The Potter’s Shed 2…‘centered’…
August 13, 2017
Scripture: Jeremiah 18:1-6
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 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. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Last week we began the story of the Potter’s shed and talked at length about the condition of the clay…both actual earthen clay as used in the formation of pottery, as well as the clay or the substance of our souls out of which the Lord seeks to fashion our lives.
And in particular we talked about how very important it was that the clay be soft and pliable, ready and able to be worked on the Potter’s wheel…not hard, dry, and unyielding. We passed around pieces of dry clay so you could see and feel that it was not ready for. We also said that in the Potter’s shed, which is referred to in our scripture from Jeremiah this morning, there is most likely a workbench, a few tools, and a potter’s wheel, along with various pieces and bits of unformed, raw earthen clay lying about…some of which have been sitting around for a while and have dried out… pieces that are hard and brittle and of no use to the potter in their present condition…as well as other pieces that are soft and yielding, ready for the skillful hand of the potter.
We also noted that it was important to remember that ‘your clay’…is your clay…and that only you alone can yield your own clay into the care of the Potter, no one else can do it for you…it is yours, either to hold back…or to yield.
And again, that your clay, even after it is given over to God, is not an end in itself, that it is not about your “clay-ness”, or your “perfect clay quality”…rather your clay is simply the substance out of which God can fashion a particular vessel…a vessel to be used to accomplish the work of God.
That was last Sunday… today we are going to go into the Potter’s shed…where we will begin to place our clay into the hands of God…to place our own individual clay upon the wheel of the Master Potter.
The first step, as we have seen, is to have clay that is ready to be used…clay that has been worked up and prepared to be put on the wheel…clay that is not too hard, not too soft…but rather just the right consistency to be formed into a vessel. To do this the Potter works the clay into what is called a wedge through a process of pushing and forming the clay repeatedly, almost in a kneading motion similar to kneading bread. By doing this thoroughly the Potter is able to work out impurities and bubbles in the clay which migrate to the outer surface of the wedge. Both air bubbles and impurities in the clay can cause the loss of the pot in the process of throwing it on the wheel as the clay will pull unevenly and either tear the side of the pot or cause it to go off center quickly making it into a useless bit of wet clay which must go back to the bench to be reworked. Once wedged up and prepared the potter is ready to take the clay to the pottery wheel.
The second step…once we have yielded control of our lives into the energy and working of the hands of the Potter…is to place that clay firmly onto the surface of the wheel…it is important that there is good, solid contact between the wheel surface and the clay…for the wheel must hold the clay in place all the while it is being worked by the Potter. Solid contact that must be maintained, similar to the need for us to remain in a place of openness to the guidance and leading of the Spirit as we are formed into greater usefulness to the Call to Love.
The third step, and the focus of our sharing today, is the centering of the clay on the pottery wheel. This is an absolutely critical step in order to insure that the clay vessel can be fashioned into the desired shape by the Potter. In order to center the ball of clay it is necessary to use water to prevent pulling off center and to apply even pressure both on the top and the sides of the clay…while the wheel is in motion.
At this point our ball of clay is completely in the control of the Potter…
…if it remains yielded…if we remain open to the workings of the Spirit…
…if it has good contact with the wheel surface…through regular open communication through the Holy Spirit…
…and if there are no hard or dry pieces hidden away somewhere in the middle of the clay…no bits of distraction or desires that are out of line with God’s good will…
If in fact there is poor contact, or if there are still hard pieces in the middle of the clay, the clay must be taken from the wheel and re-wedged so that it is consistent throughout. Never just cast aside…rather gently removed and prepared anew to receive the formative and guiding touch of our Lord. Clay that has been selected and given over to the Lord, even though it might not be fully ready for service is never just discarded and thrown on some pile of failed or broken vessels over in a corner of the potter’s shed…for you see, each one of us is far too precious to our Lord to ever be given up on…instead, patiently and very methodically our Lord toils over our individual clay…wedging and reworking it until we are ready for the next step in our life…the next step in our relationship with our ever patient and never failing Lord…
So, being centered on the Potter’s wheel…both literally and figuratively is absolutely critical in order to create a vessel that is balanced and that has strength as well as beauty. Being centered is critical…but it is not a process that rests upon our own shoulders alone. For you see …this is still about a relationship….about a relationship between a bit of yielded clay and the hands of a loving Potter…a Potter who happens to be our Lord.
We hear in Isaiah chapter 64:8 that we do indeed belong to the Master Potter: “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
“We are the work of your hand…” a work that is very much in process…a work that is going on within a relationship. I assure you that we are not in this alone…in fact Jesus is always as close as we will let him be and as involved in our lives as we are willing to let Him be. Being centered on the wheel…having our will centered in Christ…and striving to allow ourselves to remain in that place is actually a result and consequence of our relationship with the Lord.
For in fact the Lord participates directly in this process of our becoming and remaining centered. In both the book of Isaiah and in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi we hear God sharing just how involved He wishes to be in the specifics circumstances of our lives: First in Isaiah 30:19-21 we hear: O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Whether you turn to the right or to the left…you will hear a voice…the voice of God’s precious and loving, indwelling Spirit calling out to you…and saying, “Here, over here, this is the way, walk in it…”.
And again in Paul’s letter to the Philippians in Chapter 2:13 we read: for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. It is God who is at work in you…not only in fashioning you into a vessel for Holy purposes to be used in the household of God…but it is also God who is patiently and carefully working to insure that your will…that your desire to live in a holy way…remains strong and unwavering.
God works in you both to will and to act…according to His good purpose…once your clay has been yielded into the hands of the Potter it is within the Potter’s control. God loves us so much and so desires that we will allow ourselves to become vessels of holiness that He is willing to work diligently to help keep us centered and available for forming and molding upon the wheel of the Potter. Even if we tire or lose heart…even if we do not feel at all worthy sometimes…God looks at us and sees all that he dreams and hopes we will become. So if our clay begins to lean to the left or to the right on the wheel…if our clay seems to be just a bit off center…Jesus our friend…and skillful Potter….applies just enough pressure upon our lives and upon our souls to bring us back into a place of being centered…
But as we noted last week, this is not the end of the story. Just as having nice clay is not an end in itself, so too simply being “centered” is not the end either…rather, being centered is merely the next step in our spiritual formation…it is a condition of readiness…a condition of yielded-ness….a state of being available to the purposes and plans of God…it is a willingness to go, to say, to do, or to be whatever it is that matches our clay vessel to the needs and plans of our Lord.
Now it is also important to note that simply being centered in Christ does not mean that you will never have a bad day again…just as it does not mean the end of disappointments but rather sunshine and happiness all the rest of your days. But it does mean that you are no longer the one in control…for you have asked for and received the loving hand of God upon your life. And in those out of balance places…or on those days when you feel as though nothing is going right…and in those times when everything seems out of whack and down seems up, and up seems down…
…in those times God continues to press and to shape…continues to fashion your clay into deeper usefulness…yes, in those times especially, our Lord refuses to believe that all is lost, refuses to accept that your clay cannot be formed into a thing of incredible usefulness and beauty in the designs of God.
Firmly centered on the wheel of the master Potter, pressed and formed into a place of balance and symmetry means we are now ready to be drawn up by the Potter into a vessel of true holiness, and of deep usefulness….but that’s a story for another day…
Photo: Jared Sluyter