“Be as the Clay”

Be as the clay.
Mix living water with your dust:
Be as the clay.
Bend, mold, move, and flex as you must;
Be made in furnace fired by trust;
In joyful purpose with life thrust:
Be as the clay.

“Be as the Clay” Rondelet by The Distracted Pastor, 2019

This week in church we’re looking at Jeremiah 18:1-6 with our children during worship. In the passage, Jeremiah is called to walk down to a potter’s house to observe the potter at work.

With our children we will talk about how God can work in our lives. Clay itself can be nasty stuff when you dig a shovel into a yard and find the dense stuff below a thin layer of topsoil. It can be challenging work to move enough of the stuff to plant even the smallest of tree bulbs. Clay is difficult stuff; however, in the hands of a master potter clay can be wonderful for creating beautiful things. We will tell our kids they are being made into beautiful creations. Call it naive hope or call it prophecy, I believe each of the kids in our church have a bright future ahead of them as awesome people.

The clay cross I painted and fired years ago…

The challenge is that there’s a second side to this story. Jeremiah is a prophet called to a place that needs prophetic work done in their lives. The clay needs to be reworked in Israel. As their potter, God claims the right to rework what has been done.

I wrote the rondelet above to look at this reality. I wanted to lean into the concept of being clay. We work hard at building lives in this world and it can be difficult to trust even God to rework the clay of our lives when we become comfortable with the way things are in our lives.

We sometimes need to be reworked. We need to work that living water into our lives, to be flexible, and to even be fired in the oven. We might be tempted to look at this reworking as punishment, especially if we are comfortable. Sometimes, we will put up with a lot of cracks and chips to stay comfortable. Some of us would do anything to just be left alone.

The attitude that says “Just leave me be” does not necessarily help us. If I have a broken arm that has set poorly, it may need to be broken and set again. If I have a heart valve that is leaking, I may need to see my cardiologist if I want to live a longer life. When sick we need a doctor. When cracked, we may need to see our Potter.

This reworking is not necessarily pleasant. If you are struggling through a remaking, I want you to know that you are neither the first nor the last to face a challenge in your life of faith. You are more than likely surrounded by people who have faced their own challenges. You are not alone.

Poem: Cracked Cisterns

The following poem is based on Jeremiah 2:1-13. I wrote my poem based on the New Revised Standard Version of the texts. I chose to write on Jeremiah 2:1-13 as it is the reading for the Second Tuesday of Lent in Year One of the Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer.

Cracked Cisterns
Based upon Jeremiah 2:1-13

I recall days of years long since passed:
Singing songs, sharing sodas, and spending time.
Loving life with a pace both furious and fast,
As memories were created beautiful and sublime.

I remember laughter and gladness.
I remember sorrow and sadness.
I can see our steps stretched side by side.

Now we drink from different wells.
Water gushes from a cracked wall.
I watch as dried lives become shells
As the people once so close grow small.

I feel cold rain on far off shoulders.
I feel warm wind on riverside boulders.
I can see where we once were near.

Dry, parched lips seek something new.
In truth, they may need something old.
I stand with an extra cup—no idea what to do,
As hope’s light grows dim—flickering and cold.

Let us Seek: The Cabbage Crisis

Our church’s food pantry had a problem last summer. We had a MASSIVE donation of cabbage. We received hundreds of pounds of cabbage. We had lots of cabbage. The cabbage was beyond the capacities of our refrigerators and we literally could not get rid of it fast enough. The overabundance of cabbage was a bigger problem than you might think. We needed space for other donations of things people need regularly. We could not accept donations of milk or eggs because there was too much cabbage. We could not accept donations of deli meat or cheese because there was too much cabbage. We had so much cabbage that the stuff we could not refrigerate was going bad. We donated as much as we could to a church member’s family who raises pigs, but apparently even pigs get tired of cabbage.

We came right up to the point where the volunteers at the food pantry were going to simply toss it away when I decided to do something about the situation. I did my research, I went on a small shopping spree, and I got to work. I made five gallons of sauerkraut.

Pastor Rob with five gallons of cabbage, salt, and water in July of 2016. Yes, it was incredibly hot that day.

Yes, I made gallons and gallons of sauerkraut. Now, New York State law does not allow for processed food to be distributed to folks unless it has been processed by an approved professional company. So, this meant that I had five gallons of sauerkraut on my shelves. Five gallons of sauerkraut meant that we learned a lot of recipes over the past year that use sauerkraut. Sweet and sour meatballs are my personal favorite.

Yesterday was a beautiful day and we needed to decide what to put on our hot dogs. I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes over just having ketchup or relish when I remembered what was in the garage. A few minutes later I was enjoying a hot dog with sauerkraut and ketchup. The hot dog was delicious.

The most delicious hot dog I ate yesterday!

So, why do I share all of this with you on my blog? I share it because there was a moment last year when everything was coming apart at the seams. The cabbage was literally becoming a thorn in my side and in the side of all of our volunteers. Just the smell of cabbage was beginning to get bother people in a real and powerful sense. The situation was becoming a miniature crisis.

All it took to turn the situation around was for someone to do a little research, put in a bunch of hard work, and to transform a negative situation into a positive blessing. My family had healthy meals this past winter because of the cabbage that was driving people nuts. My hot dog went from good to great because of the cabbage that even pigs were getting tired of eating. Opportunity was hiding in plain sight.

I do not know what situations you may be facing in life today. I do know that not every situation has a silver lining. I cannot promise that there is an outcome as positive as the situation with the cabbage, but I can tell you one thing that is absolutely true. If you do not open your eyes and look around then you may never know what possibilities you are missing.

Consider the following words from Jeremiah 29:10-14: (NRSV)

“For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”

Jeremiah’s words are set in the scriptures during a challenging moment in history. Trouble is on the horizon and Lamentations will show exactly deep a sorrow will fall on the people of God. Jeremiah’s prophecies are set in a time of doubt about the future. There was likely a real and powerful doubt at play in the hearts of all those people who heard Jeremiah’s prophecies and believed his words.

Despite these doubts and troubles, Jeremiah leaves the people with a word of hope. There was a place for redemption and hope when all of the trouble had come and gone. Will the seventy years ahead be a very difficult time? Of course the situation ahead of the people will be grim. Even Jeremiah will be filled with lament when everything comes to pass, but even that darkness will not last forever. God cares about the welfare of the people. God will make a way and allow the people to find both God and hope. God will hear their prayers again. God will gather the people in with open arms.

I do not want to belittle whatever situations you face today. Everyone has their own challenges and sometimes there are no silver linings. I do want to invite you to open your eyes in the midst of your challenges. Sometimes there are blessings in the stinky cabbages of life. Not always, but sometimes there are possibilities. I invite you to have courage and to have faith.