October 21, 2018
22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
At home, when we need a good cry, we watch an episode of “This is Us.” I promise I’m not going to spoil the last episode. Jack, the older brother, held by his father, looks through the nursery at his new baby brother and is told that a big brother has one job: “to take care of your little brother.” Fast forward to their young adult years, we learn that Jack has a heart condition which exempts him from the draft to fight in the Vietnam War. We also learn, that Nick, who seems smaller and more vulnerable from the start, gets a high number in the draft lottery.
At first, Jack convinces Nick to go to Canada where he can find him a job and be safe. But as they overnight on the way, Jack awakens to discover that his brother left during the night to take up his place in the war. So Jack visits his doctor to learn how he can trick the Army doctors about his heart condition and enlist in the military. His family doctor says, “They won’t think you have heart condition. They’ll want to examine your brain. No one enlists.”
“They’ll want to examine your brain. No one enlists.”
The doctor knows the whole story. So does Jesus.
Jesus has told the disciples three times what was in store for him: suffering, death, burial, and, after three days, rising. James and John pull Jesus aside to ask for seats on his cabinet when he gets to Jerusalem and takes charge. Maybe they wanted all the power and the glory after leaving everything, years of living off the land and sleeping on hard ground, being so hungry at times that they illegally plucked grain from a field just to eat. Maybe it’s not too much to expect a reward for being a good follower. Or, if we “interpret their behavior in a more charitable light,” as Luther urges us to do in his small catechism, perhaps they were eager to have power and authority in order to put Jesus’ agenda into motion; to build a nation free from a dictator where there is no hunger, no violence, no suffering; to have a primary role in peacemaking and justice-building. They even have confidence in their ability. “Sure, we can do it,” they say when Jesus asks, “Can you drink of the cup I drink, be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
Jesus answer is surprising. He doesn’t judge them. Maybe he knows that you can hardly talk about suffering until you’ve experienced it. He simply says, “I can’t give you exactly what you want, but Yes, you will have a place. You will drink the cup. You will be baptized with the reign of God.”
They willbe able have a place in the reign of God; they willbe part of the mission of Jesus in the world; they willreceive their reward, although it won’t come like they imagined. They have misunderstood the mechanism by which the reign of God enters the world. It comes by way of suffering, not be being great. Through service; not by being on top.
This is not really one of those big selling points of Christianity: transformation—participation in the reign of God—comes through suffering. Jesus probably wouldn’t have made it at an ad firm in the 21stcentury when we much prefer to find ways of being more comfortable, more relaxed, more accomplished and powerful, beautiful and successful. We’re urged to drink from a cup of some mocha pumpkin latte’ or a zingy, good-for-you Kombucha. Drink from the cup of suffering? Pick up the cross? Be a servant? Or, if you happen to have lots of power and privilege: be a slave.
This week we’re getting a new sign out front. Should we use this chapter from Mark as the source for our messages? “Come and share in the suffering of creation.” “Come hold the pain of the world with us.” “Come, pick up your own cross.”
Truth be told, we don’t even have to decide to drink from the cup. Most of us already are. Pastor John Manz always told us, “Everyone who comes into the room on Sunday morning comes with some kind of wound.” We carry deep shame about who we think we really are. Our bodies ache and the medication is messing with us. Our children or our parents infuriate us. Anxiety, depression, abuse overwhelm us. The political environment has our fear on overdrive. And, if we’re honest, we have racism and sexism so deeply embedding in our minds it’s easier to pretend there’s nothing we can do about it.
The gospel of Jesus Christ won’t tell us it can all go away. But it does say that, if we’re honest about it; if we stop running from it; if we confess and acknowledge it, if we examine it, we will be changed into a new kind of glory. Richard Rohr says there’s no way to live a life without suffering. But we do have a choice about simply passing it on to others, or embracing it and making it sacred, a place of encounter with God. Think about that: suffering is the place where we encounter the God of love. The cross is the symbol that love is present in suffering and death.
That doesn’t mean we look for suffering, or let suffering that can be eased continue, or even to let ourselves be hurt by others because we think in some twisted way God wants that. No, it’s to enter the suffering that we cannot avoid, and trust that God is part of it.
And this is particularly true when we risk enlisting in our neighbor’s suffering; when we show up, not knowing exactly what we’re getting ourselves into, when our one job is to take care of our neighbor.
When all this is said and done, we may need our brains examined, but our hearts will be raised up. Like we always say, just before sharing the same cup as Jesus, “Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.” And then we drink of the cup that has been provided for us. The cup of salvation. The cup of suffering. The cup of resurrection. The cup of glory.
Many of my thoughts in the sermon this week are shaped by Richard Rohr’s daily devotion: http://cac.org/searching-for-meaning-2018-10-15/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2018-10-20%20DM&utm_content=2018-10-20%20DM+CID_9114fabfc9f266780a5b79c0d6b9bada&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor%20Google%20Analytics&utm_term=Monday.