October 16, 2016
Anthem: Jubilate DeoSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
When James and John, the sons of Zebedee, the sons of Thunder as they were nicknamed, come to Jesus, they do so like a children: “Say yes to whatever we ask you, okay!” Let us get what we want regardless of what it is or how bad the outcome might be, okay?
They want to have power and honor. They want, when Jesus sits upon the throne (which they already don’t quite understand…), that one will sit at his right and one will sit at his left. In the ways of the world, the right hand and the left hand seats are reserved for the greatest, the noblest, the most honorable, the most trusted of the leader’s followers.
But Jesus turns their request around. “Sit at my right and left? Can you drink the cup I will drink? Will you be baptized with my baptism?”
“Yes, of course, anything you say, Boss!”
To drink the cup Jesus will drink is to face the ways of pain and death that the empire uses to keep people in line, and to remain faithful to God rather than fearful of Caesar. To be baptized with the baptism Jesus will face is to offer up their whole being to God, even if it means the religious and political authorities are willing to put them to death.
And Jesus says, “Yes, you will face these, but to sit at might right and my left are not mine to give, for God is in charge of that.”
And the disciples get angry. Nothing worse than someone else getting away with something we think we could not get away with. They get mad at James and John for trying to one up them.
And Jesus brings them back to the point. A baptismal faith is not about gaining power; it is not about having greater honor or glory; it is not about being better than anyone else. It is about serving.
A baptismal faith is about believing that the grace of God and the justice of God are intertwined and that we are not God.
An example: My sister tells the story of her daughter, lying on her back in the midst of the clothes racks of a store, kicking and screaming and being as attention getting as possible. Everyone in the store knew that kid was melting down. As my sister approached her daughter, she said in that voice that tired moms get: “I used to wonder who raised children like this…”
A little old lady a few racks of dresses over said, “Oh honey, we all did.”
I have no idea what the religious background of that woman was, but I would call that a baptismal faith moment. Why? Because in a moment when there could have been judgment, could have been naming and blaming and public shaming, instead, there was grace. There was a connection to the common humanity that we all share and there was compassion for those who were struggling.
Another example: I am not a sports fan. When asked about sports, I usually respond that I already have a religion. So I usually only get the big stories. Like when the University of Tennessee beats Florida and Georgia. And the mourning they feel right now at their loss to Bama.
And this time of year, I don’t expect to hear stories about the Chicago Cubs. I know the last time they won the World Series was 1908. So in the commiseration games, they beat the Tigers. But I just learned that the last time a Cubs player stole home plate in a post-season game was 1907. Until last night. I watched the video. It is impressive. The announcers seemed unsure whether it was gumption or intuition or guts or stupidity that led to that moment.
Javier Baez, the base runner who did it said, “I saw I couldn’t get back… So I kept going.” I do not know Baez’s faith. But I would say this is a baptismal faith moment. It lets the past be the past, and it seeks a new future. This looks a lot like the faith that can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. “I saw I couldn’t get back… So I kept going.”
Recently talking with a therapist who confessed that the problem with being psychologically trained is that when life sucks, you know exactly how much it is going to suck and that the only way out is through. This is true for grief, for depression, for anger, for whatever it is.
The only way out is through. “I saw I couldn’t get back… So I kept going.”
When Martin Luther was being persecuted by the church and facing all of those doubts and fears and anxieties that come with wondering if he is really doing God’s will, he could sometimes be heard screaming “I AM BAPTIZED!”
Not I was baptized. Not once and done. I AM baptized. That the connection with God, in whose hand lies the final outcome of Luther’s life, of James and John, the sons of thunder, and of you and me, this connection is not just some event that happened at whatever age it happened. This is the connection in which we live and move and have our being.
Or to put it another way. Whether you are democrat or republican, libertarian or green, still feeling the Bern or still trying to Cruz, undecided or simply disgusted, you need to vote. Because even if you cannot see yourself voting for a candidate for president, there are plenty of important offices lower on the ticket that need good and wise people in them.
And while I believe the outcome of the election is incredibly important, and I urge everyone here to vote, the outcome of the election does not change my baptismal job description. The job description we get in our baptism is to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength. And the second part of our job description is like unto it: to love our neighbor as ourselves.
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Thanks be to God. Amen.