Cracked Vessels of Grace

Epiphany V – February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31

Mark 1:29-39

Cracked Vessels of Grace

 A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.

 I can hear the news seller shouting Isaiah’s headline: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you from the beginning?…. Lift up your eyes and see…“ Prophets, and poets, and singers, and disciples have echoed this headline… headline news for people hungry for to hear what is good and right… to hear news about where are God’s work is being seen and lifted up in our world. In the messiness and complexities of our lives we hear… “Have you knot known? Have you not heard? …God does not faint or grow weary… God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless… those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles….” Words of Good News from a prophet…

I was heartened yesterday to read a blog post by the publisher of the Huffington Post who was making the case for publishing more news about what is working in our world, about innovation and even notes of grace amidst news stories that report on violence, unrest and war… hard news taking place across the globe and in our part of the world. Arianna Huffington writes:

And to be clear, I’m not talking about simple heartwarming stories, or aw-shucks moments, or adorable animals (although don’t worry, we’ll still give you plenty of those as well). What I’m talking about is consistently telling the stories of people and communities doing amazing things, overcoming great odds and coming up with solutions to the very real challenges they face.[1] 

Huffington writes that it is time to shift away from the decades old adage, “If it bleeds, it leads” …meaning that headlines about violence, mayhem and corruption grab more readers and sell more papers.   Crime and murder rates have actually gone down, but the reporting of these events has remained essentially the same. In his book Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has argued that we are living, perhaps, in the least violent and cruel period in human history. Huffington argues that intense focus on bad news is both factually and ethically bankrupt and that it is time to restore a more accurate sense of proportion… and that the data shows that the most frequent reposting of items on social media are items of good news… suggesting that there is, indeed, a hunger for good news!   It is time to lift up good news…. to focus on what is working in our world. Arianna writes:

Our world is full of crises, dysfunction and corruption, with often tragic human consequences. And we will of course continue relentlessly to cover all of them, from ISIS and Boko Haram to climate change, Ebola, youth unemployment and growing income inequalities. But even in these stories the picture presented needs to be much more complete. How people are responding, how they’re reaching out to their neighbors, how they’re rising to the occasion is far too often left out.

 Amidst the brokenness in our world… there is much grace. The Good News is that God is working in, and around, and through us… and it is for us to feel, embody, and live out this message.

We come here this morning to hear the Good News once again…. and to remember our place and our calling within the larger picture that is God’s. In our Gospel lesson we have another healing story as Jesus goes to the house of Simon and Andrew. There is no mention of Jesus actually healing Simon’s mother-in-law. She was in bed with a fever. When Jesus heard that the woman was sick he went to her, took her by the hand, and lifted her up. There is no mention of Jesus actually performing the healing. And when he lifted her up the woman began serving. That evening all who were sick or possessed were brought to Jesus. In these stories he did heal and cast out demons… demons who seek to deny and block the movement of health and well being.

After this, in the early hours of morning, Jesus went to a deserted place to be alone and pray. Simon and his companions found him and let him know that the news was spreading. People were hungry for healing. Jesus answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” By his words, and his presence and his actions of healing Jesus incarnated the Good News… news that the ancient world hungered for…. news for which we are hungry yet today.

One might be struck by the fact that Simon’s mother got up from her sick bed, possibly a deathbed, as there were no antibiotics in the day. She got up and immediately began serving. The point that Mark is making is that her healing was full and complete. No recuperation time was required. The word used for her service is “diakoneo” the source of our word for deacon, or diaconate. This kind of service is not inherently subservient. In addition to serving, as would a household servant, diakoneo refers to a larger notion of providing the necessities of life such as taking care of the poor and needy. We, too, are called into healing. We, too, are called to serve.

Here is another piece of good new: We don’t have to be perfect in our service, nor are we expected to be. In fact, the notion of doing, or being… perfect… is a hindrance both to ourselves and to our service. Only God is perfect. The gifts of our imperfection, not of our carelessness or sloppiness, but the gift of our whole selves, warts, blemished, weaknesses and all, are to be offered… in faithfulness… in sharing the Good News of God’s call to life in the world.

On the topic of imperfection I would like to share a story:

There was a man in India whose job it was to transport water from one place to another. He would carry the water in two large pots that hung on either end of a pole that rested across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house… while the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years the man carried his two pots of water, one of them emptying half of its contents along the way. “Of course”…. the pots in this story can think, feel, and even speak! The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect in its ability to carry water, a task for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot…. it was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable because it was only able to accomplish half of what it had been originally created to do.

 One day while at the stream, after two years of feeling a bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the water bearer. He said, “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”

“Why?” asked the water bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”

The pot answered: “I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load… because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all of the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts.”

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path. This cheered him… some.

When the end of the trail was reached the cracked pot sill felt bad because it, once again, leaked out half its load. Again the pot apologized to the water bearer for its failure. The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path… but no on the other pot’s side?   That is because I have always known about our flaw, and took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walked back from the stream, you have watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s tale. Without you being just the way you are, such beauty would not grace the great house.

We are chipped and broken vessels… beloved of God… and called to serve. We have been created in perfect love but we need not seek to be perfect. To seek to be perfect, and to serve with a sense that our service will not be good enough until it we do it perfectly… is to use the wrong compass. Each of us has flaws… we are human after all… and we have wounds that we have collected over the course of our life. As I said in last Sunday’s sermon… these wounds can heal and get smaller over time, but they never fully disappear. They become part of us, scars that we wear as badges of life. We are all broken in some way or another… and it is within our brokenness, and our belovedness, that we are called to fullness of life and service, large and small.   We are to offer the whole of ourselves and to use our gifts, our wisdom, and knowledge gained from our mistakes, from our hurt and pain, from knowing the feeling of insecurity, and to live into the strengths gleaned from this knowledge. Christ’s invitation is to bring the whole of ourselves, to respond to the divine calling, and to have this life giving invitation be our compass and our north star. Christ calls is unto healing and wholeness, and Christ calls is to share this Good News.   “Have you not heard? Have you not seen?… Lift up your eyes and see” says the prophet Isaiah.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            AMEN….

[1] What’s Working: All the News That’s Fit to Print,