3 things about that story about how God is like a potter
So a new season is here and I dont mean in the it’s kinda-almost-fall way.
I’m talking spiritually. Cause I dunno about you, but for me, there’s something about this time of year that’s always felt pretty special. As we transition out of this time of relaxing, slowing down, and rest,
and into this time of back to school and routines, there’s something in the air, isn’t there? It’s always felt reverent to me, a lot like New Years Eve, but maybe even more so.
Yeah. It’s this season of new beginnings, of clean slates, and of new chapters; this season that invites us, and almost requires us, to be bold, flexible, courageous, and to learn and grow. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about seasons here in church. They are these chunks of time that invite us to do certain things, to practice particular rhythms, postures, and habits, to dwell in different parts of our humanity, and to do things that draw us deeper and deeper into the kind of life that was always meant to be.
So I was thinking about what we should talk about today as we head into this new season together, and this story kept coming into my head. I think it was in there because there’s something in it that can help us embrace this new season, especially as people who are looking to create that life.
So today we're gonna go into that story and we'll talk about how God is like Patrick Swayze, about the difference between being willing and willful, and one of the most liberating and important truths our faith tells us.
Are you with me?
So there is this story in the Bible. It’s an old one. Well they’re all old. But this one is especially old. We’re going back over 2500 years here. It’s from this ancient book about this guy named Jeremiah.
Now despite what I thought as a kid, and despite how rad it would be, Jeremiah was not a bullfrog, he was a prophet. Now, the job of a prophet wasn’t to tell the future, but something even more important: their job was to speak for God. Which isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. In fact, it’s a job that nobody really wanted. Nobody wanted it because, if we’re being honest, we dont really want to hear what God has to say, do we?
I mean, sure, we want God to tell us we’re loved and beautifully and wonderfully made, but then we want God to shut up and go away, don’t we? Cause deep down we know that God probably has some opinions about how we’re living and how our world is ordered that we really would rather not hear.
Because deep down, we know God is right. We know we’re not always being loving and gracious. We know the world isn't ordered the way it should be. But we'd just rather not hear about it because the work of repentance, that work of changing how we think, move, and live, it's freaking hard! So we just cover our ears and tune God out because life is easier that way.
But that is the job of a prophet. Their job was to get us to remove our proverbial ear muffs. They would look at the world around them, at how people were acting, at how the world was being ordered,
and tell us some hard but important truths. They’d point out what Parker Palmer calls "the Tragic Gap," that gap within us and around us between what is and what ought to be, and then they’d encourage people to make it right, usually offering people this new vision for being human and this alternative way the world can work, through it all calling people to go back to the way God created things to be.
But more often than not, because people didn't want to hear it, because they knew we need to be shocked into hearing that hard truths, prophets would have to come up with ways to tell us this that are just plain bananas:
Like once his prophet named Isaiah walked around buck naked for 3 years to make a point about how Empire, the systems that oppress and hurt, will one day be exposed for what they are.
Another time, as a commentary on how the world marginalized and hurt their own kids and neighbours, a prophet named his own daughter “Unloved.”
Or this other time, when another prophet cooked food on a fire made from donkey poop, making the food ritually unclean, served it to be people, and then went “Ha Ha! You ate food that’s unclean. Now you’re unclean! This is what it’ll be like if you keep ignoring the ways of God. You’ll be just like all the others who don’t put love and justice into the world.”
Jerry is one of those guys.
And there’s this story in the Bible about how God tells Jeremiah to go tell the world that things are out of whack, that they are leading the world in the opposite direction it’s meant to go, and God tells him to go visit this potter who lives up north and he’ll get his message there.
So Jeremiah goes, he finds the potter, he enters into this hipster artisan shop, and here’s this potter sitting at her wheel, spinning the clay. Jeremiah watches as she begins to make something, she’s shaping and moulding this beautiful bowl, but then then clay collapses. But instead of throwing it out, she starts over, tenderly picking up the collapsed clay and starts again. Then, God gives Jeremiah the message he’s supposed to deliver to the people:
“That’s me. I am like the potter.”
It’s a beautiful story we can take all kinds of places, but for today there are three things I want to point out. There are three reasons why this is a great story to keep in mind as we head into a new season together.
So first ... and all these things bleed into one another, but let’s begin here:
What’s God like?
And more specifically, which potter?
This potter who sat at her wheel, her hands touching, her body close, creating, nurturing, and shaping things into existence. This potter who, when things didnt work out, when the clay collapsed, when the clay didn’t do what it was supposed to, instead of throwing it out and instead of throwing it in the oven saying “good enough," tenderly picked it up and started again, hands touching, body close, creating, nurturing, and shaping.
Let’s just pull over here because how beautiful is that?! Like seriously! Just sit with this because it answers a question we all ask in so many different ways:
Where did all of this come from? What’s the fundamental nature of the Universe? And if it came from Something Bigger Than Ourselves ... What’s God like? What’s the Universe like? What’s that Spirit of Life like?
Jeremiah offers us an image that’s just plain bananas: she’s like a potter.
That’s bananas because it contradicts so much of how we think of and imagine God: a God who made everything but then abandoned it; a God who is distant and detached; a God who is controlling; a God who is angry and judgemental, ready to throw us away the moment we fail, falter, and break.
But then here's Jeremiah giving us a brand new image of who God is: a God whose hands tenderly shape us and our world into being; a God whose intimately involved in it all; who has this vision for what we and it can be; a God who partners with, works with, who walks with, who stands beside; this God who doesn’t give up on us when everything falls apart.
That’s the kind of God we have. This God that looks like this:
Now this images of God as potter matters. And not just because it offers a different way to understand who and what God is, but because of everything that flows out of it.
Think about it:
if God’s like that ... if that’s the nature of the universe ... if that’s the Source of everything we know … then, what does that mean faith looks like? What’s that mean for us? What’s it mean to be spiritual? What’s our response to it? What’s it mean to live in relationship with God?
Cause the thing is, if God is like that, faith can’t be about believing certain things and doing certain things. It cant be rigid and fixed. There’s no art in that. There’s no partnership in that. That cant be what faith is about.
With a God like that, faith becomes all about transformation. It’s about feeling God’s presence around us, about listening for that voice telling us ‘this is who you are,' and allowing ourselves to be this work-in-progress, this work of art that's being shaped and moulded, again and again and again, into the kind of person God is creating us to be.
This is what Richard Rohr, a monk you should all check out, is getting at when he talks about faith being a choice between being willful or willing.
We can be willful and choose to go our own way, to resist God's movements, to say no to that vision, and to refuse to cooperate. Or, we could be willing and choose to be pliable, open, soft, adventurous, and flexible. We can choose to partner with God, allowing ourselves to be shaped and moulded, trusting that it's there, in the Potter's hands, we can find the life and world we're looking for.
And this matters too because if that’s how we’re meant to respond, if faith and spirituality is about willingness, then there’s a truth in there we really need to hear because I think it may be one of the most liberating truths we can ever hear.
And that truth, I think we can hear it through this ancient parable Peter Rollins tells.
One day, Jesus and the disciples go out for a round of golf. It’s Jesus’ turn so he goes up to the green. Judas is trying to give him advice on his stance and Peter’s all ‘No! Thats the wrong club! Use the 9!' But Jesus is like ‘Dudes, back off!’ and he swings and slices the ball into the water. So he walks down to the water, walks on top of it, picks up the ball and tries again. Same thing happens. As he walks down and walks across the water there’s a Irish guy who sees him and he asks the disciples, ‘Who does he think he is? Jesus Christ?!' And the disciples respond: ‘Oh that is Jesus. He just thinks he’s Tiger Woods.'
If God is like a Potter, if it is all about letting God shape and mould us into who She created us to be, then the truth is, when it comes to living this life you're after, when it comes to trying to make that happen, then the truth is: the only thing you need to do is be you.
And just sit with that for a sec. Let that sink in because this is pretty liberating:
The only thing you need to do is be you. You dont need to be someone else. You dont need to be something you’re not. To experience life as it was meant to be, to experience the fullness of love and life, to be in God's presence, the only thing you need to do is be yourself.
To you pretending to be someone you're not ... to you dressing up out of fear and shame ... to you living with false narratives and labels ... hear this, feel this, trust this: you dont need to live like that. You dont need to live like that. You don't need to live like that. That doesnt need to be your life. All you need to do is be you.
And the trick to doing that, the hack to choosing to be yourself instead of the million of others things we’re pulled and told to be, is to go back to that very first thing:
What’s God like?
This potter who has a vision and purpose for you. This potter whose hands intentionally shaped you. This potter who looks at you and thinks "now that is fucking beautiful!"
All we need to do is learn to trust that, surrender to it, and know we are enough just as we are.
So as we head into this new season together, let's hold on to those things because that's what we're about. We're people who see the we are all created by God, and who come together to learn how live into that, and let ourselves and our world be shaped and moulded into the people and world God is creating us to be.