My Cup Runneth Over

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

My grandfather had no more than an elementary school education. He was a construction worker in his youth, and a mailman in his later days. He sent all of his kids through college, made them bring their textbooks home, so he could read them cover to cover and learn from his kids what they were learning. He also was a man who had large portions of the Bible memorized, in the King James Version, of course. I can recall how strange and startling it was to have a conversation with him. He had a way of weaving and sprinkling verses into almost every conversation you had with him. He expected of his children and grandchildren to know and understand those verses, but also to know by chapter and verse the context out of which they were taken. Now that I look back on it, his conversations were living and breathing examples of intertextuality.

So, as his grandson and a trained biblical scholar, I must confess that I am rather embarrassed and ashamed of myself that I had to use a computer concordance to locate a snippet of the King James that was going through my head yesterday, "my cup runneth over." Maybe I didn't recognize it because of the heavy seasonal allergies and headache that I was having yesterday (thank God it rained last night!). Maybe it was all the distraction and anxiety from the current Covid-19 crisis. Nevertheless, I have observed that in the midst of crisis, old, well worn verses, like this one from the 23rd Psalm, start to church through our heads. I have often witnessed this Psalm on the lips of people in distress, whether a terminally ill inmate in the Kentucky State Reformatory, or elderly patients I have visited in the hospital. Scripture like the 23rd Psalm surfaces in times like these as a kind of muscle memory, providing hope, comfort, spiritual care in times of great distress. 

Or maybe this verse came to me because of an incident I had yesterday at the Community Table of the Stanly County Christian Ministry, on whose board I have the pleasure of serving for the next three years. There were a group of four of us serving lunch yesterday. Because of the virus, SCCM started serving carry out lunches, rather than the seated dining we usually provide to the at risk population we serve daily. Yesterday we served about 80 box lunches of sandwich, fruit, chips, cookie, and a drink. Most folks either walked or pulled up in the parking lot, hopped out, came to our front door where we had a table set up, and picked up their lunch and a drink of sweet tea, unsweet, or water that we poured for them right there on the spot.

We were close to closing up when an older man in ragged and dirty clothes pulled up in a beat up old trunk with tons of trash and recycling in the back. He had clearly been working hard collecting from curbsides that morning, and looked every bit tired, sweaty, dirty, and frustrated. He came to the door to pick up his lunch, and get a cool drink. He demanded, not asked, that I double the ice in his cup. Given that we had plenty of cups left and were close to closing, I complied. Then he told me to fill his cup to the brim, which I did. He guzzled it all down in seconds. Then, shoving the cup in my face, he demanded again loudly that I fill it all the way up, not halfway, as he implied I had done last time. Smiling, quite frankly because I was taken about by the gruffness of his commands, I complied and filled it while he held the cup in his hand before me. It was maybe an eighth of an inch from the top when he started berating me,

"all the way, I said, all the way, fool, what's wrong with you people?"

I hesitated and said, "sir, that's enough, I can fill it for you again, but it will spill if I pour more in now."

Then he raised his voice and commanded, "fill it ALL THE WAY. I can hold it steady. What's wrong with you?"

Being a bit scared at this point at his confrontational tone, I decided to comply. Even as careful as I was trying to be, predictably, the sweet tea poured over and spilled all over the serving table. After grumbling at me, he again guzzled it down. But afterwards he went back to his truck, pulled out a dirty red rag, brought it back to the table, and wiped it clean. As he turned back to his truck, I could hear him grumbling, "what's wrong with you people?" And with that, he fired up his truck, threw it into gear, and revved out of the parking lot, the over-weighted truck groaning and struggling with all it's might to pull up the hill.

When I drove home from SCCM yesterday, I heard the phrase, "what's wrong with you people?" echoing around in my head, mixed in with the snippet of Bible verse, "my cup runneth over." When a friend posted on Facebook today that the 23rd Psalm was the lectionary text for the today, I just felt I had to share this story Maybe I'm a bit too late to post this for all my  preacher friends who battled their way through the technology of streaming services today. Maybe they can use this for their own devotion this evening, or keep it tucked away for when this Sunday comes around again in a few years.

I think what I needed to learn yesterday was a lesson about abundance. I know that lots of folks have been out panic buying this past week or so. I am not exempt. I'm sure my wife is quite curious what I am going to do with the two bags of black beans and three bags of rice I bought this past week, "just in case." Maybe our consumerist identity is so deeply ingrained within us that panic buying is the only means we have of feeling in control. Yesterday's interaction with the man at SCCM was really all about control, his need to feel in control, and my need to cede it. So I am thankful for the lesson about toxic charity I learned.

As his cup overflowed, maybe we both learned something else about control and letting go. You see, as in the 23rd Psalm, maybe God's abundance is enough for us.   Maybe as humans we can't comprehend how abundant God's grace is. When you think about it, God's grace is quite wasteful, often feels wasted on us. We often don't even recognize it until after a lot of needless and silly jockeying for power and control. But when we look back, sometimes we see grace overflowing in our lives, like a cup of cold sweet tea spilling over the lip of a styrofoam cup. Friends, my cup runneth over. I pray that, in these times of distress, you will find moments when yours will too.

If you would like to donate to the work of SCCM in this time of need, please follow this link. We anticipate that many folks who are on the margins financially will be seeking out our services in the coming weeks. 

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