Beautiful Fragile Chalice, by Rev Fred Kinsey
Two weeks ago our beautiful communion chalice for the wine had an unfortunate accident. First, while being washed, the cup part, dislodged itself from the base it sits on. As you know, this is handmade pottery, and it’s constructed that way, in two pieces. After worship, I had no less than three offers to fix it! Each offer seemed more intriguing, and the third was to actually re-fire it in a 500 degree oven and epoxy it back together, much like it had been made originally. So, we went with that offer! I’m not going to tell you who that was, to protect the innocent. And, because, when they took it home to work on it, just before putting it in the oven, it was accidentally knocked to the ground, and broken beyond repair! I’m just glad it wasn’t me!
So, I got on the phone to call our friends in Ohio, a mom and pop business that makes this communion ware, with great love, individually, one at a time, the ole fashioned way, on a pottery wheel. The husband answered the phone, who told me they only make the pouring chalices, like we use, in one style now, the Otoe, which, thank goodness, just happens to be the kind we use! I told him how much we like their chalices, and about our unfortunate accident, and that we’d love to purchase another one. And at first he told me it would take at least 7-10 days, and this was on Monday, but when I came into the office on Friday, there it was on my desk already! They had shipped it 2nd day air for no extra charge. I was touched, that we would have this homemade chalice, made with love and care, so beautiful, yet so fragile, in time for Sunday worship today! This is the vessel, after all, in which is poured the blood of Christ, at the feast, for our nourishment, solidarity, and salvation. This chalice contains the sacrifice of the one who has changed our world, and gives each of us a second chance, once again, every day.
John the Baptist arrives on the scene today, on Advent’s Second Sunday, to prepare the way for us to be ready for this one, the one who’s coming, who is even more powerful than John. “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals,” said the Baptizer. “I have baptized you with water; but the Messiah who is coming, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Actually, John had a large following of his own. So his modesty is not completely honest – [and, a bit tongue and cheek]! John’s mission and calling was to appeal to God’s people, to wake up and be ready, as we like to say in Advent, because he was downright fanatical that the Messiah was on the way, coming soon, any day. He was like Elijah in the desert, living off the land, the prophet who everybody expected to return, when the Messianic age was to arrive. And if that was not enough symbolism, then his baptizing by the River Jordan was also a highly charged and symbolic gesture, suggesting that his ministry of baptism was not just about cleansing, but about the action, of the living God, who had once before brought Israel into the promised land, in just this way, under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, by way of – wait for it – the Jordan River!
So this was symbolic, of a New Exodus! This was the special calling and ministry of John the Baptist, which is pretty impressive. But, as he said, even he was not worthy to be [a servant] to Jesus the Messiah, the giver of the Holy Spirit, the one who will infuse us with the new age to come, through his sacrificial life, like a Passover Lamb, his blood poured out for many – offered to us in the beautiful, yet fragile, cup of salvation.
So John was the appropriate one to announce, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!”
But just, how do we do that? One way, of course, is by taking responsibility for ourselves, by confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness. We can cleanse our hearts, relying on the promise of our baptism, just as Martin Luther’s Catechism teaches. But the traditions of the church, as we know, come from somewhere, as Luther also taught. The church is not infallible and must continually reform itself by going back to the scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Or as that earlier reformer, John the Baptist said, “I have baptized you with water; but the Messiah will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
So John, with the whole people of Israel, was waiting in hopeful expectation for their nation to be renewed, freed, and restored, by the coming Messiah. The good news of God was coming in the person of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. And it was not enough that people were being cleansed with John’s baptism of water. That was the sign of personal renewal, which was just part of a larger act in preparation for the living God’s redemption, or as Peter would later say, the one “we wait for [who will create] new heavens and a new earth,” and a home for righteousness.
To “Prepare the way of the Lord,” and “make his paths straight,” requires changing the injustices of our human made social structures. The Messiah would free them up from every oppression. Or, as Isaiah’s hopefully said, “Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”
That their Roman occupiers could demand of Jesus’ disciples, or any of their survile Israelites, to drop what they were doing, at any time, and carry their military packs and equipment, for example, meant they were not free, and, regularly humiliated. That they had no control over the oppressive taxes they were required to pay, meant they were institutionally impoverished. The Messiah would, lift up every valley, and make low every mountain and hill, and establish God’s peaceful reign, and free them from such enslavement.
Today, in America, we enslave people of our own society, by unjust laws and oppressive institutions. The Emancipation Proclamation, backed up by a bloody Civil War, created freedom, unfortunately, on paper only. Jim Crow laws, continued the injustice, and today, inequality is still silently in place in other, mostly invisible laws, based on racial bias. It is so deeply imbedded in our culture, that we can’t even believe our eyes. In a recent controlled experiment, for example, when a white person was shown a picture of a white man pointing a gun or a knife at an unarmed black person, still half the people got it mixed up and saw it the other way around.
We still have a long way to go to straighten out and level the roads between us. And so, I am heartened by the peaceful protests across the country interrupting us, again and again, to demand justice, for choking victim Eric Garner, for example, because surprisingly, these demonstrations have already continued long past the regular news cycle, and latest fading fad. Even talking heads on the news from left and right, usually on opposite sides, are beginning to find some agreement on this one.
Isaiah – who prophesied Israel’s Exile, and a way out – put it this way,
“3A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
The reign of God is a beautiful yet fragile vessel, a cup of blessing that we hold in our very hands. It is filled with the sacrifice of our Messiah and savior. It is an open cup for all. Let us drink deeply from it, and be filled with the life changing new creation we still long for, and know is coming, if we do not drop this opportunity for change, however fragile, a justice, that can lead to peace for all. In this, is our Advent hope: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!”