The other advantage for me when I was ordained is that he had this great collection of books, hundreds of them scattered all over. Box loads of them that came from a whole variety of sources that he had collected in his years of ordained ministry. There were also piles of his old sermons that were written in his handwriting that no one else could decipher.
Well, tucked away in some of those boxes were a few different home communion sets that he had been given over the years. Beautiful little sets that clearly had been used many times in the past and had a sense of a loving wear to them. As I took one particular cup out of a dilapidated old box that cradled it so carefully, I felt a little daunted by the possibility it held. I was recently ordained at that point and it seemed to me that I had a lot to live up to by accepting the gift of this home communion set. Was I able to accept the gift? Was I worthy? Could I be included in the long list of priests who had been handed this cup to continue to hold on to the precious words of our Saviour and Guide so that we and many others could continue to drink this cup? Was I able to do this? A question that has been asked down through the centuries.
James and John came up to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…” Now if your children or your spouse or your neighbour came up to you and demanded this of you, how might you react? Jesus seemed to have been more generous than I might have been to their request. “What is it you want me to do for you?” “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” The Bible doesn’t say this but Jesus must have been gobsmacked. “Are you kidding me,” he might have said. “I have been with you preaching and teaching all this time and you ask me this? Haven’t you been listening? Didn’t I just tell you that I will soon be sentenced to death?” Once more in the gospel of Mark the disciples just didn’t get it about Jesus. They were still stuck on Jesus being the new King David, a powerful political figure and they missed entirely that Jesus was the servant king, the son of God, come to reveal the kingdom of God in their midst. Jesus was not going to overthrow the Roman Emperor rather he was the voice of God in their midst. The disciples of Mark were clueless.
Jesus turned to them and asked, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?” In a way it is a strange response from Jesus. Until I started to dig into it a little deeper.
I discovered that drinking the cup was a common theme in the Old Testament referring to the drinking of God’s wrath, drinking God’s punishment. It was a way of referring God’s judgement upon human sin and rebellion. In the book of Jeremiah we hear: “For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and go out of their minds because of the sword which I am sending among them.” When we hear Jesus ask about sharing the cup to James and John, we think he is referring to the cup of wine of Communion but clearly it had much more meaning than that. Jesus was asking them whether they are able to drink of the cup that he drinks but it is not an invitation to the Last Supper it is much more about them accepting the journey that Jesus is on, the journey to the cross; the rejection and wrath of God felt by Jesus as he hung on the cross. The ultimate rejection of God as all of the sin of the world was placed on Jesus. At least that was the theory. I am not one who buys into this theory because it is a strange theology when you carry it through a little further. It suggests that all of God’s anger is aimed at us human beings and God is simply waiting for us to slip up and then will destroy us. But that is not the case.
The whole point of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus was to prove and show the opposite of this, that we are forgiven. The whole point of the cross is that while humanity at one time fell at the time of creation, the cross is the sign of the reversal of that. The whole point of the cross is that the cup of God’s wrath is no longer passed to us but instead the cup of God’s grace, the cup of God’s love, the cup of God’s offer of salvation is what we are offered. This is what Jesus was trying to get his followers to understand. That they were being invited to share in this new kingdom, where justice and compassion and hope abound. It was a new cup that was being handed them. This was how Jesus described the cup: “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 God came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” This is how he described the kingdom. This is how he described the cup from which he wanted his disciples to drink. This is the cup that we now are being asked to drink from. And if we do, it changes us, for by so doing we affirm our hope and our trust that God is moving and stirring in our lives and causes us to be changed not because of God’s wrath but because of God’s sheer delight in inviting us to be in relationship with God and others.
Today marks the start of our Stewardship Campaign here at St. Philip’s. The Stewardship Campaign is really about recognising that all that we have in our lives and in this world is a gift from God’s gracious hand. Everything. All of it. All those things we gave thanks for at Thanksgiving and all those things on our hearts at the moment. All that we see, know and love is a gift. When we drink the cup we are acknowledging this and accepting it. But of course it goes further. Once we sip that wine, how do we live in response? How do we make decisions about how this affects our priorities and our plans? How does it affect our vision, our 20/25 Vision? Where does God fit in in how we spend our money, our time and our talents? How do we give back to the One who laid the foundation of the earth as Job described God? Or the One who is wrapped in light as Psalm 104 told us? We are called to give back a portion of all that we have been given not out of duty but because we believe in the cup that is offered to us at Communion. A sign that we are the beloved of God because of the saving work of Christ and we now know the love of God in our lives. And so we give back of our own resources, money, time and talents, to further the kingdom of God in our lives and our world.
A few years ago I unwrapped that tiny silver chalice as I began my own journey of the priesthood. A chalice that symbolized all that our faith was grounded upon: grace and God known and seen in our midst. I urge you to drink of this same cup this morning as a sign NOT of gaining great personal power but of your role as a servant in this world. A role where you are invited to be slave of all. A role where you recognize that giving out of your abundance is key to living out the kingdom here and now.
So drink of the cup that Christ drank and be baptised with the baptism that Christ offered and may it affect the stewardship of your resources and the stewardship of your living.