pottery at the store is kiln-fired pottery. We will talk about baking the clay here in a few minutes, but let’s start where the potter starts: A plain hunk of clay.

There’s nothing really special about this clay. Sure it has color, but other than that…if I put it in the oven right now, it could become a paperweight, and that’s about it. But if I pitch, and squish, and smoosh…I can form it into something other than a paper weight. Jeremiah sees the potter making a pot. There are a few techniques in making a pot or a dish. You can get a wheel to spin the clay on, get it nice and wet and hold your fingers and your hands just right so the pot begins to form through pressure and centrifugal force. Another technique is the coil method. You roll long strands of clay, (like a snake or french fry) and you use some of your other clay to make a flat, round base. Then you start wrapping the coil along the outline of the base, going back over the previous piece of coil as you get to it. As you go along, you’ll want to score (or make hash marks on the clay so it sticks together, also applying a little moisture.) This helps bond the pieces together when they are baked. 

The Key thing about pottery is that you are making something useful or pretty out of something that is not.

Sometimes when you begin making a piece, you discover “Something’s not quite right.” I would venture to say that most times when this happens is because something structural has gone wrong. The problem with a structural problem in a piece of pottery is that no matter how much you work with it, shaping it to counterbalance that weakness in the structure…the weakness still remains. 

Clay has some amazing properties. Until it’s dried and hardened, it still has hope of being remade. The potter Jeremiah watched working in this chapter takes that pot he was working on…this shaped, unfired clay, and smashed is back down into a hunk of shapeless clay. Then he makes something new. He doesn’t try to make the same pot, but a new one! And the scripture says he shaped “it as seemed best to him.” 

That’s what potters do. They pull the potential of a pot or cup or container out of a lifeless hunk of clay. Let’s look at verse 5…it says: 

5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

Jeremiah 18:5-6 NIV

Israel…can’t I do the same with you? Remake you, make you a new as it pleases me? It’s important to note: He says “…clay in the hand of the potter.” In the Hand. A hunk of clay just sitting there isn’t going to become anything except dried out. But if the clay is in my hands, I can do something with it. God says the same to Israel. If you are in my hand I can make you and mold you how I see if. If you are just sitting there, outside my will? You’ll just dry out. At best, you’ll be a paperweight. Let’s read on starting with verse 7.

7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

Jeremiah 18:7-10 NIV

We need no more evidence of this than the story of Jonah and Nineveh. Jonah knew God would be merciful, that’s one reason he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He wanted the people to be destroyed for their great wickedness. But when Jonah finally declared to the city that they would be destroyed, they repented and God relented. He didn’t bring on the destruction he’d planned. The flipside is very evident in scripture as well. Israel and Judah didn’t honor God. They worshipped useless idols and sought after gods rather than Yahweh. Though God had planned and proclaimed good things for them, they were led into slavery, captivity, and exile. Everytime the people of God don’t follow God’s plans, they are like a pot telling the potter, “No a little more off the side.”

The Potter doesn’t need feedback from the pot he is forming.

He can smash it to a formless hunk and start over again.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you.

Jeremiah 18:11 NIV

WE’RE TOAST

STOP. So if that’s all the people Jeremiah spoke to heard, they’d say “OH NO! We’re doomed. Let’s just keep on sinning. Keep on getting deeper into evil. However, If they actually listened to the previous statements concerning how God operates…Being merciful to those who repent, reconsider giving out promised blessings when blessed nations go sour… They would not be surprised by his next words. Let’s continue with verse 11.

So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’

Jeremiah 18:11c

God is telling each individual: You need to change. Not some systemic, societal thing…but each individual taking responsibility to say “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I will change my ways and actions.”    Sometimes knowing the inner workings of the heart is a blessing and a curse. Here God knows exactly how they will respond. Verse 12:

12 But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’”

Jeremiah 18:12 NIV

Ok. This is God being very “on-the-nose.” Nobody proclaims they are stubborn. Stubborn people usually say, “I’m not stubborn, you’re stubborn.” Or “It’s not being stubborn because…I’m right and you’re not!” Here, God wants to make a point. By their actions and attitude of their hearts, they are saying “I desire what I want and nothing’s going to change that.”

13 Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“Inquire among the nations:

    Who has ever heard anything like this?

A most horrible thing has been done

    by Virgin Israel.

Ask around! Have you ever heard of a people so stubborn they would say “I’m so stubborn, I’m not going to change my ways, even given the chance!” He continues ins verse 14: 

Does the snow of Lebanon ever vanish from its rocky slopes? Do its cool waters from distant sources ever stop flowing?

Jeremiah 18:14 NIV

If you didn’t figure it out, there are a LOT of rhetorical questions by God in the Bible. This is one of them. “Do mountains have snow? Does water flow?” Basically asking, “does the water cycle in Lebanon cease?” The answer: NO. It’s Consistent. Dependable. If that force of nature is dependable…what is it compared to? Let’s look at verse 15.

15 Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths.

They made them walk in byways, on roads not built up. 16 Their land will be an object of horror and of lasting scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads. 17 Like a wind from the east, I will scatter them before their enemies; I will show them my back and not my face in the day of their disaster.”

Jeremiah 18:15-17 NIV

This last part really hurts. “Show them my back” makes me think of the expression to “turn your back to someone.” It’s this idea of disowning them. Perhaps the more important element here is what they are missing out on:“I won’t show them my face.”

God’s Blessing

When I was at Olivet, I sang in Orpheus Choir. It was our tradition to finish each and every concert with the song “The Lord Bless You and Keep you.” It’s based on Numbers 6:24-26.

24 ‘“The Lord bless you and keep you;

25 the Lord make his face shine on you

and be gracious to you;

26 the Lord turn his face toward you

and give you peace.”’

Twice in those 3 verses God’s face being toward or on someone was a GOOD thing. Something to bless someone with.

You know the feeling of disrespect. Someone looks away from you when talking to you. Perhaps mutters something as they leave the room and you just know it was about you. God’s great grace and peace come through the venue of his wonderful face upon us.

The people Jeremiah delivers this message to receive no such blessing. Jeremiah 18:18

18 They said, “Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not cease, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.”

Jeremiah 18:18 NIV

The first part is easy enough to digest. Let’s plot against Jeremiah. We disagree with him and the judgement he’s heaping on us. But that last part:

“Let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.” It’s a bit confusing to think of someone verbally attacking another because of the things they say…all the while ignoring the things he said.

Here’s what I think there saying: 

Let’s not give credence to his warnings and judgement. They can’t be real because they just can’t…   Let’s instead attack him personally. His Character. Not the ideas or the word from the Lord, but Him personally.

I’m sad to say, ladies and gentlemen, the world hasn’t changed much since these hooligans struck back against Jeremiah. 

It seems most people are not able to properly, intellectually debate ideas, but rather they attack the people with the ideas. They attack the people themselves. They attack their character. We see perfect examples of this every election cycle and it has gotten into our daily thoughts and procedures. Always thinking the worst of people.

Conclusion

Well Jeremiah’s story doesn’t end there. We will look at another passage next week and another item from this brown paper sack. But I wonder how it must have felt to be Jeremiah. Here’s God calling you to give an important message to the people He loves…and the message is not heeded? In fact, instead of responding to the message with repentant hearts…they take extra effort to destroy Jeremiah with their words. And these are religious people leading the charge!

It was true in Jesus’ day too. He was well received by people far from God because he presented a message that would draw and graft them into His promise. But those who did not think they needed to repent, the religious folks whose practices and rituals would “save” them…They more often than not…missed the boat.

We will see how this further plays out next week, but I want you to ask yourself this question:

On a scale of 1-10 how much do I trust the Potter with my life? (1 being no trust at all, 10 being complete trust) God is the Potter whether we approve of his craftsmanship or not, however we do have a role to play.

“…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

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