Meditation based on The Cup of Our Life: A Guide to Spiritual Growth by Joyce Rupp
The promise of Epiphany is that God doesn’t want to keep the Good News of Jesus Christ a secret from anyone. Instead, God wants the light of love and grace and hope and wholeness to be seen everywhere, in expected and unexpected places, by those who have seen the light of Christ before, and those who never have. As Christians, we’re called to keep our eyes open for new epiphanies, new revelations or signs of God’s presence and love. And we’re also called to be prepared for God to use us as messengers of that light and bearers of Christ’s love to others.
Today we are saying goodbye to 2017 and preparing to welcome a new year. More importantly, we’re preparing to welcome the many new opportunities for faithful discipleship and service that 2018 will bring. So we’re borrowing an image from author Joyce Rupp and her book “The Cup of Our Life: A Guide for Spiritual Growth.” That image, as the title suggests, is a cup or a mug - a simple vessel that can be filled or emptied, whole or chipped, open and ready or turned upside down hoping to be passed by.
If you have a mug we invite you to focus on that as you consider the image of a cup as a way of thinking about your relationship with Jesus Christ in the year to come. If you don’t have a mug, we invite you to focus on the images on the screen.
Joyce Rupp begins her book with this poem:
A simple container has spoken in my solitude,
A teacher and bringer of wisdom
whispering truths of an indwelling God
in the container of my soul
hearkening to my hidden ability to be filled
and to pour from a life of abundance
reminding me of necessary boundaries
for nurturing the sacred space within me
inviting me to sip often from the Divine wellspring
source that slakes my spiritual thirst
calling me like a seed in the soil
believe believe believe
in the power that is present
in the life that is possible.
from the Cup of Our Lives by Joyce Rupp
THE CUP OF MY LIFE
A cup or a mug may seem an unlikely teacher for how to live in relationship with Jesus Christ, yet that is precisely the purpose of having cups in our hands and on the screen this morning. A cup can help teach us how to live a life of faith as children of God.
The first lesson a cup can teach us may well be the most difficult to accept. That is that God believes we are eminently loveable so we must believe it too. Just as a cup is formed and shaped, so God formed us out of love. Just as a cup is held in careful hands, so God holds us in hands of love. Just as a cup is filled with refreshment, so God fills us with the transforming light of love.
Having a healthy, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ requires each of us to have a “deep belief in our own loveableness.” We aren’t always good at that, so it helps to have a cup to remind us.
I invite you to hold your cup in your hands. Notice its style, shape, color, and size. Be conscious of yourself as a cup held in God’s hands, created out of love, one of a kind, unique. Hear God speaking Isaiah’s words to you: “I have called you by name, you are mine. You are precious in my sight and I love you.” (Isaiah 43) (pause)
Take a quiet moment to give thanks to God for creating you and loving you as you are. (pause)
Like humans, mugs and other cups come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Yet, despite their differences, they are all made to be containers for some type of liquid – on a day like today, preferably something warm. As a container, a cup serves as a reminder to us that we were created to be containers as well, not of coffee or hot chocolate, but of God’s Divine Presence.
In his gospel, John tells us that when Jesus spoke about being the true vine and his followers being the branches, he said to them, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” (John 15:4) And later, the Apostle Paul asked the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
Hold your empty cup in your hands and notice the space within it.
Think of the space within yourself.
Remember you are filled with God’s Spirit.
You are a container of God’s divine presence. (pause)
Focus on God’s loving presence in you and in every detail of your life,
And listen to God say, “I am here.” (Pause)
THE OPEN CUP
Almost anything needs to be opened to serve its purpose. Clothes need to be opened before we can put them on to receive their warmth and protection. A book requires opening before the contents can be shared. A house has to have a door or window opened before it can provide us shelter. The same holds true for our spiritual self. Being open is a prerequisite for spiritual growth. For God to enter our lives fully, we must be ready to receive. Our minds and hearts need to be receptive so that we can hear an receive what God is offering us.
One of the first steps to being open, is determining what must be emptied out to make room for something new. Many things can cause inner clutter—things like anxiety, resentment, harsh judgments, self-pity, and mistrust. Things like negative thoughts, useless fears and worries, and to do lists can all take up valuable space that could be open to God’s love and hope.
The gospel of Matthew reminds us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Take a moment now and ponder what things in your life are causing inner clutter. What clutter from 2017 do you need to empty in order to be open to God’s new blessings? (pause) Look into your cup. Imagine the clutter that is there. Lift the cup and turn it sideways. Symbolically empty out the clutter from your inner life. Now turn the cup back up and enjoy the freedom of your empty cup. (pause)
Openness is not only about clearing away the clutter. It is also about wonder and surprise. Author Christin Lore Weber writes, “All life is a beginning. I need an open, spontaneous, joyful attitude that knows it does not know. I need an emptiness in me…. I need to find the part in my soul still empty, still able to be surprised, still open to wonder.” Being open means listening for God’s voice and being willing to trust God to know what our souls need most and to provide.
Look into your empty cup and ask God to fill you. (Pause)
God says, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it… I would feed you with the finest of wheat and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
THE BROKEN CUP
With frequent use, cups acquire chips, cracks, and stains. The same is true of us. The longer each of us lives, the more chips and scratches our bodies and our spirits carry. Although we sometimes allow the idol of perfection to trip us up, maybe even promising to love ourselves or let God love us only once we fix ourselves and get everything right, perfection is not within our reach. A genuine relationship with God – and with our fellow human beings - requires that we stop trying to hide the truth of who we are.
Hold your cup in your hands. Study the cup. Notice if there are any flaws o imperfections. Close your eyes and picture your very imperfect self in God’s hands. See God observing how you look on the inside and the outside. Let God see your blemishes and your faults. Hear again the words of the psalmist who wrote: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am wonderfully made. (Pause)
While our faith calls us to stop chasing the idol of perfection, it also requires that we not become complacent. We’ll never be perfect, but with God’s help and guidance, we can be better than we are now. Like a stained coffee mug that needs a good scrubbing, we need to be regularly cleansed, to seek God’s forgiveness AND transforming love. Just as a chipped or stained cup can still be used for its intended purpose, so God can use us in spite of our flaws. Yet God’s love for us means God is always working to mend our hearts and mold us into more faithful followers of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Look again at your cup. Notice if your cup is stained. Ask God to help you see one inner stain of yours. Use the words of Psalm 51 to pray for God’s cleansing: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. . . (Pause)
When a cup is broken, rather than just chipped, it reminds us of those times “when hurts, wounds, [illness], pains, grief, and adversities of all sorts invade our lives and change us forever… The pain may knock us over, like a cup on its side. We may feel like all our hope has been drained out of our lives. . .” and doubt if it can be put back together.
Take your cup in your hands and lay it on its side. Ask God to call to mind a time of brokenness in your life. Know that it takes time and careful mending for a broken cup to be of use again. Even with healing, scars often remain. Yet God can use our scars to bring light to others. As you visualize a deep sorrow, remember that it’s often through our broken places that God’s light shines for others.
Macrina Wiederkehr wrote, “The most helpful discovery of today has been that right in the midst of my sorrows there is always room for joy. Joy and sorrow are sisters; they live in the same house.” Set your cup upright again and imagine a deep sorrow is still there in the cup. Now call to mind a deep joy and visualize it in the cup as well.
Let these two be intermingled into oneness. Hold the cup to your heart as you hear Jesus’ words from John’s gospel, “You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.”
THE BLESSING CUP
Perhaps the best known “cup” in the scriptures is that of the blessing cup in I Corinthians 10: “the blessing cup that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?” The cup of blessing is a term derived from the Jewish Passover rite, meaning not only that the cup is blessed, but also that the cup itself holds a blessing, it holds the gift of life.
In Hebrew scripture, a blessing is perceived to be something that communicates divine life. Blessings were given for a variety of purposes: to invoke divine care; to pray for someone; to regard another with favor; to bring happiness; to guard, preserve, protect and keep safe; and to encourage another. To bless is to bring the touch of God, the touch of love and goodness, to another by our presence as well as by our actions.
Many people have blessed our lives. Probably most of them are unaware of how they have done this unless we have deliberately thanked them for doing so. Take a moment to look into your cup and think about some of the people who have blessed your life. (pause)
Our cups are brimming over with the blessings of God. Joyce Rupp writes, “When I lean back and reflect upon the gifts I have in my life, I realize that the generosity of God is beyond my comprehension. Nothing I could ever do would earn all of these gifts that are freely and lavishly given. I marvel at the gift of my inner and outer life. I am astounded at the daily guidance I receive. I am I awe at the way the world works and at how the intricate human body restores and renews itself. I look at the universe and wonder who this Creating Power is to be so generous with colors, shapes, patterns and designs. I remember the wonderful people who have come into my life, each with a unique gift to share with me, and I know without a doubt that through them I have been touched by Divine Love.”
Some blessings in our lives are disguised or hidden within an otherwise painful experience. Within each struggle there is a blessing waiting to happen. The biblical story of Jacob struggling with God is a symbolic story of our own struggle with the unwanted parts of our life. All during the long night, the darkness, Jacob wrestles with this unknown figure. Jacob is wounded in the process. He is wise enough to say to the angel, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Jacob goes away limping, but he is wiser than he was before the struggle began.
Think of a time in your life when you received a disguised blessing, a blessing hidden within pain or sorrow. (pause) Hold your cup within your hands. Picture all of God’s blessings filling your cup to the brim. Give thanks to God for the disguised blessings, the blessings of people in our lives and the blessing of God’s unconditional, extravagant, love. (pause)
“What return shall I make to God for all God’s bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of God!” (Psalm 116:12)