“Symbols of an Everlasting Love: Shaping Love” sermon from 3/3/10
As I have mentioned before in front of you, one television channel I have grown to enjoy watching is HGTV. I am not necessarily sure what it is (I am really not all that handy, maybe I am living a dream of mine through others by watching) but I like watching House Hunters and Income Property, Sarah’s House, Get It Sold, My First Sale/Place, & Holmes on Homes. I’ve come to realize something by watching these shows. It seems to me that there are two types of people in the world. The first are those who love and thrive off projects. These are the people on these shows who purposely look for and buy places that are fit to renovate and make their own, put some of themselves, their style and distinctiveness, into it. Or, as in Mike Holmes in Holmes on Homes, he helps those with renovations gone array, and makes other people’s messes right. These people have vision. They love working with their hands and feel immense pride at the finish of their projects. Then there’s the rest of us; the other people in the world. These are the people who want no part in projects when buying a home, or in many other places in life. They look to buy a place that has already been renovated and fixed up, or is virtually brand new. They want to be able to move in, unpack, maybe do a few minor things like paint and decorate, and then just be able to get on with normal life. My wife and I would definitely fall into this last category. We are not the fixer-upper type. This is one reason why we enjoy living in a parsonage like what we have here. Yes, the house has been around for quite a while, but we are so happy that there are those in this church who are more category 1 type people and have kept up the place so nice. Also, in this case, we’re not the ones who have to do the work. We’re not as responsible for things as we may be somewhere else, and we’re ok with that (trust me, you should be too). One thought I had though while preparing this message for this morning is this… I think God is one of the first type of people I described. God is in the business of remaking, remolding and shaping, and He takes great pride in this! We however, when it comes to this sort of work in our own lives, I think you could maybe say that we each fall into the second category of people I described. We don’t necessarily readily accept all of God’s workings on our lives. These are the sort of things we will be talking about this morning.
Before we go full-steam in that direction, I want to pull back and give a quick recap of things. First of all, we are continuing our series on the OT book of Jeremiah. I have been taking us through this book with the use of symbols and have entitled the series Symbols of an Everlasting Love for that is the message behind the messages. Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” We began this series 3 Sundays ago with our first message on Jeremiah’s call story as we talked about being deeply known and lovingly called. Then these last two Sundays we talked about two aspects of God’s love for us that He in-turn greatly desires from us; 1) a Worshipful Love that involves us joining ourselves to Him as one, devoting ourselves to Him, and having a deep, full (worshipful) love relationship with Him & 2) a Committed Love that involves us clinging to God, standing firm (girding ourselves up) in our commitment, committing/clinging ourselves to one another much like in a marriage. Now, as I have already introduced, this morning we are going forward and will be talking about God’s action of making/re-making, molding, shaping, etc in our lives; His Shaping Love. For this we’re going to look at the Scripture passage of Jeremiah 18:1-11 where Jeremiah is called by God to go to the Potter’s house. Turn there with me now and let’s read it together…
18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
So, this week we get kind of a break from some of the harsh words found in our previous weeks’ passages. Not totally though, as you probably noticed by following along. Today we get to look into a passage that is told much like a parable we’d find Jesus telling in the NT. Again, Jeremiah is instructed by God to do something that within God will have a message for him and the people. Two Sundays ago we saw how Jeremiah was told to stand in front of the gates of the temple and proclaim a message using the temple of as a backdrop. Last Sunday Jeremiah was told to buy a linen loincloth and was given specific instructions of what to do with it in order to get another message across. This time around God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house (grab the clay pot) and it’s there he will here yet another message.
So, our passage reads, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” Now, there are a few things to point out here. First, pots are made from clay. That’s what the potter would have been working with. We are also made of clay, or at least elements of the earth as clay lies deep within dirt. This is what makes clay jars such a good illustration for mankind. For in and of ourselves we are just mere dirt, elements of the earth, clay; but in the hands of a Potter, elements of the earth (we) can be so much more. There is great potential, and the Potter can see all of that and takes much joy and pride in shaping us!
Secondly, the passage says, “the vessel he was making was spoiled in the potter’s hand.” Does this sound familiar at all? Do you remember what happened to the linen loincloth from last Sunday (Jer. 131:11)? In the illustration God told Jeremiah to not dip it in water and to hide it under a cleft of a rock, and ultimately what happened is that the loincloth became spoiled, ruined, dried up, good for nothing. But in the Potter’s hand, what seems useless (good for nothing), spoiled, marred, or hopeless is just the beginning of something; it has immense potential.
That brings us to the third thing to notice here as the passage says of the spoiled clay in the Potter’s hand that “He reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to Him.” This is what potters are able to do. This is what those first people I described in the beginning of this message are able to do. They don’t look at something that is spoiled, marred, ruined, and see something that is useless. They see the potential; what it can be, and how to get it there. There are people in this church that can do this. You can take something that many of us would consider broken and useless and make something out of it, redeeming it, give new life to it, make it worth something again. As I said in the beginning, God is one of these type of people! That’s what this passage/parable indicates as God says to Jeremiah, “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.”
Then comes the hard part… What is the Potter required to do order to “rework” the clay so it can be something again; to bring out its potential? Well, the clay must be broken down, made into a lump of clay again. The same is true in renovations, often a room needs to be stripped down, taken apart, destroyed, taken down to its bare elements. For it’s from here the potter can start fresh, he is able to begin kneading, massaging, molding, bending, shaping and make his vision come to life. How is this done in us though? Well, usually through the hard work of discipline and trials.
There are a couple Scripture passages I want to bring in here. The first is Hebrews 12:5-8 which says, “‘My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by Him; for the Lord disciplines those whom He loves, and chastises every child whom He accepts.’” As I read these words a line from the movie Remember the Titans comes to mind. Denzell Washington is explaining his handling of his players to another coach as he says, “I may be a mean cuss, but the same mean cuss with everybody out there on that football field. The world doesn’t [care] about how sensitive these kids are… You ain’t doing these kids any favors by patronizing them. You’re crippling them; you’re crippling them for life.” If God did the same with us we’d only be crippled for/by life as well.
The Hebrews passage goes on to say, “Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not His children.” The discipline God gives shows that He cares, that we are worth something to Him. God doesn’t discipline and do these sorts of things for the fun of it. In fact Lamentations 3:31-33 says, “For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” Just as with parents, God doesn’t get some weird pleasure out of this. He knows it’s for the child’s own good. He cares/loves enough to do the hard work of Shaping Love. Hebrews 12 goes on further to say in verses 10-11, “but He disciplines us for our good, In order that we may share His holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
The second Scripture passage I want to bring in is James 1:2-4 which says, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy (pure joy), because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” This verse and others like it never cease to shock me. Consider it pure joy in suffering? How ridiculous is that? Actually, not at all! Look at what it produces; endurance/strength, maturity, a completeness, and lacking in nothing. Those things are worth the struggle. Again, it’s like a renovation. Despite the grit and grime of the job, the finished product makes the process worth it. Makes all that you went through worth it and you are better for it. Now some of you are going to recognize this next part from being at my ordination and installation service back in July, but I wanted to share it with you here too because it brings together a lot of what I’ve said up to this point. And that is a poem I wrote back in November 2004 when in a moment many of these same thoughts culminated together as God spoke to my heart. The poem is called “Potential In You” and the words are God’s answer to me in the midst of some of this discipline and trials.
****Read Poem, “Potential In You”**** (Insert included in bulletins)
Well, what then is needed from us in this process of Shaping Love? The rest of our passage from Jeremiah tells us that. Beginning at verse 7 it says, “At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.” God wants His people to turn to Him. To return to Him, submit to Him and the work. Like in our call to worship from Hosea 6:1-3, that is the call, “to return to the Lord; for it is He who has torn, and He will heal us; He has struck down, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” Does anyone else see a tie to the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus in that passage?… “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” If we want revival in this place… If we want God to show up and fill us, shape us, make us into something beautiful… We must return to Him, give ourselves to Him, submit to Him and the work! As that Hosea passage closes out, “let us press on to know the Lord, His appearing is as sure as the dawn, He will respond, He will come to us like the waters, like the spring rains that water the earth.” He will do the work required to finish the job as seems good to Him.
And that brings us to the close of this message. There’s one more verse I must bring up though. II Corinthians 3:18 says, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” This is the goal of the process! We are already made in God’s image, reflecting His glory as in a mirror. But as He works and reworks, bends and twists, molds and shapes, renews and redeems we are being transformed all the more into His likeness… a gleaming light for all to see, one shaped and formed by the King of Glory (final line from poem above)!