Dirty cups, the church today, and Jesus

I had an “unveiling” God-moment mid-sermon as I preached one of my favourites the Sunday after being offered my new job. My top seven personal fave’s are such because they share lessons that are powerfully meaningful to me, and this one also has a vivid visual example which, when it has been shown and the scripture has been read sometimes feels so obvious I feel the preaching is redundant and an imposition. Here is the visual I present to the congregation:

I show them these, then ask them to indicate with a show of hands which cup they would be willing to receive a drink of water from. Those who participate choose the clean one by far.

I then tilt the dirty cup to show the inside of it.

Dirty outside cup tilt 1Dirty outside tilt 2

It could, with a little wiping of the rim, be safely used to share a drink of water.
I then, in my favourite part – especially if I am doing this as part of the children’s message and there are children right in front – tilt the clean cup:
The “euwwwws” when people see the goo are fun. I try to make sure it is wet and oozy for effect.
I then talk about how we judge by appearances, how that is common in society and in church. So in making our choice we didn’t make a mistake, we followed what made sense in picking the clean looking cup.
I then talk about how appearances were also important to some religious leaders in Jesus’ day.
I then read Luke 11:37 to 41.
Often I feel like preaching is unnecessary beyond the reading, the point seems so connected and relevant.
I say a few things more about appearances and about the washing rules (it’s not about germs, but about perceived spiritual contamination. I point out how Jesus uses “vessel” or cup and dish interchangeably with the person themselves and moves from talking about the exterior of the vessel to the inside of the person.
I then turn to Mark 7:1 to 8 and 20 to 23 for further explanation from scripture.
My message is basically that in the church we put pressure on people to keep the outside looking clean, to appear to be perfect, to hide our dirt. By or very fallen nature we like to have measures by which we can estimate our favoured status with God.
The story is told of meeting people who were not involved with church who, when asked why, replied “We’re not GOOD ENOUGH” for church.
Then, just as Jesus challenged the Pharisees I challenge the church to change it’s behaviour. With the help of the cleansing Holy Spirit, we are to “give what is inside” away, to speak of that dirt  in a confessional, cleansing way, so that our inside can be cleaner, so that we can connect better. When I speak of my inner dirt, I have learned I am speaking of yours as well, and you have a choice of rejecting me and clinging to your appearance of cleanliness or entering into authentic relationship with me grounded in our common inner dirt.
This is a tricky transition for a church to make of course because those who let the Spirit pour into the inner parts and begin to speak of what’s really there will appear pretty messy on the outside, and that is precisely when the externally focused church will want to “discipline” them and turn away from them or turn them away. Only a church full of members who have experienced the value of the inner emptying will see the value of embracing that action and waiting for the washing to do it’s work.
That’s the gist of it. If I figure out the technology and my courage of the moment of making this promise holds, I’ll post either an audio or video of this sermon here later.
Back to where I started – the unveiling moment.
I had been given my new job at the Addiction treatment facility, and knew some of what the job entailed – primarily spiritual support for patients learning to live without whatever they were addicted to and hearing their ‘confession’ in their 5th step of the 12 step program. After landing that job, I preached this sermon one more time, and mid-sermon I realized that what the 12 step addiction treatment process does is exactly what I was preaching! I remember freezing and feeling a holy chill and recognizing God’s providence had been at work shaping my thinking so that I was going to get a chance to live what I was calling the church to. And so far (I’m writing this one month into the job) that is proving true in spades, and I am thrilled with it.

One response to “Dirty cups, the church today, and Jesus

  1. Rick

    January 26, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Hey Pete, I like this lesson very much. I know you preached it in Duncan. So often we are judgemental about what we see on the outside of a person only to find something different on the inside. Thanks Pete


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