There was a potter who after years of dedication and hard work decided to create his most wonderful work. He woke that morning and began working the clay. He added just the right amount of water to make it just the perfect consistency. He molded it with his hands to check and make sure. When he was completely, absolutely satisfied, he threw it on the potter’s wheel.
Sitting down, the potter began to spin the wheel. Years of doing this very thing had honed his muscle movements perfectly. The wheel spun as he worked his feet building up to just the perfect speed. The potter’s hands then flashed toward the clay. The hands worked it, embraced it, and molded it. The lump of clay began to change shape. Guided by skillful fingers it rose into a perfect mound. Studying the mound for just a second, the potter thrust his fingers toward it and shaped it further. A piece of pottery so masterful, so creative began to take shape. The master’s hands continued to work and mold and create until after what seemed like eternity, the piece was finished. The artist stood back and admired his work. It seemed perfect. He could detect no flaws. Removing it from the wheel, he set it apart to dry. Eventually, he would paint and fire the piece so that all could see this marvelous artwork.
Going to bed that night, the potter dreamed of seeing the faces of others light up as they viewed the exquisite piece he had thrown this day. The dreams were abnormally sweet.
The next morning, the potter awoke and checked on his masterpiece. When he entered the room, he cried out in dismay. The piece had slumped and fallen into disarray! This could not be. He had mixed everything perfectly! He had taken all precautions! This should not have happened! He rushed to check on his piece. Looking it over, he thought it could be more than salvaged. As he inspected it, he was quite sure he could actually restore it to its original perfection.
His skillful fingers once again worked over this masterful piece of art. Molding the clay, he reformed it into its original beauty. After painstaking moments, he stared once more at the intricate beauty he had created. He then departed to continue his other work.
But alas! When the artist came back to check on the piece, he noticed it becoming deformed once again! What was wrong with this piece? He had never had such a thing happen before. Should he start over? Should he scrap his work? Should he just try to recreate it?
No. The piece was too beautiful. It was too precious. It was indeed a masterpiece, and so the potter reformed it once more.
Perhaps it was fate. Perhaps it was something else, but the potter found that each time he reformed the piece of pottery, it somehow managed to get out of whack. No matter what he tried; no matter how he added water or extra clay, it would fall out of perfection and into disrepair. People marveled at how the potter could be so stubborn. “Why don’t you just scrap that thing and try and create it again?” “Wouldn’t it be worth your time just to move on?” “Why don’t you just give up on that thing and just let it go. Let it do its own thing and you create some other piece of artwork.”
The advice was often tempting. It seemed like it would be more rational to give upon the whole process, scrap the thing, and start over. Surely there was another masterpiece within those hands and fingers. Each time those thoughts crept in, the potter would look at that piece he had sculpted. He saw the beauty of his creation. He saw how marvelous it looked when it was brought to perfection. He saw that in a real way, it was a part of him–almost as if it were created in his own image. Destruction was out of the question. He loved this piece of work. He knew what it could be, and he would not stop reforming it–even if he had to keep working on it until the day he died.
Most of us, if we were in the shoes of that potter would probably quit. We would probably start all over and give up. We would probably say our time, effort and energy was not worth it. Many of us would perhaps say the potter was crazy in his endeavor to fix a masterpiece that obviously could not be fixed. Indeed, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again while expecting different results. However, I would like to offer a different caveat to that definition this morning: what if you know you are doing the right things? What if you know you have indeed chosen the correct approach in dealing with a particular situation? What if you know that the other options of doing things are ill advised or detrimental to that which you are working with? If indeed you are doing the right thing, then is doing it insanity or determination? Is it craziness or hopefulness?
Some may look at God’s decision to deal with humankind through the concept of grace as insanity or craziness. After all, in many ways it doesn’t make much sense. We are corrupted. Don’t get me wrong here–I am not saying we are completely and totally deprived. I am not saying we are completely and totally evil. I am not saying we cannot do good things or accomplish things which are acceptable in God’s sight. This is most certainly not true. Indeed, when you look around the world and in our communities, you see that we do some really marvelous things: acts of compassion and mercy not only toward other human beings but toward other species–cats, dogs, cattle, horses, and the like. You see that humans are generous in their response to those who have suffered tragedy and despair. There is good which runs through us.
But we are not wholly good. There is a streak of selfishness which runs through the best of us. That streak emerges time and again in obvious and subtle ways. It leads us to division, strife, anger, and animosity. Instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we love ourselves and care for our neighbor as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us. Our brokenness shows when we blame others for problems and do not realize that we too suffer from the same selfishness and anger which drives thieves, murderers, adulterers, and manipulators of the system to do the things they do. We are cracked, broken, slumping pieces of pottery–even though we were created to be a masterpiece.
And God cherishes the beauty He sees in us. God cherishes the kindness He put into us. He cherishes His creation that He created in His own image and likeness. He could destroy us and start anew, but He is attached. And so, He constantly reaches His hands out to us to mold us and reform us into that which He intended us to be. He knows He is doing the right thing. He knows He is handling us with all the skill He can muster. He knows He must give us freedom to stand on our own–even though He knows we will probably slump down once more into imperfection. But He will never give up. He will never quit. He will always seek to reform us and bring us back to His original intent.
Today, we celebrate Reformation Sunday. It is one of my favorite Sundays of the Church year. We commemorate the day when Martin Luther, the namesake of the Lutheran Church, nailed 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg Germany calling the Church of the day to debate the nature of God and the salvation He provided through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the intended reform brought about division because of the hard headedness and hard heartedness of humanity, but it also brought about a re-emphasis on the nature of God–the God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; the God who from the cross spoke the words, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”; the God who sent His only begotten Son into the world so that those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it.
Today, we remember God’s desire to keep reforming, not only the Church, but us as well. When it might be easier to scrap the whole project and start over, instead God tenaciously and hopefully molds us over and over into the people we were intended to be. We don’t deserve it, but God does it anyway. It’s called Grace, and it’s the reason we seek to Live God’s Word Daily. Amen.