Weekly Seeds: Like Clay

Sunday, September 4, 2022
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost | Year C

Focus Theme:
Like Clay

Focus Prayer:
Potter, we are clay. Mold us in your divine image and shape us for your purpose. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Jeremiah 18:1–11
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.

All readings for this Sunday:
Jeremiah 18:1–11 and Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18
Deuteronomy 30:15–20 and Psalm 1
Philemon 1–21
Luke 14:25–33

Focus Questions:
1. What have you molded (like clay) in your life?
2. How does our faith community participation continue to shape you?
3. Where do see opportunities to create “new pottery” in your community?
4. What needs to be treated with care or allowed to cool in order to be useful?
5. How is the Holy One shaping you in this season of your life?

By Phiwa Langeni

In a recent conversation with a friend’s six-year-old, I asked what she knew about the process of making pottery. Here’s her response, mildly paraphrased: “The spinner spins around. The clay gets round, then you smooth it. Put it in a hot oven to bake the clay. It could burn you; be careful! Take it out of the oven and cool it down. Enjoy your new pottery!”

Though the brief conversation was over almost as soon as it began, her words continue to wrestle my spirit. Having had my own amateur experiences at the potter’s wheel, I was able to track her instructions even with the appropriately childlike descriptors she used to explain each step. Part of the profundity of her sharing lies in the simplistic accuracies of the ceramic making process.

My young friend also unintentionally illuminated some truths that I’ll now share with you, a few phrases at a time. Every analogy can only go so far, of course. However, these are some essential takeaways that could apply to us while we wrestle with issues today as Jeremiah did back in his day.

The spinner spins around. A potter’s wheel is a circular plate-like disc that rotates horizontally in front of the potter, powered manually with their feet or by an electric motor. This frees up their hands to focus fully on forming the clay. Depending on the type of pottery being made, the potter may choose steady or varying speeds for the wheel with which to construct the piece. Notice how the conditions of the spinning wheel rely on movement to be functional. The potter’s wheel cannot be static or unchanging for it to produce quality ceramics; a helpful reminder as we continue to navigate life through global pandemics.

The clay gets round, then you smooth it. The potter takes a chunk of clay and places it at the center of the wheel. Working against the centrifugal force that spreads the clay outward, the potter uses water along with differing pressures of their hands and fingers to shape the pottery. Various kinds of clay require diverse techniques for it to endure the entire process of becoming. Therefore, while some similarities may come through (shout out to all the identical siblings and lookalike relatives!), it is impossible to make more than one exact duplicate. The potter must be tuned into the conditions of the wheel and the clay itself to create the intended piece. And, unlike the people about whom God warns Jeremiah, we, too, must be willing to be (re)formed into more than we could ever imagine for ourselves.

Put it in a hot oven to bake the clay. Because clay is a natural material, it requires heat to solidify and maintain its form. Without heat, the unhardened clay would revert to mud with prolonged exposure to water. The heat of the kiln alters its physical structure, making it waterproof and permanent. Even as its structure gets physically altered, it will always have started out as a lump of clay and a stretched and formed piece under the dizzying conditions of the wheel. In fact, it’s that very history that informs its more permanent state after spending time in the hot kiln, oftentimes in community with other pieces that need to be hardened. Likewise, our histories inform but do not define who we are to become.
“Clay is a very interesting and fundamental material – it’s earth, it’s water and — with fire – it takes on form and life.” Rithy Panh[1]

Take it out of the oven and cool it down. After the extreme heat of the kiln has completed its cycle, the newly hardened pottery requires time to reacclimate to room temperatures. They are especially vulnerable in their post kiln state as the hardening process finalizes with a less brittle return to a new normal way of being. When we are pressed and put through the formative fires that leave us vulnerable and brittle, we, too, need time to cool off and ease into who we’ve become. To not do so puts us at risk for the kind of disaster that jeopardizes our very being.

Enjoy your new pottery! After all those steps, the pottery is ready to be enjoyed. Some potters opt to paint their pieces with colored glazes while others keep them in their earthly, unadorned state. Whether decorative or functional, the pieces are now free to be and do, for which the process of becoming has prepared them. When we are called to and readied for a particular work, our ways and our actions must align with our purpose in God’s vision for us. To do anything less is a great disservice to God and each other.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“This Too Shall Pass”

I achieved so much in life
But I’m an amateur in love
My bank account is doing just fine
But my emotions are bankrupt

My body is nice and strong
But my heart is in a million pieces
When the sun is shining so am I 
But when the night falls so does my tears

Sometimes the beatings so loud in my heart
That I can barely tell our voices apart
Sometimes the fear is so loud in my head
That I can barely hear what God says

Then I hear a whisper that this too shall pass
I hear the angel’s whisper that this too shall pass
My ancestors whisper that this day one day will be the past
So I walk in faith that this too shall pass

The one that loved me the most
Turned around and hurt me the worse
I’m doing my best to move on
But the pain just keeps singing me songs

My head and my heart are at war
Cause love ain’t happening the way I wanted
Feel like I’m about to break down
Can’t hear the light at the end of the tunnel

So, I pray for healing in my heart 
To be put back together what is torn apart
And I pray for quiet in my head
That I can hear clearly what God says

Then I hear the whisper that this too shall pass
I hear the Angels whisper that this too shall pass
My ancestors whisper that this day will one day be the past
So I walk in faith that this too shall pass

All of sudden I realize
That it only hurts worse to fight it
So I embrace my shadow
And hold on to the morning light

This Too Shall Pass

– India.Arie

For further reflection:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson

“It is not that the clay, human beings, are left alone to chart their own course in the world, or to decide on their own what they should be or become. The purposes of God are already declared. Following the metaphor, the clay needs the purposes and plan of the potter in order to become. The question that remains, then, is not what the people should become, but how will they respond to the purposes of God who already has intended what they should become. The issue, then, is whether they will become what God intends, or whether they will choose to reject God’s intentions.” Dennis Bratcher

“Clay acts almost as an antidote to the overwhelm of the digital world. It interrupts your compulsive email-checking. Your mind has a single focus, so the practice can feel meditative or therapeutic. There is no way to speed up clay-drying or firing, there’s no ‘clay-microwave’ – ceramics take as much time to make today as they did 2,000 years ago.” Jennifer Waverek

• Consider ways in which Waverek’s words may ring true for you as an individual and as a congregation.
• If you have time, take in the whole article (https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20210428-why-the-slow-mindful-craft-of-pottery-is-booming-worldwide) and see if anything else resonates for you.

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Phiwa Langeni is the Ambassador for Innovation & Engagement for the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research & Development, and Data (CARDD), and the Founder of Salus Center in Lansing, MI.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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