Lauren J. McFeaters
May 27, 2018
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Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of a desperate woman whose life is full of anxiety. The woman senses no purpose to her life, so she decides she must search for life’s meaning.
First, she first reads everything she can get her hands on – history, philosophy, psychology, religion. And while she becomes a very smart person, nothing she reads gives her the answers she is looking for.
So, she sets off, away from home, and goes into the world and talks to as many people as she can, but no two people can agree on life’s purpose and meaning.
Then she hears of a man who does have this kind of knowledge and wisdom and in desperation travels thousands of miles to find him deep in the Himalayas. I think there must be a surfeit of wise people living in the Himalayas. This old man lives in a shed perched on the side of a mountain. She climbs and climbs and arrives in triumph and knocks at his door.
“Yes?” says the old man who comes to the door.
She thought she had gone to heaven
and died of happiness.
“I have traveled around the world
to ask you one question.
What is the meaning of my life?”
“Please, come in and have some tea,”
says the man.
“No. Sorry,” she says.
“I mean no disrespect, and really, I don’t,
but no thank you.
I didn’t come all this way for tea.
I came for an answer.
Please tell me, what is the meaning of my life?
I will perish without understanding.”
“We shall have tea,”
the old man said.
So, she resigned herself, gave up trying,
and went inside.
And while the man was brewing and steeping the tea,
the woman began to chatter about all the many books she had read,
all the many the people she had encountered,
and all the many the places she had visited.
And then, just then, the man placed a fragile tea cup
in her hands
and he began to pour the tea.
She was so busy speaking she didn’t notice her cup was filled.
The old man just kept pouring,
until the tea ran over the sides and spilled onto the floor.
“What are you doing!” she shrieked,
“It’s spilling all over my hands and leaking everywhere.
It’s full. It’s full. Can’t you see?
There’s no more room!”
“Just so,” said the man.
“You come here wanting something from me,
but what am I to do?
There is no more room in your cup.
Come back when it is empty
and then we will talk.”
Meanwhile, many years ago and miles to the west, a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus came in secret to see Jesus at night. They held back on the tea, the cups, and the ritual. The outcome, however, was the same. Nicodemus came looking for answers – about life’s meaning, faith’s place in the world, and his identity in God’s kingdom.
Like the old man, Jesus would not play this endless, wordy game and instead poured tea all over his visitor and said, “Nicodemus you already have teapots full of questions and gallons full of answers, yet you will not receive my testimony.” [i]
Have you not listened?
Have you not heard?
Over and over and over again I’ve been saying:
Very truly I tell you.
Very truly I tell you.
Very truly I tell you.
So, how’s the tea in your cup? Is it full to brimming? Overflowing? Is there any room for more? Is your cup empty and ready to be filled? Did you even know you had a teacup in your hands? Do you even drink tea?
This time of year, I like to drink my tea over ice with extra lemon, a sprig of mint, and never with sugar. That’s a hint to have me over for tea. We can compare the emptiness or fullness of our cups. Because as Brown Taylor says; sometimes we need is one droplet of teachability; one drip of openness; one dribble of trust. [ii]
When the Reverend John Buchanan retired after 48 years as a Presbyterian pastor; he gave an interview for a magazine that looked back over his five decades of ministry. He especially remembered one Sunday when he baptized a two-year-old boy.
During the baptism, John Buchanan, following the Presbyterian liturgy, put his hand on the little boy’s head. (You can probably recite the words by heart.)
“Child of the covenant, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, rest and abide with you from this time forth and forever more.”
And then turning to the congregation saying, “This child is the newest member of Christ’s church. He has been sealed by the Spirit and belongs to Christ Jesus forever.”
And then, without warning, the little boy looked up and responded, “Uh-oh.”
It was an amusing moment, and the people of the congregation laughed because it was darling, but “it was also an appropriate response,” wrote Buchanan, “… a stunning theological affirmation” from the mouth of this little boy. [iii]
And undeniably, “uh-oh” is an affirmation of so much. The expression is an acknowledgement that everything has changed, noting remains the same, and this one little boy is transformed. He belongs body and soul to the Lord who loves him. He belongs body and soul to Christ Jesus forever and ever.
No wonder he said, “Uh oh.” [iv]
This is what Jesus wants for Nicodemus. Not to set up faith’s sufficient proofs and arriving at a clear conclusion; but rather to recognize that in accepting God so loves him he belongs to heaven, to eternal life, and to God’s salvation.
- Is there room in your cup Nicodemus?
- Is there room for an eternal cup from above?
- Is there room in your heart for your God?
This is what Jesus wants for us.
We are not so different from Nicodemus. We come week after week seeking our meaning and bringing our questions. Week after week we put up our walls and build up our fortifications. Week after week we carry our pain, and drag our anxiety, and ask God to make things better.
Our prayers begin “Lord God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and end with “Lord God, forgive us our debts.” And it goes on and on and on.
We are so much like Nicodemus. Laura Mendenhall puts it this way: “We struggle for the prize not recognizing that the prize is already ours.” [v]
If we could just look into our cups.
God is pouring forth salvation.
Is your cup empty and ready to be filled?
Is there room in your cup for God?
If not, make some, because your life, our life together, will never, ever be the same.
Thanks be to God.
[i] Barbara Brown Taylor. “Stay for Tea, Nicodemus, John 3:1-17.” Living by the Word Column, Christian Century, February 21, 1996. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation 1996 and the Gale Group 2004.
[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor.
[iii] John Buchanan. “Beginnings and Endings,” The Christian Century, Jan 25, 2012, as quoted by Tom Long in his sermon, The Start of the Trail: John 3:1-17. Day 1, a Ministry of the Alliance for Christian Media, Atlanta, GA, Day1.org, June 3, 2012.
© 2018 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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