We Are in God’s Hands” (Jer.18:1-10 and Ps.139:1-18)
What a beautiful image to hold in our mind’s eye, in this new season of life together = the steadfast, loving care of God our Creator, ever with us, in all times & places, knowing us so fully and completely, in light & dark, even before we were born. It’s a banner cry for every Rally Day, year after year, as we begin again our walk with God, as we find new strength for today & bright hope for tomorrow = that the circumstances of life will always be changing, and as the Psalmist (46) writes – the earth may shake, the mountains of ice may crumble & fall into the ocean depths, the stormy seas may roar & rage, and the very hills tremble with violence – yet when we awaken from our sleep or shock, from a tough surgery or a deep sense of despair, what do we find? We are still with you, O God. The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. And out of the chaos of a day’s headlines in these difficult times, we find security & solace in being still with God, in knowing & being known, in loving & being loved.
But wait. Such an intimate relationship can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed. For one who knows everything about us – our thoughts & actions, even the words we have yet to say – has the power to control us, to hem us in on all sides. And we end up being merely a lump of clay on the potter’s wheel, with no other option than to await what’s done to us. Yet the celebratory nature of this Psalm refutes that interpretation, for no where does the singer dismay that God is there. Instead it is very good news that the Creator of all would take such interest in caring for the beloved, offering every resource for life & protection & nurture & wisdom. It is beyond our understanding, but we sing our grateful praises, with all our hearts.
And the same blessed assurance is voiced by Jeremiah in the potter’s house, as he watches the skill & strength of the artist’s hands bring life to the lifeless, giving it purpose & resilience, just what the potter intends, for the good of all. At first reading, it may seem that the clay has no chance for growth or development, only being inherently good or bad, as the potter seeks perfection in his creations. But looking more closely, and knowing the potter’s great love for his work, we like Jeremiah can see the goodness of the Lord in this relationship, for the clay is not thrown out when things go wrong, but instead it is watered & nurtured again & reshaped into a thing of beauty and usefulness. Watching the process can seem harsh, as the first design crumples, but the clay is not destroyed – and as we each have lived through such reformation in our own lives, surely we remember the joys that come when the guiding hands of God lift us up from the mud, with a power greater than our own, to redesign what we can be & do in the world, serving as witnesses to the faithfulness of our Lord.
Even in the words God then spoke to Jeremiah, we hear God’s promises fulfilled with great forgiveness and grace. For as the Psalmist (103) reminds us – the Lord truly is merciful and kind, slow to anger, and full of steadfast love. So God does not follow through with the wrathful judgment originally intended for the imperfect creation. Rather, God changes his mind. If a nation turns from its evil and responds to the touch of God’s guiding hand, then God will not destroy. Yet if a nation chooses evil, still, even then, God will not destroy, but instead chooses not to build up, leaving us to the dire consequences of our actions so we might learn from them and return to God’s life-giving ways. Have we not done the same as parents of toddlers & teens, giving them both freedom & limitation when needed, to correct & redirect, that they may grow through life’s experiences of both light and darkness? So does our loving God offer life lessons to the nations, a reshaping on the potter’s wheel which can restore the harmony of creation which is the practice of peace & justice for all the beloved.
I emailed Diane Davies, a Covenant member who is now in retirement a professional potter, to ask her to describe how clay responds to the potter’s hands. She said the foundational skill that must be mastered when a potter works on the wheel is to center the clay, for a vessel cannot be made without that centering. Hands & fingers have to move with the rhythm of the wheel, with skilled pressures & movements, as the potter nudges the intended design into shape. And as the vessel rises higher & higher from the wheel, every breath the potter takes, every touch of the potter’s hands, is reflected in the clay. Sounds like God’s beloved creation to me – spiritually centered and grounded – reflecting in our humanity the image of God, the very breath of God, who gives life to us all – and rising higher & higher to become the good vessel which holds the loving-kindness we are to share with others.
There are many other steps in this process of giving birth to such beauty & purpose, but the last part of the process is the most rewarding, Diane says = when the piece made by the potter is graciously given away to be used in someone else’s home, in their life – made from the earth and shaped by the potter’s hand, yet shared with another – to form a cycle of relationship that connects us all, one to another and to all creation. Surely that is God’s intention for our lives too – the intended design of grace that is reflected in Christ Jesus who gave his all, faithful to the love God gives so abundantly. May we too respond to such grace in the sharing of our lives and love and faithful service – so that all may come to know the hope & peace & joy of being held forever in God’s hands. SING =
May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine, warm upon your face. May the rain fall, soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may we all be held in the palm of God’s hand. Amen. Beecher Mathes