Clay Pots

I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.  (Jer. 18.3-4)

In his book on Jeremiah, Run with the Horses, Eugene Peterson tells the following story:  ‘Willi Ossa was an artist who worked as a janitor at night to support his wife and infant daughter.  During the day he painted.  Willi had grown up in Germany during the war years and then married an American girl and moved to New York.  I got to know him when I was a theological student interning at the same church.                                                                                       

Willi liked to talk about religion; I liked to talk about art.  We became friends.  He decided to paint my portrait.  I went to his house a couple of afternoons a week and sat for thirty minutes or so while he painted.  He never permitted me to see what he was painting.  One day his wife came into the room and looked at the portrait now nearing completion and exclaimed in outrage, “Krank, krank.”  I knew just enough German to know what she was saying, “Sick!  You paint him to look like a corpse.”                                                 

 He answered, “Nicht krank, aber keine Gnade” – “he’s not sick; that is the way he will look when the compassion is gone, when the mercy gets squeezed out of him.”                                                

Willi and I had had long conversations about the church.  He had seen the church in Germany and the way many German Christians supported Hitler and his murderous regime.  He thought all Christians were hypocrites.  He made a partial exception for me for friendship’s sake.  The Christians he had known had turned his beloved Germany into a pagan war machine.  His argument was that the church squeezed the spirit and morality out of persons.  He told me I must never become a pastor.  If I became a pastor, in twenty years I would be nothing but a hollow-eyed clerk good for nothing but desk work.    That was what he was painting day by day: a prophetic warning to me.  a portrait of what he was sure I would become if I persisted in the Christian way.                                                                                                       I have the portrait.  I keep it in a closet and take it out to look at from time to time.  The eyes are flat and empty.  The face is gaunt and unhealthy.  I was never convinced that what he had painted was certain to happen – but I knew it was possible.’ 

A life in ministry can be filled with tears, sleepless nights and insecurity. But remember: God doesn’t make mistakes. The reason pastors often lose the right perspective on ministry is that they focus on themselves, rather than God.  Here is where Paul, picking up on Jeremiah’s metaphor, is helpful.  Paul reminds us that,  “we have this treasure in jars of clay, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power [for ministry] belongs to God and does not come from us.”   (2 Cor. 4.7)

God makes no mistake when God calls us; God knows exactly what God is getting. God knows everything there is to know about us. The good, the bad and the ugly. Our strengths and weaknesses, abilities and inadequacies. God knows us!   And God still calls us and uses us to be agents of the gospel of reconciliation and hope.

Join us this Sunday as we commission Claire for pastoral ministry here at MRMC.   We want to bless and affirm her as she joins us in ministry to each other, our city, and our world.