Sermon

Jeremiah 18:1-11

A PlayDoh-Like Faith

 

Dr. Keith Wagner

One morning I over heard two men talking in the locker room at the YMCA. One man greeted a friend by saying, “How you doing, staying in control?” The other man responded by saying he was trying as best he could.

While sitting in the steam room I was thinking about the exchange of words that I had just heard. Its really not uncommon to hear folks ask other folks if they are “in control” or “staying on top of things.” We are a society that breeds personal independence. We do like being in control. We don’t handle chaos, or change or interruptions very well.

The problem with being in control is it leads to rigidity, inflexibility and the resistance to change. Remember the Swiss? They were the world’s leaders in producing the best watches money could buy. When electronic watches were introduced the Swiss refused to make them. The Japanese then became the world’s leader in making watches and many watch making companies in Switzerland went out of business.

We humans have a tendency to believe that we are masters of our own fate. We don’t really believe that God intervenes in our lives and helps to shape us. We would rather be in control of our lives instead of yielding to the creative hands of God.

When professor Charles W. Eliot was president of Harvard University, he had occasion to dedicate a new hall of philosophy. He searched for an appropriate inscription to place above its entrance. He called together his faculty members and after much deliberation they agreed upon the well know Greek phrase, “Man is the measure of all things.” With that they adjourned for the summer. When school reopened in the fall, they were surprised to find that the president had decided upon a different inscription. Instead of the human centered inscription, “Man is the measure of all things,” he inscribed a more prayerful inscription from the Psalms. He chose, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?”

 

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Jeremiah said to the Israelites, “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” In other words, God wants us to be like clay, pliable, flexible, in a constant process of being shaped, molded and reworked when necessary to adapt to the changes that occur around us. We are essentially clay in the hands of God but we resist the Master Potter. And when we are unwilling to trust that God can make something out of nothing God is frustrated with us. We end up doing or being what we want rather than what God wants.

One time I observed my grandchildren playing with Play Doh. They would start by taking a small quantity and roll it back and forth with their fingers. After a short time they would have a long worm. Then they would take other colors and do the same, but after awhile they got bored. Before I knew it they would take all the colors and mix them together. They ended up with a huge mass of blended colors and the children were pleased with their creations. This was far more exciting than making worms of a single color. I believe that my grandchildren were doing a better job of interpreting Jeremiah than I was. Rather than see their creation as a single, sterile, boring piece of Play doh, they created a blended, colorful glob and seemed quite content with it.

If you have ever watched a potter at work, he takes the red mud, puts it on a slab, then spins it around, constantly using his hands to shape it. At one point the object may look like a bowl, then before your eyes it turns into a vase. The potter lovingly molds the clay until every imperfection is gone. He then adds beautiful designs to add a finishing touch. Each object he creates is a work in process, evolving from a mound of clay into a beautiful work of art.

Recently I heard a MacDonald’s ad promoting a new item in their menu. It seems that they will now include brats. I remember when MacDonald’s used to sell nothing but hamburgers and french fries. But, they have learned they must adjust to the market and constantly reshape their menu in order to meet the demands of society. Unlike the Swiss who were unwilling to make changes, the MacDonald’s Company has gone with the flow.

Speaking of business, I prepared myself for a business career back in the sixties. For the first ten years following college, I had several different positions, all business related. God, however had different plans for me and for awhile I resisted the direction that God wanted me to go. I finally gave in, allowed God to shape me instead of following a path that was directed more by family and societal influence. The end result has been a rewarding career in the ministry.

Let’s face it. Most all of us live in a rut. We are creatures of habit, ascribing to comfortable traditions and following known paradigms. History tells us it is those who are willing to venture out, take risks, bend the rules that produce new results. Sometimes it happens intentionally, sometimes it happens by accident.

John Maxwell tells the true story about the time a soccer game was played between two schools in England. During the closing minutes of the contest, a boy, more gifted with enthusiasm than experience, was sent into the game for the first time. Forgetting all the rules, particularly the one that says a player does not touch the ball with his hands, the boy picked up the ball and to the amazement of everyone, sprinted toward the goal. The officials were confused and the rest of the players stood, frozen. But, the spectators were so moved by the boy’s spirit and entertained by his performance they stood up and applauded. The incident totally eclipsed the rest of the game’s action. As a result, a new sport was born; rugby. Sometimes spontaneity produces incredible results. (from Something Else to Smile About by Zig Ziglar)

It is not easy to be “clay” in the potter’s hands. Change makes us fearful and we can’t always see ourselves revolving into something new or different. Parents must adjust to children leaving the nest. Partners have to adjust to the different stages of life. Communities have to adjust to the changes within their neighborhoods and nations have to adjust to the changes within their culture. The Church has to change too, allowing God to be the master shaper rather than always trying to do it our way.

It has been my experience that many people are conditioned to be a certain way. They believe they have to live in the image of their parents, or have to conform to society’s trends and mores. The majority of the human race is constantly trying to “keep up with the Jones’.” That unfortunately produces many unhappy and unfulfilled people, not to mention many who are deeply in debt.

John Walsh was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1945. He was born an albino, the first such person in his family. Fortunately his parents and friends treated him like everyone else, no one ever giving him any notion that he was different or inferior.

In school it was a little different. Kids called him “Whitey.” His grades suffered until he was able to overcome being self-conscious. He had other problems too. For example, he couldn’t see well so he had to sit in the front of the class to see the blackboard. People would stare at him. Since he was an albino he looked older and he was often asked to pay adult prices at the movies.

He loved sports, but because of his poor eyesight, he didn’t play well. He tried and tried, while at the same time studying harder also. Eventually he got better in school and really loved it. By the time he went to college he made a decision to write rather than play sports. He also took pride in being an albino and no longer let that hold him back.

Walsh discovered that while not being able to play sports he could at least write about them. He became a sports editor and many people make jokes about how he is the only blind editor they know. Those remarks are signs of respect, however, not words that diminish who he is. Walsh learned that he had to be who he was, overcome a few obstacles and do what he could with what God had given him. (from Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan’s Soul)

All of us are clay, clay with imperfections, lumps, and impurities. It is the Master Potter, however who can ultimately determine the final product. Our role is to let God shape our lives, perhaps reshaping them as we proceed through the stages of life. It is our willingness to let God do God’s handiwork that will enable us to live our lives to their fullest potential.

Rather than be in control of our lives, God wants us to be willing to be shaped. Each one of us is a labor of love in the hands of the Master Potter of life. For God is actively at work, God’s hands always upon us. It is we who let go of God not God who releases us. Our lives may turn out differently than we expect, nevertheless, we can trust that God will create nothing less than a child in God’s image.

Copyright 2001, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.