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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: The divine potter
Date/time/service: Sunday 13th June 2021 – Trinity 2 Evensong
Passage of scripture: Jeremiah 7.1-16 & Romans 9.14-26
I used to enjoy art lessons at school but I was never very good at it. For a term or two we did some pottery and I produced a couple of objects but nobody, including me, knew quite what they were. They stood gathering dust at home until my mum judged I would not notice if they discretely disappeared. I never knew what happened to the heavy, misshapen, ceramic things.
In today’s second reading St Paul compares God to a potter and to us as the clay being shaped by the divine hand. It is a metaphor used a few times in the bible including Isaiah and Jeremiah. I think we need to be a little careful when we reflect on this metaphor as we explore our relationship with God. There is a danger of thinking that our relationship with God is all about striving to become something or someone we are not. This can disturb our sense of identity and lead us to be permanently dissatisfied and yearning to be someone else.
Shifting to a slightly different artistic metaphor for a moment, the great sculptor, Michelangelo, apparently once said, ‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.’ Maybe we can extend this to clay and particularly to the metaphor St Paul uses in chapter 9 of Romans. Within the piece of clay I am made of there is the true Michael, the Michael God intends me to be. The same is true of the pieces of clay we are all made of, within the clay there is ‘you’, the ‘you’ God intends you to be. If we are to truly become the people God intends us to be then the creative work of the divine potter, and our striving to be who we truly are, is ongoing. But the important things is that none of the striving is about trying to be someone else, it is about becoming who we truly are. Too often in this consumer society do we think that if something isn’t working we throw it away and get a new one. We shouldn’t fall in to the trap of thinking this way about our emerging selves.
Of course, all the creative work of the divine potter is done in the context of us having free will so we have a tendency to keep shaping ourselves in line with our selfish instincts and desires which results in us being the wrong shape. Add to this the pressure we come under from the world around us and advertisers in particular, endlessly tempting us to conform and consume our way to happiness. It is no surprise that we all feel pressure to be someone else or to be like someone else. All God wants us to be is truly ourselves.
The passage from Romans goes on to talk about God’s wrath and God’s mercy and the passage we heard from Jeremiah talks about God’s judgement. It is very easy to be frightened by such talk, indeed some of it sounds bleak and sometimes vicious, but there is another way of thinking about God’s wrath and mercy, about God’s judgement, and that is that we matter to God. We are significant. Who we are, what we do and what we say all matter and are important enough to God for us to make God angry, or to make God want to shower mercy upon us.
Rather than associating wrath, mercy and judgement with the ‘hell fire and brimstone’, ‘day of judgement’, Fear inducing religion that has been, and sometimes still is, preached in churches, maybe we should associate it more with something like an annual review at work? Each of us is important to God and God, the judge, wants us to thrive, wants us to fulfil our potential and being aware of God’s judgement is all about us being helped to discover where things are going wrong. Where we are misshapen. Where we need to reject the temptations of the world and embrace, or be embraced by, God and the ways of God. To make ourselves vulnerable to the creative moulding of the divine potter, always working with us to make us the shape, the Michael, the ‘you’ – we are meant to be.
There is a pop song from the end of the 1960s by a group appropriately called ‘Amen Corner’ and it is called ‘Bend me shape me’. It is a classic, silly love song. A boy singing to the girl he loves saying that she can ‘make this beggar a king, a clown or a poet’. The chorus then kicks in, ‘Bend me shape me anyway you want me, long as you love me, it’s alright’. It struck me that if we take the words out of the context of a silly love song we can make them in to a prayer rising out of our reading from Romans today. Maybe it is by freely submitting ourselves to the divine potter that we will become who God created us to be, be that a king, a clown, a poet or anything else? Maybe a good prayer for us, to God who loves us, to God who is love, is, ‘bend me, shape me, anyway you want me …..’
Let us pray
Still my restless heart, O God, that I may breathe your love.
Still my restless heart, O God, that I may hear you speak.
Still my restless heart, O God, that I may know you are near.
Still my restless heart, O God, that I may feel your love.
Still my restless heart, O God, that I may trust your will.
Still my restless heart, O God, that I may receive your grace.
In your peace may thy will be done.
In your peace may I discover my true self.
In your peace may I find true blessing through Jesus Christ. Amen
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