The Potter's Hand
The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
25 Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. 33 So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Jeremiah and the Potter, William B Hole 1846-1917
Abba, Abba Father,
You are the potter,
We are the clay, the work of Your hands.
Mold us, mold us and fashion us.
The lyrics to this song, “Abba Father” are familiar to anyone who has ever attended the Cursillo spiritual retreat. They are deeply touching and hold a sincere level of reverence. The relationship between the potter and the clay, relates to the relationship between God and us. Sometimes, the clay has a way of not conforming to the process and the creator must start all over, giving the clay new and better purpose.
Such is the case with the songwriter, himself. The lyrics were written in 1977 by a Roman Catholic priest, serving in Louisiana, whose name was Father Carey Landry. He was ordained in 1971, six years prior. During this time, in the Catholic church, there was a contemporary movement away from traditional, Gregorian style mass settings. People wanted something new and were willing to disband and move away from old, stagnant forms of music. They called it Post Vatican II. Catholic churches that went in this direction wanted things that were simple, had feeling and were authentic. Imagine, you have been a Catholic all your life in the fifties and sixties, hearing the same ritual to the mass over and over. You may have checked out. You may have gotten bored, yet you managed to still go to church. Then, your priest, instead of singing the Sanctus, sings, “Abba, Abba Father, you are the potter, we are the clay, the work of your hands. Mold us and fashion us into the image of Jesus Your Son, Of Jesus your Son.”
I suspect Fr. Carey would have prepared his congregation before he did so, but some people probably hated the change. They wanted the familiar tune, the same language. Fr. Carey was figuratively lumped back into the clay, starting something new and molded differently. His Bishop was not completely comfortable with this new innovation entirely, either. They had an ongoing conversation as most Catholics were divided on conservative and liberal preferences. Sound familiar? Seven years after he wrote this song, he wrote more, and more. Each time, he felt God’s presence molding him and making him in His own way. Eventually, a mutual decision was made that would encourage him to be more of a songwriter than a priest. The Bishop “Laicized” him, meaning he was “defrocked”, prohibited in his priestly, sacramental function. Yet, he is still a priest today, living in his home in Indianapolis and writing his music. He was clay, willing to be molded by the Potter.
The Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings for this day will illustrate the same type of submission to the work of God’s hands to have greater purpose. This is very important to know, before we begin to look at each: God, the Potter, is not biased on conservative or liberal. He is not bent on traditional or contemporary. He will use either to give balance and harmony to what He creates in us. Be very careful that this point is not overlooked. Some may say, God wants us to be liberated, but to what end? Liberated for self-expression, self-worth or liberated so that we may live more fully in accord to God’s design. The same applies to the other side of the argument who say, God wants us to be disciplined in tradition, but to what end? Conservative to the end of protecting, defending, clutching so tight that growth is stifled? Clay must be malleable to the Potter’s touch. It must be willing to go wherever God calls.
Jeremiah, the prophet, applies this language of molding and shaping, specifically for God’s people, the nation of Israel. They were becoming this ugly clay pot, surely at risk of one day breaking apart unless it turned back to God. He warned them by saying, “Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” In this story, a people who abandoned the traditional commands of God so they could become more self-indulgent, would fall apart.
Paul, in his epistle to Philemon, is a letter urging his friend to change, to soften and be forgiving of his run-away slave, Onesimus. Onesimus felt he could no longer live under his master’s roof when a man of God was being condemned and tortured. Paul, under arrest was cared for by this slave and Paul desperately wanted Philemon to take him back, as a brother in Christ. Would Philemon enforce his right to punish his slave or would he break away, be reformed and show compassion? By the Potter’s hand he took him back and a new relationship was built on love rather than possession.
This brings us to Jesus who tells his “clay”, “Unless you pick up the cross, you cannot follow me and be my disciples.” Disciples of Jesus need to weigh the cost and appreciate the process of being shaped by him. They were somewhat set in their ways. They knew what they knew. They were known by their family and their purpose was assumed. How dare they think a fisherman can be of any influence beyond bringing fish to the market? Jesus told them they need to accept the cost of discipleship. To be lumped back in to the matter, to begin all over again, at their age, was frightful. Nobody in their day, nor most in our day, would consider this. Starting over is not easy. Jesus asked them, “Who, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost? To be a follower of Christ, you must be willing to let go of all that you possess, in order to be made new.
The lyrics of Fr. Landry’s hymn are true to form. It ends with this:
Father, may we be one in You,
May we be one in You,
As He is in You and You are in Him.
Whether you have been called to be a prophet, a slave or a disciple, will you pick up the cross? Where are you right now? Are you having a hard time staying true or letting go? Can you be clay? If so, all you have to do is call out to Him,
“Abba Father. Abba Father.
You are the potter,
We are the clay, the work of Your hands.”
 Rev. Carey Landry, “Abba, Father”, 1977
 Jeremiah 18:1-11
 Philemon 1-21
 Luke 14:25-33