Proper 18, Year C, RCL, Track 1
In our sacred texts, clay and pots are common similes of God’s creation and our brokenness. The images are used to show God’s love for us, symbolizing the time, effort, and care God takes in creating each one of us uniquely. The clearest example is from the Prophet Isaiah, “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”[i] Though in today’s lesson, we may get a feeling that somehow God made us imperfectly, for God is reworking the spoiled clay. I do not believe this is the message we are intended to hear.
Just about anyone who has worked in the fine arts knows that it is practically impossible to recreate something exactly like another. A dancer, who has performed the same dance hundreds of times over, will notice a slight quiver or bobble in their own performance, even if no one else can perceive it. A potter can make six bowls hardly different at all. Though upon further study, we will find a slight change in texture, the thickness of the glaze, or even the shape may be just a tiny bit different. This is how the vast majority of us are. Even with our individuality, we are much more alike than different. We are created perfect in our imperfectness. Sadly, there are some of us, born with a disability. We may wonder how God could be so careless. Or why would God create me or my child in such a way? Yet, I would say, he didn’t. God didn’t create any of us to be imperfect even though we all are.
There are many aspects that shape who we are that are not in God’s hands. There are random natural effects of radiation, abnormal cell division and DNA replication. There are environmental causes such as lead or other toxins in our water and food stream; causes that we, as a society, have contributed to. And occasionally there are other factors such as smoking, alcohol, and drug use. All these factors have been shown to impact a child’s development. Sometimes, in small almost unperceivable ways and at other times in more pronounced ways. Be assured none of the imperfections we have are an act of God’s punishment or his intent.
Within each human being is the image of God, the perfect person God created us to be. All people whether disabled or not can display the hand of God within them, through their laugh, unique insight, their love for us, our love for each other, and through acts of kindness.
Our faith tells us that God is Love. God is the creator and sustainer for all that is good. Yet because of natural events or the effects we have on them, we are not the perfect image we were created to be. Not because this is the way God wants it to be, but because of the free will God gave us or the way nature takes its course. In a perfect world, the world we believe will come in the end times, we will be made perfect again the way God intended in the first place.
In our reading today, we find a God who destroys the spoiled clay vessel and remakes it into something better. But this is where we must be careful in our interpretation. The imagery of God as a potter mostly comes from the Prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah. All of these examples, except today’s, are poetry and they depict God’s love and care for us as our creator. In all these images God the potter never destroys us or remakes us as if we were a mistake. So, when it comes to today’s passage,
I think we may often conflate this imagery of God as love with today’s image of a God who destroys his mistakes. Today’s passage shouldn’t be combined with these others. Yet, today's passage is not about us as individuals but the people of Israel as a collective.
God, speaking through Jeremiah, tells us “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? … Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” Jeremiah is telling the people that if they, the culture, do not change their ways, God is going to break apart the House of Israel and reform it into something new, something better than it is now. Nowhere is he saying that the individuals will be singled out, broken down, or that they were a mistake.
What God asks in this rebuilding of society isn’t very different from what went on in the Christian Church during the Reformation. Reformation, Re-Form, much as the potter does with the spoiled clay. The Church and much of western society coming out of the Reformation was rebuilt but it still wasn’t perfect. People died, but not at the hand of God. And I believe that the Church is still reforming. We are also called to reform ourselves with God’s help into the likeness of Christ, the divine image that we were made to be.
The divine image of God resides in each of us. Every human has this image within even if we can’t see it. Because of the broken world we live in, and the brokenness within ourselves, none of us are perfect in this life. But God, through God's love for us and his Son Jesus Christ, has given us the opportunity to be reborn through the waters of Baptism; made new, wash clean, and resurrected on the last day.
God may not love the actions we do, or the way we behave, but God loves you, the person he made. God never makes a mistake. And God didn’t make a mistake in creating you, even if your body and mind are far from perfect.
[i] Isaiah 64:8