Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Pliable Clay That We Are

While it is true that the images contained in some passages in the Holy Bible maybe difficult to understand, there are more of those that are not. I mean, there are those that may sound very deep, like some of those in the Pauline literature or in the Johanine material but there are more of those that look very ordinary and common and yet, are very effective medium of describing God.

Among the images employed are those of God as a king or a shepherd, or as a sower in the field or as being the Way or the Gate.  Another image is that of God as a Potter. In the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 45:9), we read: "Woe to you who strive with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter! Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ’What are you making?’ or ’Your work has no handles’?"  Then in Isaiah 64:8, we read: "Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are the potter; we are the work of your hand."

We get reminded of this very same image upon hearing today’s Old Testament Reading (Jeremiah 18:1-11).

In this passage, we learn that Jeremiah was commanded by God to go to a potter’s house and while there, God would speak to him His words. When Jeremiah got there, he noticed that the potter was working on a piece of clay. He also noticed that as the potter turned the wheel, there was some flaw in the pot he’s working on – perhaps one that only the potter could see. But instead of throwing it away as “rejects”, the potter took the clay, worked on it again and eventually reshaped it into another one, perhaps a better looking pot.

 It was at this sight that the Spirit of God spoke to Jeremiah’s heart and gave him this message for God’s people. God said, “Can I not do with you what the potter has done? Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”

God is the potter; we are the clay. Now, that’s not too deep to understand, right? In fact, it is a simple yet very beautiful imagery to depict what God can do to His creation! We are the clay in the hands of God, the Potter. And the great truth is that despite our flaws, God spins us on His wheel again and shapes and reshapes us into something new and better.

I am just fascinated with this imagery and I’m sure Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s people must have felt that way too. I love the idea that we are likened to clay – soft and pliable and unpredictable and God, the Potter, relentlessly reshaping our lives. In his “spinning” he allows the crude and raw clay to evolve into a beautiful piece of art that everyone could behold.

It is this process of “spinning” that we need to pay more attention. As the “spinning” entails constant change in the process of becoming, so it reminds us to look at change from a different perspective.

Change elicits from us two opposing responses. While there are those who display a positive attitude, still, many resist change and are afraid of it. Change is something we don’t like or want. But in the life of faith, change could be a gift from God.

It is a gift that helps us discover more of our potentials and capabilities as people. It is a gift that may initially appear scary as in sailing on unchartered waters. It may also present itself as something bland and void of excitement or something challenging and unwelcomed. And yet, change could, indeed, what God is doing as He spins us in His wheel; getting rid of the flaws He alone must have noticed.

I know of this lady who dreaded the biggest change that could happen in her life; the unwelcomed change resulting from the passing on of her beloved husband.

For the many years they’ve lived as husband and wife, theirs was the sweetest relationship one could imagine. She claimed that her husband was the most loving person who ever lived and she dreaded the idea of them not being together “for ever and ever”.

Well, the dreaded day came; quite unexpectedly in fact. And her “world” came to an abrupt end. As it turned out, she became recluse and hated everything and everyone. She even questioned how God could allow that to happen to her; taking away the very embodiment of a partner in life; snuffing the life of her soul mate. This “clay” ceased to be pliable and she became hardened as a rock. This “clay” seemed to catch self-imputed flaws.

But something close to a miracle took place. God, the Potter took this “clay” into His hands and “spun” her again and again until the clay began to look like a magnificent piece of art. This lady once told me: “I never knew I was capable of taking care of myself,” then she added, “I think my husband would be proud of me.”  And I told her: “I’m sure he is”.

That dreaded change, difficult as it was, freed her from her former preoccupations and now has all the time to share the skills and talents she never thought she had and became a dedicated volunteer at the church she goes to.

Some changes could be viewed as a God-ordained fact of life, and they introduce us to greater gifts and capabilities within us. I am sure you all have your stories about changes that have enveloped and touched your lives and the people you care about!

Talking about change, we have seen changes in the life of our parish. There had been changes we wish didn’t have to happen. Unfortunately, we have a number of members whose physical limitations on their mobility prohibit their physical attendance at our regular Sunday services. And of course there were those who had to literally and physically move on to other places as well as those who have finally moved to their resting places. So in a sense, these are tokens of the little “flaws” that are beginning to be noticeable.

But just like in the “re-spinning” of the wheel, the Almighty has added new “clay” to help reshape our “pot” called Ascension.

We are indeed so grateful for these new “clay”; newcomers who have decided to make Ascension their home parish. Some of the new changes we begin to notice include their eagerness and enthusiasm that would hopefully get translated in full participation in the leadership of the parish as well as the upgrading of the fabric on the affected parts of the church.

The “re-spinning” of the clay of Ascension continues on. We have started a few events in the life of the parish that will hopefully get followed up.  We will also launch our Year-Round Stewardship wherein we will manifest our gratefulness for things we would not have otherwise thought to be thankful for. We will also have a head start on our budget thereby giving us ample time to clearly look at the financial impact of what the other changes have on our parish.

Changes are coming our way! And as we begin to take note of them, the usual questions may arise and the most important question is, “What are we capable of?” Following the imagery of the clay, what can become of Ascension, if it were to be spun again and again, removing the flaw that may ruin its beauty?

The analogy comes short knowing that we have the ability to stay hard and un-pliable; after all, we are an aggregate of individuals with differing opinions and passions. And yet, as God once told Jeremiah, “can He not do with us what the potter does to his clay”? Of course He can and He makes it possible for us to “allow” ourselves to be shaped by Him again and again.

My friends in Christ, there will be more changes that’ll come your way. While there is that usual negativity toward it, you should remember that change is often the instrument by which God exposes the tremendous potential He has created in you and could also lead you to discover more of the beauty and mystery and magnificence of this world and the Great Architect who created it.

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