The following is taken from Winston’s presentation to introduce the performance at The Promise, now playing Fridays and Saturdays every weekend until November 4. The speech is delivered as he is “throwing” a new vessel – from a lump of clay into a beautiful vase or pitcher. A similar sermon, tailored to your individual group’s ministry needs, is available as part of his Pottery Presentation.
It all began with a promise, a promise of redemption for you and for me. You and I are marred. We don’t match the plan the Master potter has for our lives. Your life may resemble this ruined vessel, which collapsed just minutes ago or maybe you feel that your life is almost complete and no one notices the imperceptible crack in the rim. However you’ve noticed and the Potter can’t accept the flaw. The Potter knows your unformed substance and can reshape the clay that is your life into a vessel that is pleasing to Himself. That is the Promise revealed so many years ago.
Long before Jesus’ ministry, baptism or birth, God had a plan, and he made a promise to Abraham, an aging prosperous Bedouin shepherd with no children. God promised a land, millions of descendants, a great nation, and that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. You and I are part of all those nations and Jesus is Abraham’s seed. So two thousand years before Jesus birth, God was putting together His plan of redemption; working and preparing the clay for the vessels He would form. As He said to Jeremiah “before I formed you in the womb I knew you” and so, before you were a gleam in your father’s eye God had his eye on you.
The clay is first chosen for the vessel to be made. As not all clays are alike, and not all soils are clay, a suitable clay for the intended vessel being formed must be found, chosen, and prepared. Those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Long before I place this clay on the potter’s wheel there is much preparation of which I will not bore you with the details. You have however seen a small part in the wedging of the clay just now. It is a tradition that in ancient China the clay used by a potter was prepared by his grandfather and is now taken from a pit in which it was stored and aged these many years. Do you really think that God was not preparing for the shaping of your life in the shaping of the lives of your parents and before that your grandparents?
Now with the clay chosen and prepared, how does the potter begin? Before a vessel can be formed the clay must be brought to the very center of the wheel. If not the vessel will be misshaped perhaps collapsing before it can be finished. It is not a matter of brute force pushing the clay to the center but rather letting the clay go around again and again while the potter holds his hands still on the clay. Any part of the clay that is out of symmetry, will push against the potter’s hand so that each part of the clay is rearranged and part by part the whole is moved to the center of the wheel. We also often go round in circles leaning this way and that, while the Potter never moves, so that as we struggle the parts of our lives are rearranged till the whole is moved toward the center of His purpose for our lives. James tells us not to be deceived and we often are when we go through struggles thinking God has deserted us or worse yet He is against us. Really every good gift comes down from our Father with whom there is no variation and even His shadow doesn’t change. God is good toward us every day and in every situation. As we come to believe and know this, we yield and are moved part by part to the center of His purposes. Then He can begin to shape our lives.
However a vessel can’t be shaped merely from the outside no matter how the potter pushes or pulls the clay. There are many shapes the clay might take but can you imagine the usefulness of one with out an opening? I can’t and as a potter I desire that everything I make would be useful. The clay must be opened and that right to the heart, not to the right or the left but in the center. If the opening is not to the heart, the vessel’s walls will be thicker on one side and thin on the other, taller on one side and shorter on the other. Once the clay is centered the potter will brace his arms, wrists, and fingers pressing down into the clay at just the right place, with just the right pressure, to just the right depth so that a vessel can be formed, which is true and pleasing to the Potter. Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart, and to any who will open the door, He will come in and fellowship with him. The word of God is sharper than a two edged sword able to pierce between the soul and spirit. You see it is from the heart that the issues of life are brought forth and it is from the heart that the Potter shapes the vessel.
With the clay open and the potter’s hand inside, pressure is applied to the outside. It seems we can’t escape pressures in life and maybe that is intended, for this pressure is intended to cause growth. However it is the support of the potter’s hand on the inside, which enables this pressure to cause the desired growth instead of catastrophe, with the vessel being misshapen and falling down. The potter’s hand on the inside matches the force from the outside in the exact same area pulling the clay upward. No matter the wobble or movement of the clay the movement of the potter’s hands remain sure and stable giving strength and support to the clay. The potter is intimately aware of every weakness and strength of the clay, where it is thin and where it is thick, where it is soft and pliable or where it is stiff and resistant. So the Potter applies more or less pressure to the clay, quickens or slows His pace and the speed of the wheel, while puling the clay upward with a firm but gentle touch. Jesus is acquainted with our grief and though our sufferings seem abundant so also is our comfort in Christ. His grace is sufficient and His strength is perfected in our weaknesses. This is why Paul was content or pleased in his trials and James said to count it all joy when we encounter them. When we are weak God is magnified and through this we grow to maturity.
As the clay is being pulled upward toward its maturity sometimes because of a lump of stiff clay or air pocket, the walls of the vessel will begin to twist. I will leave it to your imagination what the stiff clay or the air pockets represent in this analogy. So the potter can let the vessel collapse or immediately go back, taking extra care, attention and time to straighten and support the walls enabling the completion of the vessel. I almost never willingly give in and allow the vessels to fall. Why, I ask myself? Does God take such care with such weak flawed vessels as myself? I know God has a plan for my life and Paul says in Philippians that he is confident that God will complete the work He has begun even until the day of Christ Jesus. But why not just move on to another piece of clay, one better suited and throw this piece back in the bucket? There is a clue in a small phrase found in the 23rd Psalm. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness (Why does he do all these things?) for his names sake. When we were born again that is pulled from that miry pit of clay and He began to work in our lives preparing His clay for the vessel intended, we became his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which, He prepared before hand that we should walk in them. We took His name as His child. We became Christians. For His namesake He will complete the work He has begun in our lives.
Now once the walls reach the fullness of height for the vessel intended by the Potter with the clay he has chosen and prepared, He will begin to shape the vessel. A foot is shaped to give boldness and stability, the shoulder is slowly pressed out giving the form definition, the neck is given a graceful curve drawing attention to the artfulness of the entire form, and a lip is distinguished giving a sense of completion. What may not be obvious is that much of this shaping takes place from inside the vessel. It is from the heart that the potter gives shape to the vessels form. Through out the entire process of forming the vessel the potter has applied pressure from the outside in coordination with His hand on the inside to grow the clay to its full stature but now the inside hand takes the lead giving the vessel its final form.
To be sure, throughout the centuries, potters have produced thousands of utilitarian pots without such elegance as I try to achieve or the ones we find in museums today. Whatever designs God has for your life He has designed you for glory. It is our glory to bring Him glory. Let me explain. One type of vessel used for centuries without any elegance or ornamentation was a harvest jug. They were made from common red clay, they were thick and heavy, often un-glazed, never decorated, with straight sides, and often used though cracked with handles broken. It is certainly not the type of vessel to be found in a palace or museum. There you would find a silver chalice or porcelain vase. However this harvest jug has great value, especially to thirsty field hands who have been toiling all day in the hot sun. For it would have been filled with water early in the day and taken out into the fields so as the workers in the fields were toiling, sweating, and working up a thirst, that harvest jug because of the properties of the clay would keep that water cool throughout the day. Then in the middle or at the end of the day when the thirst of those field hands was felt most, it would be quenched with cool refreshing water coming from a common clay jar. The point is that I have always been a person wanting to be noticed, to be in the spotlight. I would rather be the elegant vase in a museum that everyone came to admire, but perhaps it would be better to be that harvest jug out in the field. After all this is a very thirsty world.
A final thought I want to leave with you is that there really are only two things one can do with a vessel of any type. A bowl, pitcher, storage jar, or casserole can first be filled. You can place something in it. Paul talks about how when Moses came down from the mountain God’s glory shown on his face, terrifying the Israelites so that Moses wore a veil. But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed. For God has shone in our hearts, giving the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels. You see God is shaping clay jars that He might fill them with His glory. The second thing you can do with a vessel is to empty it. Whatever the vessel has been filled with, can be poured from it or served to another. In the 7th chapter of John Jesus stood up in the temple and cried out, If any one is thirsty let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water. God is shaping clay jars that He might fill them with His glory that He might serve a thirsty world a drink of living water. Is any one here tonight thirsty for living water?
As Paul prayed for the Ephesians, I now pray for you that this night you would be filled up to all the fullness of God. You know of course that a vessel is filled and emptied at the prerogative of the one who possesses the vessel. One may change ownership or possession with a simple phrase of surrender. When God Asked Isaiah who will go for us, whom shall we send. Isaiah said here am I Lord send me.
I hope, no – I know that you will enjoy the show!