the penultimate WORD
Series 1998 - Proper 23 Canon Jim Irvine
The clay. The wheel. The potter.  By themselves, they account for little.


We might have thought that the response to the word of the Lord delivered by the prophet Jeremiah would have been enthusiastic elation. But thatís not the case.

On visiting the potter at his wheel, the very ordinary activity of the village artisan was seen by Jeremiah in a new light. In the past, perhaps Jeremiah hadnít taken notice of the potter.

When the clay wasnít taking shape as it had been envisioned in the mind of the creator, it was crushed. And reworked. On this occasion, Jeremiah was able to see a process that characterised creation.

The clay. The wheel. The potter.

By themselves, they account for little.

But taking note of their interaction, Jeremiah was deeply moved. We might say, he was inspired by what he saw.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: 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 potterís hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

The image of the potter throwing clay has been greatly romanticised in the retelling of the story. "You are the potter, we are the clay," we say. "Break me, mould me, fill me," we say.

But such an invitation was not forthcoming to those who listened to Jeremiahís words.

Then they said, "Come, let us make plots against Jeremiahófor instruction shall

not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us bring charges against him, and let us not heed any of his words."

Letís be clear about something central to the telling of the story.

Those listening to Jeremiah were not without their religious observance. The priest would still be sought for instruction. Counsel would still be sought from the wise. And the prophet would still speak. The conspirators were not planning to stop religion.

They were resolved that Jeremiahís words would not be heeded.

His words threatened their present with an unknown future calling for their renewal.

Jesusí ministry was met with much the same response. The pagan sought not to destroy Jesus. The irreligious did not care.

The words of Jeremiahís conspirators prophetically come true with a remarkable irony. The former slaver, priest and hymn writer John Newton (1725-1807) recognised this, and penned the familiar words of praise.

Jesus, my Shepherd, Brother, Friend,
my Prophet, Priest and King,
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the praise I bring.

In Jesus, the Prophet, we hear the very Word of the Lord proclaimed. In Jesus, the Priest, we see arms uplifted and out stretched at the altar of Golgotha in humble oblation. In Jesus, the sage King, we hear the very wisdom of God calling that graciously invites us all to enter into new opportunities.

But Newton knew the reluctance of the human heart and gives it expression for usÖ

Weak is the effort of my heart,
and cold my warmest thought;
but when I see thee as thou art,
Iíll praise thee as I ought.

Copyright © 1998 James T. Irvine

Series 1998