Sermon — Do Your Job, Let God Worry About the Rest

I didn’t preach today, but if I had, it would have gone something like this.

Advent 3 (Year C)

  • Zephaniah 3:14–20
  • Isaiah 12:2–6
  • Philippians 4:4–7
  • Luke 3:7–18

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father. ’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. (Luke 3:7–18 ESV)

I love John the Baptist. I truly do. He’s crazy weird, this prophet of God, this man who points the way to the coming of God’s anointed savior of Israel. We don’t have the full John the Baptist weirdness here in Luke that we have in Mark and Matthew — the John who wears crude clothes and eats bugs and honey, who probably has that wild look in his eyes, the unkempt beard and the messy, matted hair that would make you want to cross to the other side of the street if you came across him one day while out shopping.

But the John we have here is no more sedate, no more respectable, than the John of Matthew and Mark. He proclaims a baptism — a dunking in water — for the forgiveness of sins, and the crowds listen to him, much like the stunned people of Nineveh listened to an exasperated Jonah.

And they came. In crowds, probably begging to go under, to know their sins had been forgiven.

So John, how does he respond? Does he smile wide and say, “Welcome to our worship service, thank you for coming!” “I’m glad you could be here?” “I’m John the baptizer, what’s the most important thing I can do for you today?”

No. He calls the people who have come into the howling wilderness to see him and be baptized by him “A brood of vipers,” and he wonders who on earth warned any of them to flee “the wrath that is to come.”

Bear good fruit, he tells them, because merely claiming Abraham as their ancestor is not going to help them. Not going to save them from the wrath that is to come. Be your own righteous, he says, because no one else’s righteousness is going to save you that day.

If you don’t bear good fruit, you’re doomed, he says.

I’m trying to think of how I’d feel if my wife and I walked into a church and the pastor there called the two of us “vipers” and wondered who told us to flee the doom that was coming? What John has here are, to put it mildly, not good customer service skills. He is not winning any points when his evaluation comes due.

And yet the crowds don’t leave. They don’t vote with their feet. They know the truth when they hear it — just an Nineveh understood God was speaking when Jonah spoke, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” — and they stand right there. In the face of being called ignorant, misguided vipers at risk of judgment for failing to bear fruit, they push back at John the cranky baptist.

“What then shall we do?”

To those who have more than they need — two tunics, enough to eat — John tells them to share. To the tax collectors, he tells them to collect no more than they are authorized to do, basically condemning them to poverty merely for doing their work. (Because tax collectors typically made their living by exacting more from people than they legally owed.) To the soldiers, he tells to them to be content with their wages, and do not extort or demand money from anyone for any reason.

We tend to theologize scripture too much, I think, drawing out giant abstractions from simple statements that were probably never meant to be foundational. One thing we theologize far too much about is the state, is government, and we have done so from Jesus’ admonition — when asked about taxes — to give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s. (It’s not clear from that passage that anything actually belongs to Caesar, aside from the coin bearing his likeness.) We have done so from Paul’s writing in Romans 13 that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” and that the sword is not a threat to those who behave themselves.

And we have done so, I think, from this little passage. Because John the Baptist doesn’t condemn the soldiers, some have said, means he doesn’t condemn armies or war or any of the things that go alone with it.

It’s as if we need God’s explicit approval or condemnation to properly ascertain the order of the cosmos. So that we can properly order the world ourselves.

I don’t think scripture works that way.

Besides, John is making an interesting point here that has nothing to do with government or the good order of the world, a point that I didn’t see until recently, until I began this series of Advent sermons.

The crowds have gathered in response to John’s call to repent. To be baptized. He calls them out — who told y’all to flee the wrath, the judgment, that is to come?

In the face of that coming judgment, John tells them, bear good fruit.

In the face of that coming judgment, John tells the rich among them to share.

In the face of that coming judgment, John tell those with power and authority to limit what they take, don’t use violence, and be content with what you have.

Think about this. Judgment is coming. Doom is looming just across the horizon. It will ravish and conquer and destroy. It will reduce Jerusalem to a pile of rubble. And there will come a point in which all those in Israel who are paying attention will head for the hills to escape what’s coming.

But not today. John doesn’t tell anyone to live in fear, stockpile food, or gold, or dig a bunker. He tells them — bear good fruit.

The answer to fear is faith. The answer to uncertainty is — love your neighbor.

I want you to remember this. To consider this and understand it. We are not called to love our neighbor because it is easy, because our neighbor is lovable, because the world is kind and there are no monsters — no Romans, no Mongols, no Nazis, no Islamist terrorists — waiting to detonate bombs and invade our country. John, and Jesus, are telling us to bear good fruit, to share and be content, to not use violence, in a violent and uncertain world. A world in which we are surrounded and conquered and occupied by those who hate us and would harm us without thinking twice.

They are neighbors. Our neighbors. The people we are called to love.

The rich, who might have every reason to fear having enough, are told to share their surplus with those who do not have. The tax collectors, who make as living charging more than they are entitled to take, are told to take no more than they are authorized. Soldiers, who live on violence and extortion as part of their duties occupying and humiliating Israel, are told to stop using violence as a part of daily business and to be content with their wages.

God’s answer to fear and uncertainty here is — love. Kindness. Mercy.

That is our response too. We, who come looking to have our sins forgiven, are given a task in response — bear good fruit. Love neighbors. Share with those who do not have. Do not use violence. Be content.

This is not God’s response to a kind, gentle, decent, compassionate world. This is God’s response to a violent, brutal, chaotic, threatening and uncertain world. Love.

Love even though you will have less. Love even though you cannot make ends meet. Love even though it does you no good and gets you no benefit. Love even though no one will ever love you back.

Love. Because God loves. Because god so loved the world.

Do not worry about the wrath to come. Do not spend your time searching the skies or the news or your neighborhoods for signs. Do not worry about trying to prepare yourself to survive whatever disaster may be looming. The wrath is coming. We cannot stop it, and we likely cannot even get out its way.

This is what it means to wait for God, and to bear good fruit. Love God and love your neighbor. And let God worry about the rest. Because whatever is coming, your redemption — our redemption — has already been secured.

SERMON – Give Us the Glory

I didn’t preach today, but if I had, it might look something like this.

SERMON Lectionary 28 / 20th Sunday After Pentecost 2015 (Year B)

  • Isaiah 53:4–12
  • Psalm 91:9–16
  • Hebrews 5:1–10
  • Mark 10:35–45

The disciples of Jesus didn’t get it. They didn’t get Jesus. They didn’t really understand who he was or why he had come or what he had come for. I’m not sure, half the time, they were really listening.

And so, in a bit that should have been part of our reading today, left out of both last week’s and this week’s gospel passages, is Jesus, telling his disciples what they are actually going to Jerusalem for:

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:32–34 ESV)

Mark is the shortest of our gospels, but this little bit has some fascinating details. Jesus walked ahead of his disciples, they were amazed, and following Jesus, they were afraid. All this before Jesus describes the awful things that are about to happen to him — betrayal, arrest, condemnation, humiliation, death.

Yes, three days later, Jesus tells his amazed and frightened disciples he will rise again. Not dead. Very, very, not dead.

And how do James and John respond to this?

Give us a place of honor at your side, in your glory.

Glory. They want glory. Literally, here, they want the attention, the honor, they want the eyes of all the world upon them, thinking those eyes are on Jesus. They want to share in the light that shines upon Jesus, their teacher and friend. They want to be part of it.

Now, maybe they think this walk to Jerusalem is about a kingdom that will look and smell and taste and be like Rome. Power that can do what it wants, when it wants, where it wants, how it wants. Power that knows little restraint upon passion or desire or avarice. Perhaps they think this kingdom is like that, and whatever power is coming to Jesus, they want a share of that.

Well, who wouldn’t?

There’s nothing in the passage, though, that suggests they think that way. I like to think sometimes that the disciples were good, earnest revolutionaries on their way to Jerusalem to seize power, ends the Roman occupation, and create what they truly believed was the kingdom of God, but honestly, we don’t know what was in their minds. Perhaps all that is happening here is callow ignorance and boasting, like Peter, who will later swear that he will never leave Jesus when the Lord described how he will be abandoned by all who follow him. Maybe they are humoring the boss, or sucking up, or maybe they think that whatever is coming, they really, truly, honestly want part of it too.

But they don’t really understand Jesus. They have no idea what they are asking for. They will know, eventually, after Jesus is dead, and risen, and ascended. They will know. But not that day. Not on that road.

Can you drink the cup that I drink? Jesus asks.

A cup. Jesus will later gather with his disciples, in what must have struck them as a weird and terrifying meal, break bread with them, and pass it around. “This is my body,” he tells them. He then takes a cup, he gives thanks, and he passes it around. “This is my blood,” he says.

Later that evening, as Jesus struggles with what is about to happen, what he has time and again told his disciples will come to pass, he will pray in the garden of Gethsemane to the Father to “remove this cup from me.”

This cup. The cup that Jesus drinks. That he shares. The cup he asks — no, he pleads — with the father to take away.

[Pause]

Jeremiah speaks, in chapter 25, of something called “the cup of the wine of wrath.” God tells the prophet to give this cup to all of the nations I am sending you — beginning with the Kingdom of Judah — and make them drink of this cup. And when they drink, God tells Jeremiah, all of these nations shall “stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.”

The sword. War. War without mercy, without limit, without pity is coming, and it will begin with Jerusalem, which will become a desolation and wasteland. And then it will seep outward, to Egypt, to Moab, to Edom, to the Philistines, to the rest of Israel’s neighbors, and eventually, to the north and the south, far and near, and all of the kings of the earth shall drink of this cup, ending with the King of Babylon — the Rome of Jeremiah’s time.

Then Jeremiah writes:

“Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” (Jeremiah 25:27 ESV)

The cup of the wrath of God, full to overflowing, filled with war and violence and fear and death. No one with any sense would take that cup and drink it. Not gladly. Not happily. Only in fear and trembling. And even then, not if you absolutely had to. I’d refuse it if I could.

And God knows this. Which is why he tells Jeremiah:

28 “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! 29 For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.” (Jeremiah 25:28–29 ESV)

What if this is the cup Jesus passes around the table, the cup Jesus begs the Father to take from him, so that he doesn’t have to drink it?

[Pause]

On that night when Jesus was betrayed, he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.

All of them.

All of us.

When we gather at this table, when we celebrate this supper, when we eat bread and drink wine, we think of reconciliation and forgiveness, of belonging and unity, of the grace and mercy and God, a self-sacrificing gift of salvation made in fear and trembling. But what if this bread, and this cup, is also the wrath of God, poured out upon the world, swords loosed against all who dwell on earth, a judgement upon us, for our sin, our violence, our desire for wealth, and power, and glory?

I have a confession to make. I’ve never been comfortable with saying that Jesus somehow takes the wrath of God for me, so I don’t have to. That Jesus dies for me. I don’t buy it. I don’t believe it. My eyes tell me a different story, one of sin and suffering and death. Everywhere. So much. If Jesus is busy dying for us, taking wrath in our place, drinking a cup that we cannot drink because it is too much to bear, then honestly, I don’t know what to do. Because we all still suffer. We all die.

We all drink that cup. Without even thinking about it.

I think it’s better — and a great deal more correct — to say Jesus lives and suffers and dies with us, drinks this cup with us. Does it first. Is out in the lead, amazing and terrifying us at the same time. And then he rises, defeating sin and death and showing us that the wrath of God looks more like resurrection than it does a rain of fiery stones from heaven.

Or a Babylonian army besieging the city. Or Roman legions laying waste.

In taking the wrath with us, and then rising on the third day, Jesus shows us that the wrath of God is not something to fear. It will not make us fall so that we will rise no more. We are free to live without fear of that wrath. Because it cannot leave us dead and desolate.

Jesus tells John and James, “That cup that I drink you will drink and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” They will drink — oh, will they drink. They will preach and teach and heal and raise from the dead. And like Jesus, they will suffer. And they will die.

And like Jesus, they will rise.

We will rise.

So as we gather at this table, take this cup, each and every one of you, and drink. Drink of the wrath of God, poured out upon the world. Drink also of the mercy of God, the promise of God, poured out for many. Drink of the life of God, given, so that we may live.

Enough to Eat and Then Some…

I’m currently working on a sermon for this coming Sunday (yes! I’m preaching!), and the Revised Common Lectionary has, as it’s Old Testament reading, portions of Numbers 11:4–29. The reading itself largely focuses on the appointing of the seventy elders of Israel to help Moses administer justice and govern Israel. The Spirit of the Lord comes to rest on the tent where the elders are gathered, and the seventy approved elders prophesy.

But two Israelites — Eldad and Medad — who are not on the list, and not in the tent, suddenly find themselves prophesying too. Joshua complains — “My lord, make them stop!” And Moses shows some magnanimity. After all, he knows God better than everyone in this story. “Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone in Israel could prophesy.” So, Eldad and Medad join the club. Even though they haven’t been “approved.”

Interesting, that.

In the midst of this reading, and left out of the RCL text (because the focus of these readings is on the Spirit of God going farther and wider than we expect or even want), are the details of Israel’s grumbling. This all begins with Israel thing and complain that the food in the wilderness — manna from heaven collected every morning save on the sabbath — lack variety. It isn’t as tasty as what they had in Egypt.

Because if it isn’t one thing, it is another with God’s people.

It’s at this point both God and Moses both get angry — God with Israel and Moses with God. “What did I do to deserve being saddled with this people? Can I do this alone?” Moses asks.

And God plots a plot to satisfy the “strong cravings” (Num 11:4) of some of the “rabble” of Israel. And the passages hints at more than just a little anger and even vengeance in God’s plan:

18 And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19 You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’” 21 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month! ’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” 23 And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not. (Numbers 11:18–23 ESV)

One of my theories about the Book of Numbers — where God is at God’s absolute worst, always angry, never particularly happy with Israel, and always visiting some kind of plague or disaster in a fit of pique upon Israel — is that God and Israel are busy working out their relationship here. (This theory is not explicit in scripture itself, but it is how I read the torah.)

God has done this marvelous thing, yanking Israel out of Egypt after hearing their suffering and remembering his promises, and discovers rather late that Israel isn’t particularly grateful or even all that happy about its liberation. They whine. They complain. They make an idol from their golden jewelry and madly dance around while Moses is busy up on the mountain receiving the teaching, thinking he may never come back again. After that, Israel’s God is really, really, really angry at Israel. He even has to be talked out of annihilating Israel and starting over again with the descendants of Moses (Exodus 32) when Moses tells him that he will look bad in front of the Egyptians and everybody.

But God is not happy. And Numbers is a reflection of that deep unhappiness. Breathe wrong in the presence of God, and BAM! You are smoted deader than a drowned Egyptian Pharaoh.

In effect, God has to learn how to be God. Not the God of all creation, which he has been since the beginning and can do without much thought, but the God of a very specific people — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God has to learn who we are, and how to deal with us. God has to learn how to have a relationship with us, what it means to be in a relationship with us. (Some call this “process theology,” but I think it’s just a very faithful reading of the Bible.) And slowly, God begins to realize that the people he has called are not really capable of very much, certainly not the kind of faithfulness he’d like to see from his rescued and redeemed people.

From Sinai to Calvary, God slowly surrenders to this people he has called. He surrenders his assumptions, he surrenders his expectations, and he even completely surrenders his power to this ungrateful, misguided, and idolatrous people. In this, God’s wrath is slowly transformed into a self-giving love that willingly lives and dies with us, convicting us of our sin far more forcefully than any angry judgment ever could.

This is what is means to be Israel, to have struggled with God and prevailed. Not because we’re stronger than God, but because God has utterly surrendered to us, thrown the contest in our favor.

Getting back to the reading, the encounter between Moses and God in Numbers 11 brings to mind, at least for me, the feeding miracles of the Gospels.

There are some significant similarities. If we look at the feeding miracles in Mark 6:30–44 and 8:1–10 (because this is the year of Mark for the RCL), we see both are prompted by the need of the people who have gathered and followed Jesus and his disciples into desolate places, much like Israel wandering in the wilderness. In Mark 6, the disciples want the crowd sent away so they can forage, or buy food, for themselves, something similar to Israel’s complaining about the lack of good food, the food they had back in Egypt, on their wanderings.

In all three instances, the disciples — like Moses — wonder at the logistics of feeding so many people in such a desolate place. “Where will we find the money?” they ask in Mark 6. And because they didn’t get it the first time, they ask again in Mark 8, “How can we do this in a desolate place without bread?” Moses asked God if flocks and herds would be slaughtered, or all the fish of the sea be caught to feed God’s miserable people in the wilderness.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” (Numbers 11:23 ESV)

And just as in the Gospels, it comes to pass — quail are brought on the wind, so many quail that Israel has piles and piles of meat to eat. They have a feast, and God follows it all up … with a “very great plague.” (Num 11:33)

It’s an abundance that God gives Israel, quail meat running out of Israel’s nose, more meat than even whining Israel knows what to do with. But it’s a wrathful, angry, wasteful abundance, an abundance given in spite, to show the people who God is.

And that’s the difference with the Gospel feedings. Yes, there is a similar overflowing abundance. In Mark 6, the disciples show Jesus five loaves and bread and two fish, and twelve whole baskets of leftovers remain after feeding five thousand men. (Mark 6:43–44) In Mark 8, seven baskets of broken pieces are collected. (Mark 8:8)

But most importantly, the people are fed out of a sense of compassion (Mark 6:34 and 8:2), and not spite or anger. They don’t complain about being hungry and thirsty, not the way Israel did in the wilderness, at least we don’t have them complaining in scripture. This is not about God and the people so much as it is about Jesus and the disciples. “See what you can do when you trust me and have me in your midst?” In both Mark 6 and Mark 8, Jesus asks his disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” Unlike Moses, who wondered where sheep and fish might come from — because there was none on hand — the disciples have a little bit of bread (and fish, in Mark 6), which Jesus blesses, breaks, and then gives to his disciples to then give to the people.

“And they all ate and were satisfied,” (Mark 6:42 and Mark 8:8) something Israel is not as God piles meat before them and then sickens them. Neither God nor Israel is much satisfied with quail coming out their noses.

But God and Israel are satisfied with bread and fish.

I think this is how God has finally learned to deal with us. To have us take a little of what we have, to bless it knowing that Jesus is still in our midst (always in our midst), and then pass it around. All are fed. And satisfied. This is the miracle. Not meat magically appearing from nowhere, falling upon us like rain, filling us and then some until we are sick of it and can eat no more.

Considering the Wrath of God

I must be feeling better. I’m blogging.

Something I came across a while ago in scripture (because yes, I’m the kind of person who is excited by those sorts of things). In each of the gospel accounts — including John — Jesus makes reference to a cup he must drink when he is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest.

In Mark, it goes like this:

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:32-36 ESV)

In Matthew, it goes like this:

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:36-39 ESV)

Luke relates it the following way:

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:39-42 ESV)

Even in the Gospel of John, though the reference to the cup there comes after his arrest, and not before, and after Jesus has a conversation with those who have come to arrest him, something he does not do in synoptic gospels:

7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken:“Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me.” (John 18:7-11 ESV)

I don’t think this is a small or meaningless reference, not a mere detail for color. This talk of the “cup” — ποτήριον — refers, I think, to something in the Hebrew version of Jeremiah 25, a very powerful reference to judgement.

15 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. 16 They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” 17 So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it…
[A list of all the nations compelled to drink the cup, beginning with Jerusalem and ending with Babylon.]
27 “Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you. ’ 28 “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! 29 For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts. (Jeremiah 25:15-17, 27-29 ESV)

And this last bit from the midst of the Lord’s judgement against the nations:

33 “And those pierced by the Lord on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall be dung on the surface of the ground.” (Jeremiah 25:33 ESV)

It seems that Jeremiah 25 in Greek is not the same as Jeremiah 25 in the Hebrew — the Greek appears to lack the text as I’ve quoted (it is most certainly present in the Hebrew). So, I don’t know if the Greek word for cup, ποτήριον, is used at all in this judgment context.

But this is so powerful an image, of a cup, given by the Lord (the God of Israel), to Jeremiah so that the nations may drink of that cup.

It is a cup of judgement, of wrath, of war and violence, of sickness and despair. And it is given to the entire world.

Is this the cup that Jesus struggles with? I think it’s too powerful an allusion to be an accident. But I don’t know what to make of the fact it’s not in the Septuagint. I’m not sure what people might have heard.

I’ve been coming around to the notion that the life — and death, and rising — of Jesus parallels that of Israel. This judgment on Jesus is also the judgment God poured out and will pour out again on faithless Israel. Jeremiah tries to get Judah to accept its fate, and Judah fights. And loses — goes into exile and dies. This cup Jeremiah passes around, this cup of incredibly violent judgement (Babylon is God’s judgment on faithless Israel, but Babylon, in turn, will be judged, will drink that cup and fall), is it the cup that Jesus asks to be passed, and that he finally (at least symbolically) takes to drink?

And does this give us another way to think of communion — not just as a ritual meal of bread and wine, of the actual bodily presence of God in our midst, but of our participation in Christ taking that cup of judgment with him? We tend to think of Jesus as taking the wrath for us (that he dies for our sakes), but if, in being united to Christ in baptism and supper, we participate in his life and resurrection, do we not also become part of his death as well? Do we not die with him? Do we not struggle with death, with “taking the cup,” with judgment and wrath? If this can be said about the communion cup — it is not just fellowship and presence, but also wrath, then can we say that our being united to him makes it possible for us to participate in his taking that cup of wrath with him?

Christians have historically said — he took the wrath so that we don’t have to. But what if what’s happening here is he took the wrath so that we can as well?

Because he who was “pierced by the Lord on that day” and who is unmourned (out of fear?) rose from the tomb. The wrath of God — and I’ve never liked that term, but this passage from Jeremiah makes it possible for me to consider it seriously and positively — is going to be poured out, and the cup must be drunk. Because God is about to work disaster.

The difference is, I think, that with Christ, we rise a new creation after taking that cup. We are not dead. Because he is not dead.

I’m going to have to think about this for a while…