Books of the Bible
The Potter and the Clay
Today continues a
summer series of sermons on the book of Romans.
The outline of the
book of Romans is very clear, and we have not yet discussed the
overall outline of the book. Chapters 1-8 in Romans are Paul’s
ideas about Christ. As
we have said before, Paul is not a history man but an idea man. In
chapters 1-8, Paul tells us nothing about the life of Jesus. In
Paul, there are no parables of Jesus, no miracles of Jesus, no
anecdotes about Jesus, no narratives about Jesus, but only ideas
about Jesus. Chapters one through eight are ideas about Christ.
Chapters 9-11 are about the Jews. Paul was a strict, almost a
fanatical Jew who persecuted Christians. Chapters 9-11 discuss his
beliefs about the Jews and their role in salvation. Chapters 12-15
are the ethics of Paul as to how to live out a moral and righteous
life. Chapters 1-8 are ideals; chapters 12-15 are ideals. Chapter 16
is a postscript of personal anecdotes about people living in Rome.
The basic idea
behind today sermon is the Apostle Paul’s illustration about the
potter and the clay, that God is the potter and we are the clay. We
are reminded of the children’s sermon for today when I fashioned a
blue bowl from play-dough; then a red Oscar Meier Hotdog and then a
white slug. I was the potter and did not ask the clay for its
permission, understanding, or blessing. I just made what I wanted to
make. So it is with the sovereignty of God. God does not ask our
permission, our understanding or our blessing. God is the potter and
the potter can do what he wants with us, the clay.
We remind ourselves of the sovereignty of God, that God can
do what ever God wants to do with the clay and God does not have to
ask the clay permission to do what God wants to do with the clay.
Let us look at the
Romans 9:13, “As
it is written in the Old Testament, ‘I have loved Jacob but hated
Esau.’” I chose Jacob but I did not choose Esau. And we think to
ourselves: that was not fair of God, to choose one brother and he
did not choose the other. But
from the children’s sermon and the sovereignty of God, we know
that God can chose Jacob if God wants and not Esau.
Verse 14, “Is
there injustice on God’s part?” Is this unfair of God to chose
one brother over the other? The answer is in the text is:
“No. By no means.” Now, the Apostle Paul is going to giver you another example.
That is, God chose Moses for one purpose and Pharaoh for another
“For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have
mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So
it (God’s election or choice) does not depend on man’s will or
exertion but upon God’s mercy. For the Scriptures say to Pharaoh,
‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in
you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then,
God has mercy on whomever God wills and God hardens the heart on
whomever God wills.”
Going to the
samples of clay forms here on the communion table, God can chose one
clay shape for one purpose and another clay shape for another
purpose. God can chose Moses for one purpose and chose Pharaoh
for another purpose. God can do anything that God wants to do
because God is the potter. This is all part of the sovereignty of
19-21, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does God still find fault?
For who can resist God’s will? But who are you, a man, to answer
back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you
made me thus?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out
of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial
use?” Looking at these clay forms on the table here, God can use
Jacob in any way God pleases and Esau in any way that God pleases.
God can use Moses to lead his people to freedom and God can use
Pharaoh to enslave the people. God can do what God wants.
the same argument. “As regards the gospel, they, the Jews, are
enemies of God for your sake.” The Jews are called the enemies
because they killed Jesus and they killed the first Christians.
as regards election, these Jews are loved by God because of their
ancestors for the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.” In other
words, God has this positive attitude towards the Jews that their
call is permanent and is not revocable.
us stop for a moment and underline that the Jews are enemies of God.
The gospel of John is emphatically clear that the Jews killed Jesus.
Knowing that, people throughout the history of the world have used
the Bible and these Bible verses to support their prejudice and acts
of hatred against the Jewish people. Martin Luther himself was very
anti-Semitic. Luther went ahead and told the Germans to persecute
the Jews, that they were Jesus killers and deserved to be punished.
Luther and Lutherans have used the Scriptures to justify their
prejudice and acts of hatred against the Jews. We know the history
of the Germans and German Lutherans from World War II and their
brutality against the Jews. More recently, the Lutheran church has
issued apologies to the Jewish community for their past
participation in atrocities against the Jews. If you want to find
Biblical support for your prejudice against people, you can go back
to the Bible and support your prejudicial feelings, if you want to.
30 “Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received
mercy because of their disobedience, so they now have been
disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may
receive mercy. For God consigned all men to disobedience, that God
may have mercy on all.”
the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How
unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For
who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his
who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?" For
from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the
glory forever. Amen.
years ago here at Grace, we had a youth director by the name of
Sonja Vik. She was crazy and zany and everybody loved her. She had
long strait blonde hair, chubby cheeks, and bit blue eyes and she
would strum her guitar. She was our youth director and ran many
youth retreats here at Grace. On many occasions we would ask her a
question and her standard answer was, after thinking about it for a
while. “I don’t know.” There were always three distinct tones
when she answered, starting high, “I don’t know. I don’t know
the answer. I just believe.”
I was a boy growing up in Jackson, Minnesota, I had to take math
courses. I took my algebra and geometry from a teacher by the name
of Mr. Anderson. I did pretty well. Not a star student but a decent
student. So then I went to college and took my calculus course from
Mr. Carlson. My mind could not get around calculus. I know that your
mind can get around calculus, but my mind could not. So I memorized
all the theorems. I did not understand the theorems, but I just
memorized them all. I finally said to Mr. Carlson, “I don’t get
it. I don’t understand. But I believe that it is all true.”
analogy. You are in the hospital and you are going to have surgery
tomorrow and the surgeon comes in and explains the surgery that he
or she is going to perform. He draws a little diagram. We are going
to send a little tube with a light at the end of it and it will go
into your veins and we will get into the heart and then start to
take some pictures. Already, I don’t know what this surgeon is
going to do. So your wife comes in and asks what the doctor said,
and you explain, “They are going to put a tube in me with a
flashlight at the end of the tube.” I finally throw up my hands
and I, “I don’t know what he is going to do. I trust it is going
to be OK. I know it will be OK.”
our life time, there are so many circumstances that our minds cannot
comprehend, but we still believe. We still trust that things will be
that same principle occurs with the things of God. The thoughts and
actions of God are too big for us. Our minds cannot get around them.
For example, how come God does not reveal himself and prove that he
is God? How many thousands of years of human history have their
been? How many billions of people have lived here on this earth? In
all the thousand or millions of years of history and in all the
billions of people who ever lived, couldn’t God have proved his
existence to some one at least once? Couldn’t
God one time prove that there is a personal God? How come that God
does not do that? “I don’t know…but I just believe.” I still
trust. I still believe.
talk about the amount of evil in this world. There is so much
suffering around the globe. The AIDs epidemic is rapid in Africa.
There is so much hunger and starvation around the whole globe. 40%
of the people on earth are hungry or starving. There is so much
cancer among so many of our friends. We ask the questions: God, why
is this evil happening to my family right now? God, why did you
allow that tragedy to happen? And your heart finally says, “I
don’t know. I don’t know but I still trust God’s goodness.”
is the plan for my life? I would like to have the blueprints for my
life. God, why don’t you show me the detailed plan for my life so
I will know the kind of decisions that I should be making? And we
finally respond, “I don’t know but I trust that God has a plan
for my life. I don’t know but I trust….”
is with these images that we approach Romans, chapters 9-11. Paul
comes to the end of chapter eleven and this thoughts become so big
and he finally gives up and says, “I cannot comprehend the
magnitude of God’s mystery and grace but I still believe.” At
the end of chapter eleven, Paul says, “I don’t know but I still
the heart of Paul’s argument is about the sovereignty of God. In
the Apostle Paul’s mind and in the minds of other Christian
authors of the New Testament, God is all powerful. God can do
whatever God wants to do and God does not have to ask your
permission; God does not have to ask your blessing; God does not
have to ask your understanding.
simple but profound analogy that the Apostle Paul uses is the potter
and the clay. The potter can do anything that it wants with the
clay. As I play with the clay at this moment and shape a bowl, does
this clay have any comprehension of my mind? No. None. Just as a
rock does not comprehend an amoeba and just as an amoeba does not
comprehend a multi-celled organism and just as a multi-celled
organism does not comprehend a human being, so a human being cannot
and does not comprehend the mind of God.
can do anything that God wants with this clay. I am squeezing this
hotdog right now and squishing it together and that red, clay hotdog
did not exist as long as the blue clay bowl that I made. That is not
fair, you say. For the red clay hotdog not to live as long as the
clay blue bowl. God can have this blue bowl live as long as God
wants to and God does have to ask the bowl’s permission.
using a different analogy, would you all put yourselves in a cage
with a six hundred pound gorilla. OK. Who is boss? We know.
your mind again and think of a different analogy. Would you all put
yourself into a swimming pool and you are skinny dipping in that
swimming pool with a six hundred pound alligator. Who is boss of the
swimming pool? We all know.
gorilla is the boss of the cage, and the alligator is boss of the
swimming pool and the potter is the boss of the clay and God is the
boss of life. Paul’s argument is that God is sovereign and can do
what God wants to do.
this clay before me, if God chooses Esau for one purpose and Jacob
for another purpose, God can do that. Handing these piece of clay
before me, if God chooses Moses for one purpose and Pharaoh for
another purpose, God can do that. If God chooses to use the Jews for
one purpose and the Gentiles for another purpose, God can do that.
God can use your life in any way that God wants, and God does not
have to ask your permission. God does not have your understanding
nor your blessing.
if God wants to make your skin yellow or blue or black or brown or
white or pink, God can make you any color that God wants to make
you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that unless you think
that one color is more valuable than another color, unless you think
that yellow is better than white and black is better than brown.
Human beings often say the one color of skin is better than another.
Or another facet of this analogy with the clay pots. Some
clay pots exist much longer than other clay pots. Some clay pots
will live six milliseconds; others six seconds; others six minutes;
others sixty minutes. The potter can have the pots exist as long as
the potter wants. Applying the analogy to human beings, God can have
some people live one hundred and twenty years, others ninety years,
others fifty years, others forty years, and thirty years and twenty
years, and ten years, and one year, and some five months and others
five days and others five minutes. And God can do what God wants to
do. God can have some people live one hundred years and someone else
one hundred days and another person one hundred hours or one hundred
minutes. And that is
just the way it is. And God did not cheat anybody. This is part of
God’s great design. Who ever suggested that we should all live to
eighty-five and die in a rocking chair as the sun is going down
during a warm summer night? God can do what God wants to do with the
length of your life and God does not have to ask your blessing, your
understanding or your permission.
God can give you different sets of intelligent quotients. There are
people here who have a hundred and fifty IQ and those people are
really smart. There are many here with l30 IQ and they too are
really smart. And others of us with 100 IQ and we are quite average
or as in Lake Wobegon, a little above average. Others have an 80 IQ,
a 70 IQ, a 60 IQ. Who said that a person with a 150 IQ is more
valuable than a person with a 70 IQ? Who said that? In the big scale
of things, God can do what God wants.
God can have some people be married seventy years. Or sixty-five
years such as my mother and dad. Or fifty years or forty years or
thirty years or three years or two years or one year or five months
or five days or five hours. I remember that couple so many years who
left this church and were married only for five hours when a car
accident shattered all their dreams and plans. We had the wedding
reception out at Harborview Hospital . Who says that you are
supposed to be married for fifty years?
is all so inscrutable. It is all so incomprehensible. Who can
comprehend the mind of God? Can this clay blue bowl in my hand
comprehend the mind of the potter? So at the end of Paul’s
argument in chapter eleven, the Apostle Paul says that none of us
can comprehend the mind of God for God’s ways are much higher than
pause for a moment. When you get to the argument that God is the
potter and we are the clay, think about that for a moment. When all
the children were standing up in front of you, facing the
congregation with their young smiling faces and bodies, did you not
all think that God had done a good job? What a grand job God did and
is doing on those children.
think of it. God is the potter and this small piece of blue clay
represents me and my life. My life is in the potter’s hand. That
is wonderful. That is wonderful to understand that my life is in the
I was thinking of Seattle and Tacoma’s famous glass artist by the
name of Chuhulley. Now imagine with me that I am a lump of molten
glass and God is the glass blower. Wow. What a thought. That is
I analogy. Think of the master garden up in Victoria, British
Columbia. There is a master gardener up in that garden and now
imagine yourself to be a plant in the master gardener’s care. You
are a petunia or your favorite plant of your choice. You are a
petunia and the petunia starts to whine, “I am a petunia and I
only get to blossom for a month. Look at that cactus over there. It
lives for a hundred years and blooms every single year. O, I wish I
were a cactus.” Or let’s pretend that you are a daisy and you
say to yourself, “Doggone, I am missing two petals.”
The petunia then says, “How come I am in the back row. I
want to be in the front row.” Who do the flowers think they are,
anyway? It is the master gardener who puts all these flowers
together up at Buchardt Gardens. The beauty and the beautiful plan
are in the mind of the master gardener.
Apostle Paul is thinking, “God is the potter, and we are a piece
of clay in the hands of a master potter. We are molten glass and God
is the master glass blower. We are a flower and God is the master
gardener and we are the flowers in his masterpiece.
this day, we thank God for many things. I thank God that I am alive
today. I thank God that I have a wonderful family. I thank God for
wonderful friends, for a wonderful church. But I thank God most of
all that God is the artist, the exquisite artist who fashions our
SERMON Have different colors of play dough up on the communion
table. Make objects and have the kids guess what you are making. For
me, one object was a blue dish or bowl. They guessed what it was.
Another object was a red hotdog and they had a hard time guessing
that one. The third object was that I squeezed the clay out from my
hands and I said that it was a slug. Kids in the state of Washington
like that. … Then I taught the children that God was like a potter
and that we are like clay. That God can make anything that God wants
of us. God is an expert potter, an exquisite artist. Now, children,
please face the congregation. We will ask the congregation if they
think that God is a superb artist in creating and fashioning all you
children here. (The congregation applauds with their approval.) Now,
I am standing up here today and I am sixty years old and have white
hair and am over weight. Do you think that God the artist is doing
an exquisite job on me and people like me or is God’s artist
skills only used when making children? I think God’s artistic
creativity is revealed when he make people my age. Another question:
Do you think that God is a superb artist when God is still creating
and fashioning people who are in their eighties and nineties? Or is
God’s lovely designs only confined to children? If you do not
think that people in their eighties are as beautiful as people who
are eight, you values are all messed up and you don’t really
understand who God the artist is. Thanks kids.