Jeremiah 18:1-11

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on September 4th, 2016.

The Prophet Jeremiah
The Prophet Jeremiah

A familiar passage for both preacher and congregant. The temptation is to preach what the average worship attendee has heard in familiar hymns, “You are the potter/I am the clay.” Remember this word from the Lord is not an individualized message rather it is a warning to the entire community. This passage is often used as a private prayer of devotion to God, but the initial word from Jeremiah was to the whole of Israel. Moving the congregant from privatizing the passage engages the congregation to partner together as a community of discernment in challenging seasons. A popular contemporary practice focuses worship on the relationship between the individual Christian and God. However, this passage along with worship on Sunday mornings are communal offerings of praise and petitions to God as a whole body of faith.

The metaphor of clay is not limited to one person or even one nation. The clay is an artistic allegory for God’s will and purpose in the world. The image of a potter and his clay reveals a hidden truth like an abstract piece of art. Pablo Picasso once said, “Art is a lie that helps us see the truth.” The Potter and his malleable clay are a cause for theological pause. The preacher must be willing to wrestle with the difficulties of this passage, asking hard the questions. Does God change God’s mind? Does God cause evil in the world? These are hard questions for the congregation to wrestle with as well.

Maybe God always stays the same however God’s plans across time and space are flexible, bending with the ever changing actions of humanity. God’s actions in a world of free will must be open to adapting. This theological dilemma also appears at the end of the book of Jonah when God spares Nineveh from destruction. The questions of sovereignty and evil in the world can be theological rabbit trails but important work for both the preacher and the church.

The text calls the community of faith to do the hard work of discernment together. Hearing the haunting message from God “I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you” creates a natural reflection on devastating consequences from poor decisions in the life of the congregation. However, God is not lingering in the shadows of our life waiting to pounce at each moment of failure. Jeremiah is preaching a word from God who is reshaping the community of faith. The community as a whole must be willing to repent, to change, to turn back towards faithfulness to God and one another. The community is called to trust that the new shape they will take on is another beautiful reflection of the image of God, a body molded to God’s will and purpose.

Shaping the community of faith is the midst of social, religious and political division is no easy task to preach. Jeremiah has picked up his prophetic preaching following the death of the beloved King Josiah. The new Israelite king, Jehoiakim, has no interest in continuing the work of covenant reform that Josiah began. As a reminder to preachers, the role of the Western Protestant church is significantly different than the role of ancient Israel. This passage could be an important moment for congregation if the preacher can hold the tension between the Israelite nation set apart by God and the democracy of the United States that clings to freedom of religion. This passage provides an opportunity to reshape and mold language and ecclesiology for the 21st century American church.

This text also provides many avenues for connection in our current culture. Jeremiah defines evil as disobedience to the covenant. Covenants are always relational and can easily break.  Jeremiah is calling for covenant reform, for mutual work between God and God’s people in a challenging political season. What a way to begin the Fall season of the next presidential election. Come November; individual citizens will go to the polls to place their one ballot vote. What is the role of the Church is the midst of political turmoil and unrest? Does each member fend for themselves or is there a place for the community to discern together their role in the current culture?

The text is not only a warning but also a revelation from a God who deeply invests in the everyday lives of humans. This is a God who is present in the messiness of re-creation. God is calling the community to partner in the ongoing of creation. Every community of faith lives in a social world that calls for a response of faith. This wrestling and reshaping can lead a community to the division, for clay often rebels against the Potter. However, remixing the clay, shaping the mold, reforming a community is creative work that becomes a beautiful mess.  This word from Jeremiah reminds us of a God who is always present with us in the messiness of communal work. Our God is a God willing to mold and shape the clay over and over again. Our God is also a potter who is willing to become the clay.


erica-whitakerErica Whitaker
Senior Pastor
Buechel Park Baptist Church, Louisville, KY


Tags: community, sovereignty, potter, redemption and re-creation

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