Awesome discipleship

Pentecost 21B
Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
17 October 2021

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This morning we were to baptise two children, but sadly COVID restrictions of one kind or another have meant that both families had to postpone the Baptisms to a later date.

But what a great set of readings we have for a baptism, and especially the Gospel reading.

O LORD my God, how great you are!

The OT book of Job is one of the great spiritual classics of the world. 

That does mean it is an easy book to read. Far from it! This is a book which wrestles with the existential question of why bad things happen to good people

At 12,674 words—all of them in Hebrew—this is a complex discussion as the lead character (Job) is beset by a series of disasters which take away his health, his family and his wealth.

To make things worse, Job has a set of three very religious friends who turn up to comfort him. However, their idea of comforting Job is to lecture him about his faults, which must surely be the explanation for these disasters. They are more interested in defending God than in helping their friend. In other words, they are protecting their own belief systems rather than offering compassionate solidarity to Job.

They take turns to lecture Job, and he defends himself. Finally, the three older friends are silenced and a younger associate takes it upon himself to show Job and his three friends where they all have it wrong.

By this stage we have reached chapter 37 of Job!

Finally, in today’s reading, God shows up and begins to put everyone in their place. That will take another four and a half chapters, before Job gets his health, family and wealth restored.

That happy ending, which we have in our readings next week, is the least satisfying part of the whole discussion in Job. But we need not worry about it today. And perhaps not ever.

In the snippet of Job which we read this morning, we are reminded of the awesome nature of the universe in which we live and of which we are a part:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? 
Tell me, if you have understanding. 
Who determined its measurements—surely you know! 
Or who stretched the line upon it? 
On what were its bases sunk, 
or who laid its cornerstone 
when the morning stars sang together 
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

In biblical terms, Job is confronted with the awesome glory of God. In our terms, we face the awesome scale, age and complexity of the cosmos. We are blown away by the immensity of Life, as well as our own vulnerability and insignificance.

More than Melchizedek

Our second reading today is from the most Jewish of all the documents in the New Testament: the Letter to the Hebrews.

In this book Jesus is imagined as a Jewish priest, which of course he was not. This book is a reminder that truth should not be mortgaged to historicity.

The spiritual truth of the Bible does not depend on the historicity of Job or the priestly lineage of Jesus, but on the underlying themes of faith and doubt, courage and fear, failure and forgiveness, which run throughout the Scriptures.

For the author of this anonymous letter to Jewish believers, Jesus was like a particular mysterious character, Melchizedek (King of Righteousness) who appears at a couple of places in the Old Testament. He also appears in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls much closer to the time of Jesus, which probably explains why this figure is mentioned in Hebrews. But that is a topic for another day! [ Melchizedek texts ]

Note, however, that as this author sketches out what Jesus was like, he describes Jesus in very human terms:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

So, alongside the awesome otherness of God proclaimed in Job, we have the ordinary humanity of Jesus as the beloved Son, Emmanuel, God-with-us, God-as-one-of-us.

The mysterious and awesome Other in whose shadow we shrink from view, is also the familiar Jesus who comes alongside us, as one of us, beset by our challenges, and crying out to God for rescue.

Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,

Drink from the cup of Christ

How do we respond to this One who comes among us and invites us to walk his way, to follow his path?

The suggested answer is in the second half of Mark 8, which is another classic; this time a classic of discipleship.

Notice how James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approach Jesus for a special favour: We want the best seats in the kingdom!

And notice Jesus’ reply to them:

“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

Are you able to drink the cup that drink?

Are you able to be baptised with the baptism that I am going to undergo?

Those are awesome questions, and they echo across 2,000 years to us here in the Cathedral this morning.

Are we up to “this Jesus thing”? As individuals? As a Cathedral community?

A couple of years ago when I tried to describe the mission of the Cathedral here in Grafton for the website, I expressed it this way:

a generous faith community
centred on Jesus
seeking wisdom for life
acting with compassion
in the heart of Grafton
since 1842

Is that the cup we are prepared to drink?

Is that a path we are prepared to walk?

Is that a baptism through which we are willing to pass?

In case we are wondering what that looks like in real life, Jesus helpfully continues:

“… 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.”

While our worship offers us a glimpse of the awesome God, may we never lose sight of the radical humility of the Holy One who comes among us and offers us the privilege of drinking from the same cup that he has also chosen to accept. 

We are not just asked to believe things about Jesus.

The call to discipleship goes far deeper than that!

Rather, we are asked to walk the way of Jesus in compassionate humility for the sake of others. 

We are called to be Jesus.

For the sake of the world. 

For the sake of our local community. 

For the sake of our loved ones.

For our own sake.

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