Grace & Gratitude Grow Givers

By Rev. Larry Smith, March 20, 2011

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “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. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Can I not do with you, 0 house of Israel, just as this potter has done?” says the Lord. “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, 0 house of Israel.”

This is a story about sovereignty, about ownership. It’s also a story about stewardship. To be a steward is to manage something that is owned by another. But it strikes me that the ownership issue in stewardship is the key issue, the heart of it all. All other issues will have a good chance of falling into place once this issue is settled. If I say I am a steward then I must acknowledge that I am not an owner but rather a manager for someone else. I must acknowledge that I am not the potter. I am the clay.

The prophet Isaiah perhaps said it more clearly and directly than did Jeremiah. Isaiah once wrote: “Yet, 0 Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8) I can mold and shape modeling clay into many things. But I will tell you that I am not very skilled as a potter. The bowls I made as a child in school would not have won any awards. Nor would those I could craft today win any awards. I am not a potter.

When I try to work with clay, I have an idea in my head, an image of how I’d like for it to turn out, but it doesn’t ever come out that way. When I have an idea about my life and how it should turn out and then seek to try to create that image, it is likely that it will not turn out well, that it will not turn out as I intended. But when I let God shape my life, I know that the finished piece can be crafted by the Spirit’s power, molded by the insight that comes through scripture, smoothed by the witness of the people of God, fired and strengthened by the sacraments. In short, when I try to mold and shape my own life, I will ruin it.

When I let God do the potter’s work, it can come out and will come out beautifully. Isaiah reminds the people of God to bear in mind who is doing the shaping. “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay? Shall the thing made say of its maker, ‘He has not understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:16) The very first issue I must settle if I want to be a faithful steward is to understand that I am indeed just that, a steward. Not the owner. And if that is the case then I must allow my life to be shaped by the potter, the owner, the creator of all that I am and of all that I can become.

The ancient church father, Ireneaus, once said: “For to make is the property of God, but to be made that of men.” This year’s stewardship campaign for growth has a theme that I developed. The theme is Grace and Gratitude Grow Givers. This is certainly true. It all begins with grace, with a recognition that I am nothing and have nothing but the undeserved gifts of grace that God has blessed me with. The money I have is not mine. It belongs to the potter who shaped and molded me and who gave me the talent and the time I have so that I could earn some treasure, that is money.

This money, this talent, this time that I have is all owned by the one who shaped and fashioned me into his child. It all belongs to the one who made me and who claimed me in holy baptism. When I have settled this ownership issue then I have settled some very basic issues about my life. I have settled the issue of life’s basic direction. So I am pointed in the direction of how I can best be shaped by the potter who fashioned me.

I ask a new set of questions when this issue of ownership is settled. Instead of asking what I can do to get more out of life, I ask what I can do to be shaped for service to God. How can I best use my time in service of Him who made me? How can I best return to God the treasure he gave me to show my gratitude for all that God has shared with me? How can I use my talent to serve the God who fashioned me? What can I do to let God mold me into the person God wants me to be? In this image the clay that hardens, potters clay, does not work. What works instead is modeling clay, a clay that never hardens, a clay that can always be reshaped, refined, perfected.

Our lives are always under the hands of the potter. Our lives as the people of God are constantly being reformed, reshaped, to the image of Christ. When we are faithful stewards we are people who submit to that reshaping. We do not say, to borrow from Isaiah once again: “Woe to you who strive with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter! Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (Isaiah 45:9)

We are a people who always, throughout all of our lives, ask how we can share more, give more of our treasure, more of our time, more of our talent back to the God who owns us and shapes us. We are all the work of God’s hand. And it is a work that is never, ever finished until we meet the potter face-to-face. We are ever and always in need of conversion, in need of realizing that we don’t tell God what to do, but we instead submit to the potter’s hand, to God’s will.

Martin Luther said all Christians go through three conversions: first the heart, then the head, and finally the purse. We are all the work of the Father’s, the potter’s hands. And it is truly a work that is never, ever finished. As you and I fill out our time and talent forms, as we complete our pledge cards, let us remember who owns all that we have and are. Let us remember who has the right to shape us according to his will. Let us remember that we are indeed stewards, managers, and not owners of all that God has placed into our care for the brief time that we are here.

© Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay first appeared in the Summer 1994 issue of Faith in Action. Articles from Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
© Copyright 1996, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author

The Rev. Larry Smith is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He wrote this article for the Summer 1994 issue of Faith in Action.See Rev. Larry Smith's website.

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