Summary: Ordination of Troy L. Dixon, Nov. 1989: We pursue the trappings of religion instead of what is truly value. As a common clay vessel, be wary of power games, know that your foundation can crumble, focus on the treasure of the Gospel.

Somehow in men’s minds the paraphernalia of religion get to be more important than the faith itself. It is one of the enduring problems of religious life, how it is that we get far more caught up and invested in the trappings of religion than in the faith itself.

In your average church, you cannot get people interested in talking about the core issues of the faith; you cannot work up much of a sweat by asking someone what theory of the atonement he espouses or how Isaiah 7: 14 is to be interpreted or if she can explain how intercessory prayer works. In your average church, there is a little embarrassment, in the first place, that we really haven’t thought much about these rather far-off, esoteric issues; but beyond that, well, we just reserve our energies for the important stuff, the emotional stuff:

Like what color the carpet should be

Like whether songs I like to sing have come up often enough

Like whether somebody sat in my pew, the place I always sit

Like whether my class, my group, my family, my whatever, got recognized.

Those are the places where energy gets burned; those are the issues that heat up the thermometer and punch up the decibels.

Somehow in men’s minds the paraphernalia of religion, the trappings of church, get to be more important than the faith itself. The container is valued more than the contents.

The legends of King Arthur, passed on from the centuries even before the Middle Ages in Britain, are in no small measure preoccupied with the quest of the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail, if you will recall, according to the legend, was that cup which had been used by our Lord at the Last Supper, then had passed on into the hands of Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph, standing near the Cross, had supposedly captured a cupful of the precious blood of Christ in this cup and then, unlikely as it may seem, had brought it to Britain and to the place now called Glastonbury Abbey.

Now remember, all of this is the stuff of legend and myth, and I trust none of us here gives any credence to it; it’s just not history as you and I would think of historical fact. But what intrigues me is that over the years the myth of Christ’s cup grew and grew and took on a kind of mystical significance, so that by the time the legends of King Arthur were told and retold, the quest for the Holy Grail, the quest for this cup, this vessel, had become a picture for the whole human pilgrimage.

If a young man can but find the Holy Grail, in the legends of King Arthur, then he will have found his life’s meaning. If a young man, a dashing Sir Galahad, can but keep his heart pure, then maybe some day he will be ushered into the presence of the Holy Grail, and thus be at the pinnacle of his powers.

This little cup, this ancient vessel, in the legend, becomes a symbol for the aspirations of every man; it becomes the picture of the ideal of all humanity; it becomes a mark of the search for something pure and yet tangible, something spiritual and yet physical, something we can possess and yet which possesses and drives us. The Holy Grail

But do you know what? The archaeologists tell us that the closest thing they have ever found to this elusive Holy Grail is not a cup, but rather a cup holder... not a vessel itself, but an elaborately worked and finely crafted silver filigree, designed so that you can place a cup inside it. And this, we think, was the Holy Grail; this the object of all the romance and legend and pursuit of the age of chivalry -- not the cup itself, but something to hold the cup, and certainly not the contents of the cup, which had long since disappeared.

What an irony! That the symbol of all that human striving, all those years of longing and questing, should turn out not to be the real thing, but something made to hold the real thing, and, irony upon ironies, that even if the real vessel had been found, it would have still not have been the authentic object of men’s searches, for the treasure, the blood of Christ, was no longer there.

In other words, they had spent their energies looking for a vessel to contain a vessel to contain the treasure. So somehow it is that the mind of man runs to the paraphernalia and the trappings rather than the real thing.

I see this ordination service as the outward shell, the holder made for the cup. We have invested and are investing a great deal of energy in this occasion. We have cooked and cleaned, we have prepared and gotten all robed up, we have practiced our songs and some of you have driven many miles to get here.

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