June 10, 2014

Plastic Cups

As I have received, with gratitude, readers' feedback from yesterday's post, I get the sense that I have left a partially wrong impression.  I stand firm by the idea that God doesn't strictly need me.  But that's not the whole story.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul memorably says, "But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surprising power may be of God and not from us."  Sometimes "earthen vessels" is translated as "clay pots."  What could have been more commonplace in Paul's day?  In my house I might say, "I hold this treasure in a plastic cup."

Imagine that with me.  I have a cabinet full of plastic cups.  Many we got for free at this or that restaurant when the kids were little.  Their outsides are faded from too many trips through the dishwasher.  Their rims are cracked and a little melted.  They're the cups I send outside.  If one doesn't make it back in, it's all the same to me.  We got them more or less for free.  In a way, they're worthless.

"We hold this treasure..."  I'm not inclined to put a treasure in a plastic cup, and Paul might not have been inclined to store treasure in a clay pot.  But somehow, God is so inclined.

He takes me, and you.  Here's what he's got to work with:  "We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed:  always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

This is not Paul at his most transparent, maybe, but we can untangle it.  We're afflicted and perplexed and persecuted and struck down and carrying about, well, death.  If I were choosing a vessel in which to hold a treasure, I would choose something a bit more attractive.  No melted edges for me.  I'd use crystal, or glass, at least.

But because I'm faded and overused, I am also not constrained....not driven to despair...not abandoned...not destroyed.  I've got nowhere to go but up.  I don't break easily.  I flex.

For as long as I last -- and I'm not going to last in this body forever -- I can still be filled up.  The life of Jesus can still be poured into the little plastic cup that is me.

What I knew on Sunday at church is that if I show up just as myself, I show up empty.  I'm the cup.  It's only when the life of Jesus is poured into me that I've got something to give.  It's not me, but it is me too.  God could use a golden chalice.  But he uses me, the plastic cup, "that the surprising power may be of God and not from us," from me.

And it is surprising, isn't it?  I have never picked up one of my ugly plastic cups, put it to my lips, and found it filled with fine wine.  I wouldn't expect to.  But maybe I should.

God takes me, and you, just as we are -- faded, afflicted, cracked, perplexed, melted, and He offers to pour into us the finest wine, not for us to drink, but for us to offer as libation for a thirsty world.

I have to ask, and you do too, what it takes for us to let Him fill us up.  If I want to fill my own plastic cup, it has to be upright, held still.  Or what I want to pour into it will simply spill out onto the floor, as if the pouring had never happened at all.

I have to contain what God wants to pour into me.  That is my job, me, the plastic cup.  I give the wine of God a form, a shape.  God's own Spirit can then be carried around and offered as drink to someone in this world of thirst.  God could do it another way, but He doesn't.  We hold these treasures in plastic cups.

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