Today at the mid-week lunchtime Holy Communion, we read these verses from Jeremiah:
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 the 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.
I love these verses. I love the idea that we might hear God speak to us as we observe people going about their daily work. Recently I have been visiting members of the Sunderland Minster family in the places where they go about their work (in the broadest sense, including paid employment, voluntary, and recreational activity), and my sense is that God still speaks in such ways.
But to return to Jeremiah: there is a flaw in the clay, and as the potter shapes it, the vessel crumples in his hands. But the clay is far too precious to discard, to throw away. Instead, the potter starts over, trying a different shape, making another vessel. And not a second-best vessel, either: a quality piece of craftsmanship, a thing of beauty and usefulness.
And God says, what the potter has done with this clay, I can do with my people. My flawed people. I don’t discard people – whom I have made from the clay of the earth, and breathed life into. They are far too precious to me. As I shape them, flaws might cause the vessel to collapse; but when that happens, I pause, and consider, and try again. Even if you can’t see the potential, can I not do this, says the Lord (rhetorical question)?
We human beings are quick to judge one another as flawed-beyond-beauty-or-purpose, quick to consider one another as disposable, to be discarded. Quick to judge ourselves as such, too, at times.
God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.