Monday Matters (December 4, 2023)


A reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah (64:1-9)

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—

as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down; the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.

You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed

We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name
or attempts to take hold of you,
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.

The potter and the clay

It’s an image that comes up in several places in scripture. The Lord is the potter. We are clay, ready to be shaped into something useful, maybe something beautiful. According to this image, we find our identity as God’s creation, or as the letter to the Ephesians puts it, we are God’s workmanship created for good works which God has prepared to be our way of life (Ephesians 2.10).

The prophet Jeremiah used the image, as he reflected on the inexplicable hardship being visited on his people. St. Paul used the image as he puzzled about why some folks had faith and others didn’t. And the image pops up in the reading from the prophet Isaiah (above) a reading you may have heard in church yesterday on the first Sunday of Advent. Let’s just say it’s an interesting way to start the church year.

In that reading, Isaiah addresses the Lord and basically asks: Where have you been? You used to show up for us, but lately you’ve been absent. It’s similar to the question posed in Psalm 22: O God, why have you forsaken me? That question is echoed on the cross. Is it a question you’ve ever asked?

In this reading, it sounds like Isaiah may even be blaming God for ways that the children of Israel have messed up. After all, God had been absent. (Because you hid yourself, we transgressed. V.5) Some of that blaming of God goes on elsewhere in scripture. When the Lord confronts Adam in the garden, noticing that he’d been snacking on forbidden fruit, Adam says to the Lord: The woman you gave me made me do it. When Aaron was brought up on the carpet because he made a golden calf, he said he did it because Moses and God were off on the mountaintop having a 40-day conversation. It was their fault. It underscores that human tendency to look for anyone to blame, anyone but ourselves. It’s the tendency to dodge responsibility, to dodge accountability.

At the same time, we also acknowledge the human tendency to imagine that we are in charge, that we call the shots, that we have a better idea of how to run the universe than God does. We imagine that we are the potter.

Peculiar sort, we human beings.

In the end, there’s one critical word in Isaiah’s passage. After Isaiah gets through with his complaining, he says: Yet. Yet, O Lord you are our father. You are the potter. We are the clay.

What’s the lesson for us? I struggle with the image of potter and clay, mostly because I want to be the potter, thank you very much. I want to be in the driver’s seat, the one shaping things. Which is why it is important to remember that in the history of God’s relationship with us, starting in the book of Genesis, we are not the star of the story. The church is not the star of the story. God is the star of the story.

That could be tough to swallow if separated from the promise that the one who is the potter is also the one from whose love we can never be separated, one whose creative energy is shaping us into a beautiful vessel to be filled with God’s spirit and to be used for God’s glory. That’s probably not a bad message for us as we begin a new year. As the year unfolds, and as our world seems at times to spin out of control, can we trust in the one who is shaping us with holy and loving intention?

-Jay Sidebotham

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