The Clay and the Bread

Everything old is new again! Autumn's coming on and the old leaves will get dressed up in new colors. The kids are back in class and all seems brand new, if strangely familiar. We're standing at the intersection of "O wow", and "'Been there, done that." Work revs up with our return from tomorrow's Labor Day Holiday. Even the church will get stoked anew with choirs and committees, ministries and studies all beginning again, yet as though for the very first time. There's a certain rhythm here, both ancient and instant, in time immemorial, and in the present moment. We're at a perfect place, you and I, personally and all together, to be made over. What will we make of it? Not that we're our own Creator, of course. God is the potter here, Scripture reminds. We're the clay. God will build up, and God will tear down. In our souls, and in our society. In our time and our eternity. He signals his choices in the breaking of bread in the hands of Jesus. He makes us into a new body as his church. And he makes us into new people as he redeems our souls. In truth, we live our lives between the clay of this earth and the very bread of heaven. What The Lord says to Jeremiah, he says to us, too.

Go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to
hear my words…. I went…. The vessel the potter made was
marred … so he made it over again into another vessel (the
same clay to make another pot). Then… the Lord came to
me saying, "Can't I do with you as this potter [with the
clay]? Jer. 18: 1-5, ed. NRSV, Message

Wanna a new life? Wanna new day? Know God's the potter. Know you and I are the clay! Here is a truth entirely at odds with every message of our modern world. (Jeremiah's too, actually.) Deep in your soul, who's in charge of who you are… and who you're becoming? The world says, "You are." We can Botox into beauty. We can Paxil into peace of mind. We can Pilates into perpetual youth; we can MBA into managing our medical system. We can soccer our kids into solid citizens at the cost of Sunday School. We can retail-righteous our way into bliss, even if we have to sell our souls to the credit card company. From culture to conflict we can tell 93 % of God's children what passes for music, consume ½ the earth's natural resources every year, and just generally try to make the world over into our own image. And we're not alone. In various groups, nations and proportions, most of the rest of the human family is engaged in the same efforts, as each one is able. Move over, Genesis 11. Shinar's not the only place where towers of Babel are built to the sky. And where children who try to play God are confused. And cast apart. And left to ask ourselves why. You and I may only be clay. But we surely have a mind of our own. And we often have an iron will to be other than earthen vessels, shaped by the hand of the God who made us. So the question Heaven hurled at Jeremiah comes our way too, "Can't I do with you as the potter does with the clay? Build up. Tear down. Pluck up. Pull down. At any moment I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it." [And in the same way, with every person and soul, I would add, in the name of Jesus.] So what will the Lord do with us? It's the season of new beginnings. And continuing choices. Shall we submit to the work of his hands and his heart?

What will he do with us? God has already signaled his intentions. How? With the breaking of the bread in the hands of the Savior. Look what he has done. Yes, he could make a storm way windier and wetter than Frances, no matter that hurricane's furry. He's been there. 'Done that. Noah knows it's so. He could just take one good, long, hard look at the world and start over! He could look upon the sins of each and all of us and deal with us strictly according to what we deserve. But this Labor Sunday urges us to look at the work of our Father in the life of his Son. Rather than choose to break us, he chooses to be broken for us in Jesus! Rather than tear us down, he allows the tearing of the bread, like the tearing of his Son Jesus. He gives us a way of seeing, tasting and knowing that we don't have to be broken. He is prepared to do something very different for our sakes. Fortunately, God is ready and eager to take what is broken inside us and between us and fix it. He is prepared to take what is wounded in us and heal it. In fact, in the name of Jesus, God is willing to take what is defiled, dirtied, soiled by our own sin inside us, and make it clean. Without sugar or saccharine, our Father has allowed his Son to pour out what is bitter in us, so that our psyches and our souls will be sweet again. And if all of this were not enough, he has signaled with the broken bread that he is willing to sop up all that is impure in us and make it pure. And yes, God is even ready to collect up everything that is incomplete in us and make us whole. It's what the Potter has the power to do with the clay!

But just as the clay has to yield to the worker of the wheel, we have to yield to him. If we don't "take and eat" what is offered at his table, we will go hungry. If we don't go where he pushes, yield as he pulls, submit to the waters as he uses them to release the life within us and smooth the rough places all over us, well, then he really might have to judge us like the potter his clay. If we don't live as disciples, repent as sinners, and trust as children, the Divine Potter might have to take us off the wheel. Judgment is never his first choice, but God will choose as God must choose. The Lord might have to reduce us to some element of ourselves more open to his building, sculpting hand. But always, it will be reclaiming, reshaping, redeeming, saving, that will be on his holy heart!

The visible sign of his reshaping and redeeming is the church. The proof of his Potter's heart is in the power and the witness of those who believe and submit to him. Why does what we do matter in this faith community? Why does how we treat each other, love each other, lift each other, really count? Because we show ourselves to each other and our neighbors and the world as the vessels he has made. If the question is, "What's the best the Lord can do on this earth today?" to somebody, you and I are the answer. If the question is, "Where can I find Christ alive in bodily form, in flesh and bone today?" our church is the answer in our little corner of the world. We may begin as clay, you and I, no different than any other woman or man, youth or child. We are surely sinners who have "fallen short of the glory" like everybody else. But if we are willing clay, believing souls who know that Christ's body was broken for us, and for many for the forgiveness of sin, then we are on our way to becoming more. We can be formed into a common loaf, set with a common cup. We can become ourselves, a morsel of the Living Bread offered to a hungry earth. We can sing as we have sung, with knowing hearts, and honest souls,
"Something beautiful, something good; all my confusion he understood; all I had to offer him was brokenness and strife, [yet] he made something beautiful of my life."
Let the church say, "Amen." Amen.

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