In the Hands of the Clay-Worker

A sermon brought forth from Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Genesis 1:1-2:4 preached on September 12, 2021

This is the way our story begins. This is how God starts and how God starts in us. These are the first words we’re given about who we are, who God is, the what’s and the why’s of everything around us and about us. Genesis 1 and 2 are grounding stories—they are basic, essential. And everything in scripture and everything about who we are and what all of creation is and who we are in it finds its basis on these first 2 chapters of Genesis.  

There is nothing that comes before these words. We are not given any biographical information about God—how He came into being, what He was doing before He uttered that first “Let there be.” Throughout the Bible, God’s existence and all the details about it are simply accepted as a given. Scripture makes no effort to prove His existence. God’s existence is self-evident. The fact that there’s a beautiful world and that we are in it is wondrous enough. Genesis does not want us wrapped up in the details. There are no puzzles here for us to figure out. There is nothing about these first two chapters that we should waste our time trying to prove to others. The creation story is not a term paper, neither is it a master’s thesis that God needs us to defend. We’re reading it wrong if we think it is. This is sheer praise. This is a tumbling confession of how glorious our God is. 

Instead of reading this first story thinking, “How can I use this?” or “How can we prove this to others?” we should ask “How can I respond to this? How can I participate with God in this?” Genesis wants our response to be one of awe and wonder, praise and thanksgiving. This is our first story. From the outset, God wants us to be astounded. Creation is a song that God is still singing, and He wants us to sing it along with Him.

And here we are on the second Sunday of September, at the beginning of something, another Genesis moment. What do you think God can begin in us? In you? Those are bigger questions this time around than in Genesis Sundays past. It’s been a year and half since we’ve been able to gather for Sunday school, regular Bible study, Circle gatherings. That makes for a more significant beginning, does it not? At least it can be if we let it, if we meet it as one. 

Is there something new that can take shape within us this time around? God wants to begin again in us, and we can respond by beginning again in God. It could be that, on this Genesis Sunday, God is asking you to hand over to Him what’s formless and empty in you so that, in His hands, you might take God-shape and God-substance, so that your purpose and God’s purpose for you may be one and the same.

When we come across the verb “create” in our Bibles, God is its subject. This story and all of scripture after it witnesses to this: God is the only One who creates. Only God can take nothing and make something out of it. The rest of us are makers. We can take what’s already there in front of us and use it to make something else out of it. We can take what already exists and make something out of it, but only God can create, take nothingness and speak somethingness into it. God sees what’s not there and declares something to it, and all the sudden, something—the chaos and emptiness are filled with shape, order, and fullness. 

That’s what God does for us, too. Whatever, whoever God gets involved with cannot, will not stay the same. When God speaks into us, what’s formless and empty about us takes God-given, God-blessed shape. In the Creation story of Genesis, God the Artist takes a step back from His creative work at the end of each day and He calls it Good.

Genesis 1 and 2, with its words “And God said…,” and its refrains “It was evening, it was morning, the next day,” and “God saw that it was good,” is poetry. There’s no talk of science in the first chapter of Genesis. No chemical interactions to speak of. As far as scripture is concerned, creation is no laboratory experiment. The authors had no interest in telling God’s story like that. There are no explanations here. This is only praise, wonder and awe. There is only holy, holy, holy!

And here is the prophet Jeremiah, daring to ask this Eternal God, the Artists of all artists, how He works. God answers Jeremiah, “There’s no need to tell you how I work when I can show you how I work. If you want to understand my ways, go visit the artist in residence. Head down to the potter’s house. Then you’ll see!” 

And with eyes wide open, young Jeremiah goes. He watches the village potter spin his wheel, pumping a pedal to make it go ‘round and around. The potter starts with some water. He shapes a moistened, 3-pound pile of clay into a ball, and throws it at the center of his wheel. Jeremiah watches closely as the potter’s hands move. The formless clay is shaped into purpose. “This is how I work,” God says to his prophet.

Making pottery is all in the hands. Unless you hold your hands just so, the clay will escape you. Clay has a mind of its own. It does what it wants to do, and only a potter’s touch can help it take shape. Take your hand off for just a second, and the piece will collapse under the inertia of the spinning wheel and fly right off, wet clay splattered onto walls, and you’ll have a terrible mess on your hands. But these mistakes happen even to the best craftsmen. The good news is that you can start over. Get the wheel going again, add a little more water to the clay and press it back down into a ball. Clay is flexible. It moves in whatever ways the potter’s hands guide it. Wet clay will yield to its shaper. 

Another thing about making pottery. It takes just the right amount of force to form the walls of a vase or a bowl. A vessel is molded into shape only when the potter applies pressure to it, and without a good amount of pressure, clay resists being shaped at all.

It’s Genesis Sunday. God is asking us to hand over to Him what’s formless and empty in us, that in His hands we might take God-shape and God-substance, so that our purpose and God’s purpose for us may be one and the same.

This is the way our story begins. This is how God starts and how God starts in us. Creation is a song that God is still singing, and He wants us to sing it along with Him.

Take the clay of our lives and shape it to love. Take the clay of this church and shape it to grace. Take the clay of the world and shape it to peace. Take the clay of today and shape it to hope. And then breathe your spirit into us again.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful! Alleluia! Amen.