The Fragile Cup
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-18
Last week on Facebook I read about the passing of my high school choral director, Donald Batiste. In 6th grade, I signed up for chorus. Soon my parents learned that Mr. Batiste taught piano lessons and asked if he would be my teacher. In middle school, I was socially awkward and terribly unsure of myself and who I was meant to be… as so many of us were at that age. It wasn’t long before Mr. Batiste asked me if I would be willing to accompany the school chorus. The offer both terrified me and thrilled me simultaneously. That one choral selection became many over time and, by the end of senior year, about 90% of what both the Junior and Senior High choruses performed was accompanied by me. Mr. Batiste also trusted me to rehearse the small vocal ensemble when his schedule required him to, impossibly, be in two places at one time. I owe a lot to Mr. Batiste. But, what I didn’t realize during high school was that Mr. Batiste was helping me discover something unique and basic about the person God had created me to be. I am a collaborator. I didn’t remain a professional accompanist, but to this day, any project, task, or activity is more enjoyable to me when I work on it with someone. Later this month I’ll begin Coaching training with the conference. The first required text for the training is a book entitled “Co-active Coaching.” Or as they define it in the book, collaborative coaching.
Psalm 139 is a beautiful celebration of how we are uniquely formed and “hand-crafted,” so to speak, by our creator. Some bible scholars speculate that the author of the Psalm was being falsely accused or maligned by others. The psalm, however, celebrates that, whatever others may think of us, God knows us intimately because God is the one who made us. Or, as one bible scholar puts it: this psalm is a poetic proclamation that “the divine you knows me.”[i]
Our scripture, from beginning to end, affirms the value of humanity. In Genesis 1, the first account of creation, as God beholds his creation, stage by stage, he accesses at each step along the way that it is good… until God makes humankind in his own image. Then, God sees and evaluates that it is “very good.”[ii] As Christians, we affirm our faith in an incarnate God, one who chose to take on human flesh and form and live among us. We believe that each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made, lovingly knit together by the hands of our Creator. The Hebrew word used in verse 13, stating that God has “formed” us is the same word used of God’s action in forming the chosen people, Israel. In the book of Deuteronomy, just before his death, Moses recites a song in which he celebrates God’s faithful and loving care for the people of Israel and admonishes them to be faithful to God, declaring, “Is the Lord not your father, who formed you, who made you and established you.”[iii]
We are, as individuals and as a faith community, carefully and lovingly formed by God.
And yet, our forms are finite and fragile and we find ourselves living in a sometimes brutal world. The apostle Paul said it like this: “…we have this treasure in clay jars…”[iv] Paul uses this metaphor of our bodies being like earthen or clay jars when he writes to the Christians in Corinth. It was a metaphor which would have had great meaning for them. You see, Corinth was a city well known for a type of pottery lamp. The clay was stretched very thin which made it excellent for allowing light to shine through. And so, Paul likens the Corinthian Christians to these clay lamps. The glory of Christ, the light of the world, shines through them. Yet, they are still fragile and finite. Like this thin pottery, our bodies are easily shattered by sickness, tragedy, violence, and suffering.
Right now, in the midst of this pandemic, many of us are particularly aware of the frailty of our human form. This past week I read a friend’s Facebook post. She wrote: “Anyone else find themselves irrationally irritated about small things for no good reason lately? (And by "lately" I mean "In These Our Troubled Pandemic Times.") I feel like my normal contentedness is out of whack.” Also this past week, I was speaking with two friends about our pandemic sleep patterns. We feel a little lazy, even mildly embarrassed. We seem to be sleeping more and our usual sleep cycles are off. A couple months back I watched a reporter ask a group of young moms if they felt they’d been drinking more since the pandemic struck and every one of them sheepishly raised their hand. Perhaps of greatest concern are statistics related to young adults. In a CDC study of adults, ages 18-24, 91 percent reported moderate to high stress levels, 39 percent reported moderate to severe anxiety, and 53 percent reported moderate to severe depression.[v]
Friends, we are discovering that we are like those delicate clay jars. Yet we must not forget that we carry a treasure within us. We are lovingly formed and knit together by God who creates and calls us into community with one another.
Last week my sermon focused on our need to be willing to answer God’s call to serve others; to be ready to pour ourselves out for the well-being of others. But, we cannot pour from empty jars. We must also care wisely for ourselves. We are fearfully and wonderfully made; of enormous value to God, despite our human fragility. Friends, even Jesus in human form, knew how essential it was to eat and rest and pray and spend time with friends. In Mark, chapter 6, we find one of the best examples of this. John the Baptist has just been beheaded and the disciples have just returned from a missionary journey. They are all tired. Their lives are so hectic; they are even having trouble finding time to eat. So Jesus calls them to a deserted place for some quiet time away to rest and recharge. But, the crowds follow them again. Jesus sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd and so he teaches and ministers to them that day. However, when the day ends, Jesus sends the disciples out in the boat and he heads up on the mountain for quiet time in prayer. His earlier quest for rest was delayed, but Jesus will not allow it to be indefinitely denied. And neither can we. If we love others, there will be times when we must push through because someone truly needs us. There are times when we must deny ourselves for the well-being of others. But, we cannot indefinitely deny our own human needs or it will catch up to us and these thin clay jars will begin to crack under the stress. We must learn how to appropriately fill our own cups.
This morning after we take communion, I’ve asked Lisa to play the chorus “Fill My Cup, Lord.” I have placed on the communion rails, altar and table in the narthex some sheets of paper with some very basic questions about self-care related to sleep, diet, exercise, prayer/meditation, relationships and Sabbath. I hope that you will come forward and pick one up or you can get it online at
Now, you might be thinking, “Why should I take five minutes in church and do a self-care assessment? That seems stupid; like a waste of time.” Well, here’s why: because if you don’t do it while you’re here, you probably just won’t get around to it AND, more importantly, because it’s important. You’re important. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and yet, the treasure that is you, resides within a fragile clay jar that must be carefully cared for so the light that is Christ within you can keep shining through. That’s why. So take five minutes to think about how well you care for yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup.
[I also want to let you know that this past Wednesday’s Twenty at Twilight was a guided meditation also built around this theme of self-care so I’d invite you to check that out on Trinity’s Facebook page. Or, view it at https://youtu.be/iCpCcU6B27I.]
[i] The New Interpreter’s Bible: a Commentary in Twelve Volumes; vol. 4; Abingdon Press; 1996; p. 1235. The section on Psalms is written by J. Clinton McCann, Jr.
[ii] Genesis, chapter 1
[iii] Exodus 32:6b. Also see Exodus 15:16 and Psalm 74:2.
[iv] 2 Corinthians 4:7
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