Fr. Joe Hudson|
Sunday August 18th 2019
Jesus said: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” Baptism means more than a sprinkling, pouring or dunking in water. Jesus was speaking of a baptism; a purifying through suffering that was coming. The time of his passion and death.
There are many baptisms; many purifying paths of initiation we walk through in this life; some are directly related to issues of spiritual faith, while others impact us more directly emotionally and socially. We are initiated into the Christian community as we are baptized into the Episcopal Church. We are initiated through catechism and gain a knowledge about our faith. We go through a baptism of initiation as infants when we are bonded to our families of origin. We are initiated into relationships and the pain experienced through the breakup of a significant relationship.
Many of these lest traumatic baptismal initiations prepare us for more challenging baptisms; when we are called on to stand up and speak our truth, when we experience deep profound losses. Jesus in today’s gospel reading identifies the stress he is under until his baptism is completed; until his body yields to death. This was the most excruciating baptismal experience endured by anyone.
When Jesus disciples James and John approached Jesus with their mother, She requested that her sons would sit on Jesus left and right in His Kingdom. To this request Jesus replied: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup,”. Here Jesus is looking towards his soon passion and death and the bitter cup he must drink.
Jesus in the scriptures identifies a bitter cup he must drink, and a harsh baptism he must endure. Today’s Gospel reading is also recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew adds an important challenge at the end. He explains what it means to be a follower of the Christ.
Jesus says: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
A bitter cup. A harsh baptism. Loving Jesus more than anyone or anything on this earth.
In the Hebrew reading, the story is told of the giants of the faith; of Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. These giants of the faith endured much for Christ. Then Hebrews tells us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,”.
There are bitter cups we must drink. There are chilling baptismal waters that we must plunge into. There is a love for Jesus that must surpass all other loves. We must run with perseverance the race set before us; stripping off any hindrance; any weight that might slow us down.
We often fall short of this high standard expected of us as Jesus disciples. This struggle of ours is spoken of in the Old Testament passage read this morning. In Isaiah we encounter a beautiful pastoral scene; laid out before our minds eye is a verdant, lush vineyard. God is the owner of the vineyard. God purchased a very fertile piece of land on a hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and then planted it with choice grape vines. God speaks: “What more could I have done for my vineyard than I have not already done? When I expected sweet grapes, why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?” Or, tying this passage into the other passages, when God expected sweet grapes; when God expected love for him more than any other love; when God expected us the run faithfully with perseverance the Christian race; why do we sometimes produce bitter grapes; why do we sometimes love other people or things more than Jesus; why do we sometimes falter in our Christian race?
God’s vineyard is God’s people down through the ages that have been planted on the fertile land of the scriptures, the Spirit, tradition and reason. God’s vineyard produced some very sweet grapes: the giants of the faith spoken of in Hebrews. Some of God’s children were bitter grapes.
Isaiah speaks of the behavior of the bitter grapes God found: “He expected a crop of justice, but instead he found oppression. He expected to find righteousness, but instead he heard cries of violence.”
God planted the Church across the land, lovingly caring for it, nourishing it, and feeding it with God’s Word. What more could God do for his children? And yet, in spite of all that God did, some of them produced bitter fruit along with the sweet.
Sweet and bitter together. Jesus tells elsewhere of wheat growing up alongside tares. John’s vision recorded in Revelation speaks of the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia & Laodicea. Both bitter and sweet fruit are produced in these churches. We read in Revelation that each church stood fast in trials and tribulations. Each church did not yield. And yet we read, “I have this against you” . . . He then lays out the bitter fruit evident in each church.
Paul wrote to the church established in Corinth. He spoke highly of the church, and yet also says: “however, it has been reported to me”, and then he goes on to discuss the struggles in the church.
The vineyard of Good Shepherd in Venice has been planted. Down through the years much sweet fruit has grown up here as well. Sadly, like all churches, some bitter fruit has been produced along with the sweet. Each of us as individuals have produced both sweet as well as bitter fruit over the years.
The scripture readings today tell us that there are bitter cups we must drink. There are chilling baptismal waters that we must plunge into. There is a love for Jesus that must surpass all other loves. We must run with perseverance the race set before us; stripping off any hindrance; any weight that might slow us down.
So how do we go about this? Let me end by mentioning the challenge Jesus brought to Peter after his resurrection; a challenge as they sat around the fire on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In that moment Jesus looked intently at Peter; Peter who had recently produced some pretty severe bitter fruit in his life by denying three times that he had ever known Jesus. In that moment on the shore Jesus spoke intently to Peter, as he does to us still today. Three times Jesus asked the same question, and gave the same challenge to Peter, and to each of us. Jesus asked: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus may have been asking whether Peter loved Jesus more than the other disciples loved him. Or he may have been asking, do you love me more than you love your life’s work casting nets on the Sea of Galilee. We don’t know exactly the meaning, but His question of Peter is his question to every disciple down through the centuries. Jesus asks each of us: “Do you love me more?” If you love me more, you will exhibit the fruits of the Spirit in your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
If you love Me more, feed my sheep; take care of my flock; use your gifts to further God’s Kingdom in the way that only you can do.
Saturday Folk Liturgy