The Potter and the Clay

Listen to this sermon here:

This sermon uses the Scriputral image of God as the potter and the disciple as clay in His hands. The basic structure follows a Metaphor design with the following three moves:

1) Evoke the Source Domain

2) Map to the Target

3) Explore with a New Lens

The fourth move in a Metaphor structure, 4) Test the Limits, is embedded in the second move.

Texts: Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 138:8, Romans 9:20, Isaiah 29:16, Romans 8:28-29, Matthew 4:19

Comments: Besides the biblical texts listed, I used a description of discipleship from Robert Mulholland to help shape the sermon: discipleship is “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” That’s the central thesis of Mulholland’s book Invitation to a Journey and it is a part of the basic vocabulary of Peace Lutheran Church.

This basic definition helped provide unity in what is actually quite a diverse use of the potter and clay image in scripture: Jeremiah uses it both to threaten and to call people to repentance; Isaiah and Paul use it as a way of warning against thinking we know better than God; the Psalms use it as a basis on which to entreat God to remember His promises.

One of the dangers of preaching from a metahor field found in the bible is that the preacher can do damage to any of the specific texts by trying to force a unified “biblical way of talking” that doesn’t actually exist. I circumvented that problem by using an extra-biblical elaboration on a biblical image; the image is grounded in scriptural usage but the force and content is more theological confession than it is textual exposition. Hey, at least I did it on purpose.

Using Mulholland’s formulation, then, the narrative strucutre of the potter and clay metaphor looks something like this:

Of course, we could put this all into two actantial models, like this:
Source Domain:

The Potter A Variety of Pots →  Other People

Potter’s Skill, Design
Tools, Process

→  The Potter ←  Hardness of Clay,
Lack of Skill

Target Domain:

God →  A Variety of People →  For the Sake of Others

God’s skill,
Image of Christ,
difficulties in life

→  God ←  Our unwillingness
to change but
no lack in God

These narrative relationships help shape an inference structure that the sermon uses to look at our lives in a new way. If God is in control and God knows what He is doing and God is conforming us to the image of Christ, then we can take comfort and trust the outcome of the process, even if it can be difficult to be the clay at times. If God uses difficulties in our lives to shape us, we can trust beyond what we can see: the clay doesn’t know what the potter is up to, but that’s OK.

The master potter is in control. If the potter doesn’t make pots for the sake of the clay, then it follows that my discipleship growth is intended by God not primarily for my benefit (though I do benefit) but for the sake of others. That changes how I see my own faith journey at what is at stake in my own growth in discipleship.

About Justin Rossow

Justin writes and talks at the intersection of Scripture, culture, and metaphor theory. As founder of Next Step Press, he helps people delight in taking a next step following Jesus.

2 comments on “The Potter and the Clay

  1. […] you could preach a sermon structured by these four elements (see my sermon The Potter and the Clay, for example), you can also utilize these metaphor dynamics in the development of a sermon. So […]

  2. […] https://justinrossow.com/2011/09/06/the-potter-and-the-clay-2/ III. Read the blog “Reading Guide: Leadership and Self-Deception” and write down some observations/reflections. […]

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