Make Your Way to the Potter's House: A service in word and clay based on Jeremiah 18:1-4

This liturgy was formed around the words of Jeremiah 18. Because it depended upon the visual image of a potter throwing a pot during the service, which complemented the spoken Word of God, it was different from any liturgy we’d used before. We purposely limited congregational participation so that the people could more easily listen and watch.

The idea that underlies this liturgy is our belief that God is the sovereign ruler of our life. God is the one who forms us, chooses us, guides us, loves us. God’s action is at the center of who we are. God taught Jeremiah this lesson by sending Jeremiah down to the potter’s house to watch him throw a pot. In this service, God’s people can learn the same lesson as we observe a potter throwing a pot.

We used this liturgy for the four weeks leading into Advent, including Christ the King Sunday. We prayed that God would reveal new, broader and deeper thoughts to us as we became increasingly familiar with the words and the image. Using the same liturgy for an extended period of time allows the words and images to soak slowly into our souls the way a long, gentle rain soaks into the soil. Changing liturgies every Sunday is more like a thunderstorm that blows powerfully through our lives and creates rushing streams that never have the opportunity to seep into the depths of our being. When we hear the same words of God, time after time, they may find cracks within our shell and begin to replenish the places within us that have withered in the scorching sun of everyday life.

The times of silence are powerful. They are not entirely silent, since the potter continues to work, and everyone is intent on watching how the clay is shaped and reshaped from the inside, from the outside, cut, trimmed, remolded—all important images for meditating on how God works in our lives.

A couple of notes you may find helpful: First, the potter begins at the very beginning of the service and stops working the pot during the singing of “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” At that point, he or she simply walks away from the wheel, leaving the pot on it. Let the potter know he or she should simply go about doing the work of a potter: bashing the clay to the wheel, centering the clay, smashing an errant pot, trimming the pot. Whatever happens in the act of throwing a pot is appropriate, and that is what the congregation needs to see. If possible, use a kick wheel, since even a twentieth-century kick wheel must be rather similar to the wheel Jeremiah watched at the potter’s house.

You could use many different preaching themes with this liturgy. Some obvious ones are creation, or even redemption—being re-formed, recreated, reshaped. Or you could shape a sermon around suffering—how lives are destroyed through tragic events and yet God’s hands never leave us; eventually God rebuilds us. The song “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” lends itself to a sermon about turning ourselves over to the will of God so that we accept who God is shaping us to be. Or you could talk about sin—God re-forming us after our confession. A more abstract idea of the forming of the first and second Adam—the first Adam was destroyed because of sin but the second Adam ran the race perfectly—would also be appropriate.

THE SERVICE

Cry Out

Note: This opening section was repeated at the beginning of each part of the liturgy. For reasons of space, it is not repeated here each time.

Reader 1: The word that was addressed to Jeremiah by YAHWEH, “Get up and make your way down to the potter’s house; there I shall let you hear what I have to say.” (Jer. 18:1)

Reader 2: So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. (Jer. 18:2-4)

Reader 1: “Can I not do to you what this potter does?” says the sovereign Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” (Jer. 5-6)

Solo: “Remember” by Skinner Chavez-Melo (Abingdon, 1992). Out of print; perhaps another reader could say or create a melody for this text:

Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.

Reader 1: “Cry out.” (Isa. 40:6a)

Reader 2: “What shall I cry?” (Isa. 40:6b)

Reader 1: “All flesh is grass and its beauty like the wild flower’s. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of YAHWEH blows on them.” (Isa. 40:6c-7)

People: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains forever.” (Isa. 40:8)

Silence

All Sing: “Holy Forever” (st. 1)

I Am YAHWEH

[Repeat opening section]

Reader 2: This is what YAHWEH says—your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: (Isa. 44:24a)

Reader 1: I am YAHWEH who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself. . . . I will strengthen you . . . so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am YAHWEH, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, YAHWEH, do all these things. (Isa. 44:24b; 45:5-7)

People: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains forever.” (Isa. 40:8)

Silence

All Sing: “Holy Forever” (st. 2)

Woe to Him

[Repeat opening section]

Reader 1: Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. (Isa. 45:9a)

Reader 2: Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” Does your work say, “He has no hands?” (Isa. 45:9b)

Reader 1: Woe to him who says to his father, “What have you begotten?” or to his mother, “What have you brought to birth?” Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” (Isa. 45:10; 29:15)

Reader 2: You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”? (Isa. 29:16)

People: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains forever.” (Isa. 40:8)

Silence

All Sing: “Holy Forever” (st. 3)

All of Us

[Repeat opening section]

Reader 1: All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; (Isa. 64:6a)

Reader 2: We all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isa. 64:6b)

People: O YAHWEH, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O YAHWEH; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people. (Isa. 64:8-9)

Silence

[The people offer private prayers of confession]

All Sing: “Holy Forever” (st. 4)

Reader 1: “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with [my people]. . . . I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. . . . For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:31, 33, 34b)

Reader 2: You are a letter from Christ . . . written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:3)

People: [For] the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:17-18)

All Sing: “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” PsH 287, TH 688, TWC 584

This Is the Word

Prayer for Illumination

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 44:6-8

All Sing: “God, the Sculptor of the Mountains” SNC 78

Epistle Reading: Colossians 1:15-20

All Sing: “Lord Draw Near” (Iona Community, 1996, available from GIA Publications; 1-800- 442-1358)

or “Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?” SNC 87

Gospel Reading: John 1:1-5

All Sing: “Lord Draw Near”

Sermon

Prayer of Application

We Offer

We Offer Our Praise to God: “We Sing the Mighty Power of God” PsH 430, OH 288, RL 10, TH 119, TWC 52

We Offer Our Prayers to God

We Offer Our Gifts to God

We Offer Our Professions to God

Reader 1: The God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)

People: But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor. 4:7-11)

All Sing: “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” SNC 77, TWC 539

I Urge You

Reader 1: I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. (Rom. 12:1)

Reader 2: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:2)

People: We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, so that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy. (1 Pet. 2:9-10)

Solo: “Remember”

Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.

Leader: Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (1 Pet. 2:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:16)

Harry Winters is pastor of Akron (Ohio) Christian Reformed Church; his email address is harry3165@aol.com.