Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Cup

The Cup
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
June 11, 2017
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Psalm 23
2 Samuel 12: 1-8
Matthew 26: 36-39

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives   
For your eyes show the way
    Your mind knows the truth
    Your being is the life.

 2 Samuel 12: 1-8
and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.

One of the things that I have really enjoyed doing in my sermons is connecting together things that aren’t usually connected together, and the reason I like to do it is that when you connect things together that aren’t usually connected together, you think thoughts that aren’t usually thought. In other words you gain insight, beyond what is usual. It breaks down the barriers that often bind us to familiar patterns and allows us to see things anew. This morning we looked at two different places in the Old Testament, where David, the King plays a role. One is the reading from 2 Samuel where Nathan comes to David and rebukes him. You see this passage directly follows the David and Bathsheba story, where David in his Kingly arrogance and desire decides that he wants to possess another man’s wife, and thinking himself more important because he is the king, decides to have the man killed, making things worse, the man was Uriah, a Hittite and one of David’s great generals, and David didn’t just have him killed directly, instead he cowardly and despicably sent him into battle in a way that would ensure that he would be killed. The lives of his men meant so little to him, that they were just pawns to be discarded for the king’s own pleasure, and Nathan calls him out on it, and tells him the story about the man and the little lamb. You see in the parable the poor man’s lamb is taken to satisfy the rich man, David of course is disgusted, and this allows him to see finally into his own crimes.
But look at what Nathan says, look at the details. . . the little lamb drank from the same cup as the master, just like the poor man’s own children. There is great love there, drinking from the same cup, and does this mean that God is the poor farmer. . . loving one like Uriah the Hittite, a foreigner? Interesting. . . but look also at what Nathan says to David. . .
You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.

You see what wouldn’t I have given if you would have needed. . . another way of saying the cup runs over. . . Could this rebuke from Nathan been on David’s mind when he wrote the famous 23rd psalm, my cup runneth over, it certainly has the same imagery of a sheep who was loved, cared for and protected like one of the family, God’s own family.
What is it about cups? Drinking from the same cup. . . my cup runneth over. . . now listen to the Gospel reading:
Matthew 26: 36-39
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 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

It may seem like something normal and everyday like a cup would not have significance, and wouldn’t be something that could teach, let alone preach, something relevant to us, but how interesting that Christ doesn’t say, hey, Father, is there any way I can get out of this. . . instead he uses the metaphor of cup. . . let this cup pass from me. And the Greek word that that is attributed to him in every gospel account of the story, so in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is the word “Proterion” which literally means drinking cup, and is the same exact word that was used in the original Greek translation of the Old Testament, for the 23rd psalm, a translation known as the Septuagint, which dates to 200-300 years before Christ. . . so there is a linguistic connection between the words, and between the metaphors. . . but let’s think about these two together for a moment. . .
Let this cup pass, we take to mean the betrayal, the trial, the beatings, the floggings, and the death by crucifixion. . . right isn’t that what we think about when we hear Jesus saying “Let this cup pass.” Isn’t there another way. . . can you get me out of this. . . you know one more time for old time’s sake. . . kinda like Tessio in the Godfather, when he is found out for betraying Micheal. . . he says, “Can you get me out of this Tom, you know for old time sake. . .” One last try, one last ditch effort. . . Or in one of my favorite movies. . . Have you ever seen Darby O’Gill and the Little People, it’s a classic. . . Darby catches the king of the Leprecaun’s King Bryan Connors, and holds him until he grants him three wishes. . . and he holds onto his wishes too long, trying to get his daughter taken care of, but without the King to keep the fairies and the other powers of darkness at bay, the banshee comes and strikes Darby’s daughter with a fever. . . Darby uses his third wish to take her place in the Coach de Bower (C√≥iste Bodhar). Then King Brian is free, but for old time sake joins Darby in the Coach, and they share reminiscences of their rivalry, and Brian says to Darby, “I wish I could go with you all the way.” And Darby says, “I wish you could, too.” And then Brian starts laughing, such a great scene, says, “aren’t you a knowledgeable man.” You see early in the movie, when Darby catches him the first time Brian offers Darby a fourth wish, and when he takes it he says, “Three wishes I grant ye, big wishes and small, but if you wish a fourth wish you lose them all. . .” so now in the Coach, the fourth wish releases Darby from his deal, and the coach returns empty. . . the daughter wakes up, and there is a happy ending where the daughter Katie, marries a young Sean Connery. . . Now this is what I’ve always taken “Let this cup pass” to mean. . . Hey God can I wish that fourth wish and undo all this. . . but alas no. . . the trial, the torture, the cross, the tomb. . .
Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus uses the same metaphor. . .
21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

So Jesus uses this idea of his trials being a cup that he must drink from here too, and it seems to be linked with destiny, “are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink” you could take this to mean, are you able, can you do it, but it could instead mean, we all drink from our own cups, our own path, our own way, as given by God. . . “this is not mine to grant, but is for whom it has been prepared. . . and he says, by my Father.” So if we were to read it this way, it would seem like we would each have our own cup to drink from. . . and the ability thing, there, is not a slight on the disciple’s ability in their own willingness, but instead in their path and destiny to be different. . . we all find ourselves often wanting to drink from another’s cup, maybe because we see the need, the challenge, the moral highness of it, or maybe we are just envious of the others, or maybe we like the disciples are trying to earn our position. . . but whatever it is, we have our own cup to drink from. . . and as David says and learns, that cup runneth over and is sufficient.
But there are many more significant cup stories in the old testament. . . look at Genesis 44.
Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the top of his sack. Put my cup, the silver cup, in the top of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him. As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. When they had gone only a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, “Go, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup?[a] Is it not from this that my lord drinks? Does he not indeed use it for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’”
When he overtook them, he repeated these words to them. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! Look, the money that we found at the top of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; why then would we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Should it be found with any one of your servants, let him die; moreover the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” 10 He said, “Even so; in accordance with your words, let it be: he with whom it is found shall become my slave, but the rest of you shall go free.” 11 Then each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. 12 He searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 At this they tore their clothes. Then each one loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.
14 Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house while he was still there; and they fell to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that one such as I can practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; here we are then, my lord’s slaves, both we and also the one in whose possession the cup has been found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the one in whose possession the cup was found shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
And so Joseph holds onto Benjamin as a slave. . . but Judah pleads for his release, and tells the story of their father, Jacob, and old man who greatly mourns the children of his old age, Joseph, who he thinks is dead, and this Benjamin. . . the child of his right hand. . . whom he truly loves for these two are the children of Rachel for whom he worked so long, and loved so deeply.
So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.

And there you have it right, a story of forgiveness and destiny. . . Joseph forgives his brothers because he looks at the life he is leading and knows he has been led in it by God for God’s purposes. He is simply drinking from the cup, and the cup has run over. . . and so the cup makes its way in the story as the Cinderella piece, the marking of what brings the story to its culmination, the cup. Much like another story in Joseph’s life, restoring the Pharaoh’s cupbearer to him, through Joseph’s recounting of a dream. . . again it is a story of forgiveness and destiny, centered around again a cup.
It is really remarkable when you start to look at all of the cup stories in the Bible. . . Nehemiah, whose path it was to restore Jerusalem, was able to do so because he was, as it says in Nehemiah 1: 11, “cupbearer to the king.” There is the restoration, the forgiveness of Israel, after the long years of exile, again a cup running over. Listen to Psalm 16
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”[a]
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
    in whom is all my delight.
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;[b]
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names upon my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    I have a goodly heritage

There are also places where the cup imagery is connected to wrath rather than forgiveness. . . as if the cup is the very cup of justice. Look at Psalm 75:8
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed; he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs

It’s echoed in Isaiah, but it also has the forgiveness, connected as Isaiah is so famous for the salvation that is often read during Advent as we prepare for Christmas, chapter 51

“You are my people.”
17 Rouse yourself, rouse yourself!
    Stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord
    the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
    the bowl of staggering.

Thus says your Sovereign, the Lord,
    your God who pleads the cause of his people:
See, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
you shall drink no more
    from the bowl of my wrath.

There is that cup imagery again, justice, penance, forgiveness. . . and it is Christ’s cup to drink from, so that we might have life.
Look at the language of Communion. . . this cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood. . . the cup of salvation. . . and it is given for us to drink from. . . and like David way back in his time, there is forgiveness, the cup of salvation runs over. . . and God gives us each our cups to drink from. . . it is wrapped up in the goodness of the cup that Christ drank for us. . . for His running over cup makes ours whole, makes ours to run over, and since the cup runs over it cannot be contained. . . certainly not in a tomb. . . and certainly not in anything then ever again.
Look at the poem from Bonhoeffer I put in the bulletin. . .
With every power for good to stay and guide me,
Comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I’ll live these days with you in thought beside me
And pass, with you, into the coming year.

The old year still torments our hearts, unhastening;
The long days of sorrow still endure;
Father, grant to the souls Thou hast been chastening
That Thou hast promised, the healing and the cure.

Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
Even to the dregs of pain, at Thy command,
We will not falter, thankfully receiving
All that is given by Thy loving hand.

Powerful words from a man whose cup to drink from included resistance to Nazi’s, breaking from his pacifist beliefs to seek the death of Hitler himself, and his own martyrdom in a Death Camp, to die days before the camp was liberated by Allied forces. . . Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving, even to the dregs of pain. . . at Thy comman we will not falter. . .” He wrote this in the death camp. . . his cup was a grieving cup, but his life was one that runneth over in its power to fill us. . . such is the amazing power of God, the means by which he maketh our cups to runneth over. . . all praise the mysterious wondrous ways of God. Amen.