A Sermon for the 21st Sunday after Trinity, October 21, 2018
St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church, Largo, FL
The Very Rev. J. Michael Strachan
We come this morning in our Gospel reading to the end of Mark’s Way section that began back at the end of chapter 8, and just as we’ve seen his disciples do time and time again, they are concerned with a question of their power and prestige. The 4 Ps once again raise their ugly head. And in case it isn’t clear, the way Mark has been telling the story throughout the Way section is intentionally designed to contrast the cross waiting for Jesus in Jerusalem with the disciples’ concern for their profits, power, prestige, and privilege.
Back in chapter 8 Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus explains that this means a cross and death instead of power and glory, and Peter is so confident that Jesus is wrong that he takes him aside and begins to rebuke him. To this, Jesus not only calls Peter Satan, but he insists that not only is he going to a cross but that those who would be his disciples must take up their cross and follow him.
In chapter 9 we find Jesus again tell his disciples on the way to Capernaum that he’s going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, and when he arrives at Capernaum, he asks them what they had been discussing. Do we find them trying to understand what he means? Do we see them wrestling with the truth of his coming crucifixion and his belief in resurrection? No, we learn that they had been arguing amongst themselves about which one of them is the greatest.
So, now in chapter 10, we again find Jesus (this is just before this morning’s reading) explaining to his disciples for the third and final time what’s going to happen when he arrives in Jerusalem, and immediately James and John approach him to sit at his right hand and his left in his glory. So, this is a constant theme through this section. Jesus is trying to explain to his disciples what it means to be the Messiah and what it means to be his disciple, but they won’t listen. Instead, they rebuke him, argue about which of them is the greatest, and make requests of him to sit in positions of privilege and power in his kingdom.
Jesus’ response to all of this nonsense is incredible. I’m going to tell you right now that we could spend an hour on this during a Bible Study or the Gospel project and we’d barely scratch the surface. And I’ve got about 8 minutes left.
So, here’s what I want you to see. James and John ask for positions of authority when Jesus arrives in the city in all his glory. Jesus doesn’t debate that there is glory waiting for him. He redefines it, just as he had done with Peter and the meaning of the word Messiah. It’s the right word. It just doesn’t mean what you think. When Jesus defines what his glory is, he chooses two words, or perhaps better, two symbols, which ought to be immediately recognizable to us for their significance in our lives: he speaks of baptism, and he speaks of a cup. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38).
Now it’s clear he’s speaking about his death. That is the glory waiting for him in Jerusalem, but he speaks about his death as drinking a cup and being baptized, which really ought to surprise us. Since his baptism at the beginning of the Gospel Jesus doesn’t mention baptism again, and he hasn’t spoken of a cup yet and he won’t again until he’s in the Upper Room and the Garden.
So, try to get how layered and significant this moment is. Here we are at the doorstep of Jesus’ passion. You turn the page to chapter 11, and he is entering Jerusalem. We’re at the end of the Way section and the last of Jesus’ three predictions of his passion, and here Jesus chooses two symbols to refer to his death: the baptism which began his ministry and the cup which will bring it to a close. Here Jesus picks the two symbols of his earthly ministry that will become the sacraments of his Church, and he says, “If you want to share in my glory, this is what you do: you drink the cup, and you get baptized.”
Notice that this is precisely what Jesus tells them is going to happen. “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized. This section of Mark’s Gospel is the part that ties together and unites Jesus earthly ministry, Jesus’ passion, and his Church’s sacramental life all into one great mystery that we may never fully comprehend. Jesus is inviting his disciples to share in his glory, but his glory isn’t the glory of this world, it’s the glory of a cross. In chapter eight he told his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. Now he explains to his disciples something deeper. He’s the only one who will take the cross. It is his glory and his alone. And his disciples can share in that glory be being baptized into his death (as Paul puts it) and by drinking the cup of his sacrificed blood.
These two symbols, the symbols that most clearly mark and define the Christian life, the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, they are symbols of death. They are symbols of self-denial. They are symbols of self-emptying. They are symbols and sacraments that dedicate us to lives that resemble taking up our cross and following Jesus on the Way.
So no more pursuing the 4 Ps. Not if baptism and the cup define your life. No more using your power and authority to exploit and use people under you. That’s what the Gentiles do. That’s not what the people of God do. That’s not what people defined by baptism and the cup do. Instead, the people identified by baptism and the cup, they define greatness by servanthood and nothing else, and we do so for one straightforward and obvious reason. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
That’s what the sacramental life of the church commits us to. The sacraments of the church are symbols of service and servanthood. They are symbols of giving our lives away. They are symbols of death. But they are also symbols of life because we believe one simple world-changing truth: that the way up, the way to glory, is always the way down. Or to put it another way, we believe that the only way to Easter is through the cross.