As we continue our study of the Book of Jeremiah, this week’s lesson challenges us with a couple of powerful metaphors — pottery and underwear. Jeremiah has his hands full. His job is to warn the people that they need to make some profound and challenging changes in policies, practices, and personal lives. And all of this amid growing instability. So God helps Jeremiah to break it down into messages that we can all understand.
First, there is the idea that God is like a potter shaping a piece of art, such as a pitcher or a coffee cup. The Potter works with the clay until a shape emerges. Sometimes the piece of art is brilliant, and the Potter is proud to put their name on the work of their hands. Other times, not so much. The Potter may take the emerging piece and completely redo it. The emerging art isn’t coming out as intended.
The Potter is in complete control. The clay is not in control. If God is the Potter, we are the clay that God shapes into the person that God intended us to become. Our primary role is to be pliable and not resist the capable shaping hands of the Potter.
Let’s be good clay. But we’re not really clay, so how do we learn to be good clay so that God shapes us as intended? How do we emerge as the beautiful work of art that God intended us to become?
This is where underwear comes in as our second metaphor. Underwear is personal. Most of us don’t intentionally allow our underwear to show. And underwear is as close as a piece of clothing can get to us. We become good clay by being good underwear. We belong as close to God as our underwear is to us. Our nakedness is exposed, and there is nothing or no one closer to us than we are to God.
And underwear is an everyday thing, just as our closeness to God is an everyday thing. This is how we learn to become good clay.
But it gets confusing. For example, a recent article in the New York Times offered a glimpse into the religious beliefs of some of the persons who attacked our Capital building. They threatened to hang the Vice President because he didn’t overturn our election to keep their preferred candidate in office.
During the assault on our capital, five people died. The insurgents were heard chanting hang Mike Pence. A symbolic noose was constructed in front of the capitol building. This same group knelt in prayer on their way to the capitol building.
According to the New York Times article, this group prayed with the confidence that their plans were of divine origin. Their candidate was God’s choice, and so he was their choice as well. And they were willing to kill and be killed in pursuit of their divine mission.
Some may claim that they heard directly from God. But most, if not all, heard what they chose to believe from other sources. Their sources included Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and pastors, who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God. Like the prophet Jeremiah did centuries before, they claimed divine endorsement. However, Jeremiah didn’t claim that God wanted people to harm others.
Jeremiah’s message was that God wanted people to turn to God. To be as tight with God as underwear. Jeremiah’s message was a love song with chords of harmony and words of empathy and grace. Violence is most often the consequence of turning away from God and not the will of God.
Just as shorts fit tightly around the waist, so I intended all the people of Israel and Judah to hold tightly to me.
God is well aware that some will claim divine insight while proclaiming a doctrine of exclusion, hate, and violence. So God warned the people through Jeremiah about false prophets. Preachers, priests, and pastors, along with tweets, posts, and mentally unstable leaders who claim to speak for God but with messages that are inconsistent with God’s love song.
The key to discernment is to stay as close to God as your underwear is close to you.
I pray that you will join us each Sunday at 10:30 am as we learn together from the successes and mistakes of Jeremiah’s community. Invite your friends to join us online or in-person.
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Come of the content for our series comes from Melissa Spoelstra. Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World. © 2014. Nashville: Abingdon Press.