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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible - Romans
The Potter and the Clay

Romans 9:6-24

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 bulletin insert.

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 purpose. 

Verses 15-18. “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 God.

Verses 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.

Romans 11:28-29   continues 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.

“But 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.

Let 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.

Verse 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.”

Verse 33-36.  .  O 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 counselor?"  "Or 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.

Many 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.”

When 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.”

Another 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.”

During our life time, there are so many circumstances that our minds cannot comprehend, but we still believe. We still trust that things will be OK.

Well, 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.

You 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.”

What 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….”

It 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 believe.”

At 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.

The 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.

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.

Or, using a different analogy, would you all put yourselves in a cage with a six hundred pound gorilla. OK. Who is boss? We know.

Use 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.

The 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.

Handing 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.

So 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.

Or, 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.

Or, 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?

It 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 our ways.

Let’s 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.

Now 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 potter’s hand

Recently, 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 absolutely incredible.

Another 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.

The 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.

On 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 lives. Amen.

CHILDREN’S 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.

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