Popsicle Sticks, “P” Traps, and Plumbers Named Larry

I love popsicles. I do not know why. I suppose it’s the sugar content, or the fact that they turn my tongue bright and not quite normal colors. I get the boxes that have orange, red, and purple – the box says they are cherry, grape, and orange, I doubt there are actual fruits anywhere near, nor do I guess at how and with what they were created. No, I don’t look at the ingredients, never have, never will. There are simply some things in life better left unknown. True for you?

I’ve tried the 100% real fruit “frozen desert treats” a couple of times. You know, when I’m feeling like all the chemicals I’m putting in my digestion system are not helping my health of body or mind. I suppose they’re good – I do end up finally finishing a box of them and sorta feel good about myself being healthy and all. But they’re creamier and most often don’t turn my tongue unnatural colors, what’s that all about? I once had a guy who cut my hair who had a heart attack in his early 40’s and he had totally changed his diet and his life. When I asked how he knew what to eat and what not to eat he literally said, “if it tastes and looks like cardboard, you can have it. If it doesn’t, you can’t.” I believe that’s a slight exaggeration.

As I shared a few weeks ago on Sunday morning, I inadvertently dropped a popsicle stick down my kitchen drain that Friday. Being a grand recycler, I use my empty popsicle sticks for various purposes around my home. One is to scoop catfood out of the cans for my cats – they work marvelously for that purpose. So I was rinsing off the stick, it slipped out of my hands and had to have hit one of the little slots in the sink drain just perfectly – I’m sure I couldn’t do it again if I tried which I haven’t yet. So what I know about plumbing is that there is a “P” trap – several of you explained after my sermon illustration that it’s called that because of the shape of the pipe, so there’s that. I opened the undersink cabinet, cleared out all my supplies, and proceeded to “lefty-loosy” the nuts that held the “p” trap in place and voila – the “p” pipe trap came off and I took out the popsicle stick and life was good. I “righty-tightied” the nuts back on, put all my stuff back and turned on the faucet to be sure there were no leaks. There were not no leaks, and the not-no-leaks were not at the “p” trap but in the straight pipe leading to the sink drain, and I hadn’t even touched that pipe or nut! No worries, I proceeded to get a wrench and righty-tightied the nut up by the sink drain. Reasonable, right? Except after a couple of wrench righty- tighty-ing turns it suddenly lefty-loosied and the pipe fell down. Ain’t nobody got time for that, as a friend of mine might say.

Have you ever been certain in the belief of your own abilities and skills for which you actually have no training? Yeah, me too! It seemed simple enough to solve. I made a quick trip to a DIY treasure trove of tools and pipes and nuts and washers and all things plumber-esque in the designated aisle. Not only fun, but effective and quite ego-satisfying. On my way out the door I did have a moment of humility or uncertainty, not sure which, and decided to make one phone call to a wiser and more experienced person who’s known me for no few times of DIY projects. I explained the situation and what I was planning on doing, and they said, “Call a plumber.” What?!? I am handy-dandy with tools whose names I cannot always recall but whose uses are quite clear to me. I have a beloved bright candy-apple red toolbox filled with them! I have electric drills and hammers that I love! I knew this wasn’t an electric drill and hammer project, but I love them.

“Call a plumber” they continued to say, as I shared how reasonable my plan was and how much cheaper it would be for me to DIY it. Then they asked the question. “How has the DIY part gone for the project up to this point?” Whaaaaaat?!? I couldn’t help it that removing the “p” trap and rescuing the popsicle stick and re-engaging the “p” trap exactly as it had been removed had resulted in leakage at a whole nother intersection of the plumbing system. That was like the fault of the builder’s plumbing sub-contractor who must not have put it together correctly in the first place. There was dramatic disagreement around that fact. But, even though I knew I could fix it, I hung up the phone and turned around and called a plumber. “Larry” happened to be in the area already and was there within 45 minutes. Looked at the situation, nodded his head, came back in with a new nut and a couple of new washers and a bigger and newer wrench than mine, which I had generously offered to let him use. And in about 5 minutes he was done. He didn’t charge me much, said it happened all the time, and paused for no small amount of time when I asked him if he knew of other people who would just have fixed it themselves. He smiled and in essence said he knew a vast number of people who try to fix this very problem themselves and he believed 90% of the time the leak increased and they end up calling a plumber to fix their fixing. Then he said that asking for help from someone who knows what they’re doing is not a sign of weakness. Okay, so who made him certain of his abilities to make deeply theological statements for which he likely had no training?!? *snort*

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’ (Luke 22:24-27, NRSV)

This statement from Jesus comes in the upper room after Jesus has instituted what we know as the Lord’s Supper and has told them that one among them will betray him, to which all the disciples ask each other who it could possibly be – they all were so very confident that they knew their own strength to follow Jesus through the most difficult of times. Belief in their own abilities in situations for which they have no training, or insight, or understanding?

Faith isn’t primarily (if at all) about what we believe. That’s a little controversial, don’t you think? But we often make that mistake. We think if we simply believe the right things, then not only are we fine, we can judge others for not believing the way we do. The disciples believe the right things. They believe they will follow Jesus to the death. Peter says in the same setting, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” to which Jesus responds that in fact Peter will deny ever even knowing Jesus three different times.

If faith isn’t primarily if at all about what we believe, then what is faith? I believed myself to be a plumber – not by training certainly, but by common sense and a DIY spirit and perhaps no small amount of ego belief that there isn’t much I can’t figure out how to do myself when given time and tools. Maybe the disciples were sorta the same way. They didn’t need to assimilate what Jesus was telling them about his death and resurrection – they already knew where they stood and what they believed. Jesus says that actually, it’s not the one sitting at the table who likely knows more in many ways, but it’s the one who is doing the serving who is the “leader.” Jesus tells them he is among them as one who serves.

Could it be that releasing the spirit of “right believing” and offering ourselves as humble learners through serving we grow closer in discipleship to Jesus? Not to belief about Jesus, but to actually being in relationship and serving with Jesus?

It’s Holy Week. We disciples are walking with Jesus into a pretty complex and rough time of his life and ministry. So much of what happens illustrates humanity at our most arrogant, our weakest, and worst, and Jesus at his most humble, bravest and most generous. And somewhere in that mix the good news of God’s love for us will be the gift that we realize comes again as equally through struggle and heartbreak as through wonderful celebration and joy!

Popsicle sticks, “p” traps, and plumbers named Larry. No one can particularly predict how the gospel is proclaimed on what day and by whom. And that, perhaps, is the best gift of grace of all! Happy Holy Week!