Who here is a fan of Charlie Brown? Do you remember when you used to watch Charlie Brown specials on TV, anytime an adult (particularly a teacher) would talk, all you’d hear was “wah, wah, wah . . . wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah?” I’m pretty sure that’s what the disciples in Mark’s Gospel heard most of the time when Jesus was talking. Oh, it wasn’t that they didn’t care about what Jesus was saying, it was just that a lot of it was kind of difficult to get their brains wrapped around. The Gospel reading for today skips a pretty important passage that follows last week’s reading from Mark… and immediately precedes the one for today. I sometimes wonder why the clerics and scholars who developed the Lectionary did things the way they did. This passage is kind of important, I think. Right after the story of the rich man who was having a hard time letting go of his possessions, and that in the coming Kingdom the first shall be last and the last shall be first, Jesus tells his disciples for the third time what’s going to happen to him when they get to Jerusalem. I’ll read it to you:
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again” (Mark 10:32-34).
First will come betrayal, suffering and rejection… and only then resurrection. I’m guessing that what our patron Saint James and his brother John probably heard was, “Wah, wah, wah . . . wah, wah, wah . . . and after three days he will rise again!”
I’m not sure any of us would do any better. We have pretty “selective hearing” when it comes to the things Jesus says, don’t we? If it seems too hard, or if it makes us uncomfortable, then all too often we skim right over it… until Jesus moves on to something happier, or less challenging. We all want to sit beside Jesus in his glory. Who wouldn’t want to be a member of that select group: beatific smiles on our faces, hands lifted in praise and worship, surrounded by the never-ending chorus of angel choirs. Maybe heaven’s like that, maybe it’s not, I don’t know. None of us knows. What I do know is that signing up to be a follower of Jesus means laying it all on the line, offering up, in the words of the Rite I Eucharistic prayer: “our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice” to our creator. We are not our own. We belong to God. Are we truly willing to give in to God’s purpose for our lives? This is what Jesus is talking about when he asks Zebedee’s sons if they could “drink the same cup” and “be baptized with the same baptism” as he would. Of course, James and John were quick to assert that could do all of that… and probably more. How hard could it be, anyway? If they had been really listening to what Jesus had been telling them, over and over again, on the road to Jerusalem, they might have responded differently… more humbly, perhaps.
We must be baptized into the death of Jesus Christ in order to live into the power of his resurrection. Did you hear that? Only through dying and being buried with Jesus in the waters of Baptism can we be freed from the bondage of our sin and reborn through the Holy Spirit into everlasting life. And just like I can’t tell you precisely what heaven looks like, I can’t tell you exactly what it will mean for you to live into your vows to be buried with Jesus in the waters of Baptism. I think it’s probably a little different for each of us, because each of us is a unique and unrepeatable creation of the Almighty, made to fulfill a particular role in bringing about the Kingdom. But here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure that, whatever it is, it won’t be easy. I also know that, as difficult as it may be, we will never be left to face our trials alone. Even when things are at their worst, when we are overwhelmed by the enormity of what we’re being asked to do, God will be just beside us, supporting and upholding us with his love, just has he was for his own son as he hung on the cross. James and John both ended up as martyrs for the cause of Christ. I hope that’s not what it will take for me to live into the purpose God has in store, but I have to ask myself every day: as a follower of Christ, “am I able to drink the cup… and be baptized with the baptism?” As followers of Christ are you prepared to ask yourselves those same questions? We all must be, you know. That said, it’s OK if we’re not quite as brash in our response as were the “Sons of Thunder.” It’s OK if we admit to God and to ourselves that we can’t do this difficult, difficult thing alone.
You know, it’s been a while since we renewed the vows of our Baptismal covenant. Was it on Pentecost… back in May? Heck, that was nearly five months ago! Maybe this would be a good starting place for us, as we consider our ability and our willingness to share the cup and the baptism of Jesus. We won’t do the whole renewal, just the last bit. And we’ll take it slowly so that we can really think about what we’re saying. I’ll ask the questions, and y’all can respond. You know your part, right? I will, with God’s help.
- Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? I will, with God’s help.
- Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will, with God’s help.
- Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God’s help.
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God’s help.
- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sin, and have raised us to the new life of grace. Sustain us, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give us inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.