The Cauldron’s Call

August 14, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
13th Sunday After Pentecost – Proper 15
Isaiah 5:1-7; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

(Gospel Text provided below)

This Sunday morning we find ourselves just past the midway-point of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. I grew up watching the Olympics, and have been watching more than my fair share this year. I can pretty much watch any event, but the one that has taken most of my attention so far, besides watching the amazing U.S. women’s gymnastics team, has been swimming.

Katie Ledecky at the age of nineteen is a swimming phenom. Her strength is long-distance races, and she holds the world-record in the 400, 800, and 1,500 meter freestyle. When she races, her goal isn’t to beat other swimmers. Her goal is to beat herself – to BEST herself. She keeps beating her own records, including this past Friday night in the 800, when she beat her own world record by almost 4 seconds – proving that she’s not content to just hold onto what she’s already accomplished.

Leah Smith, after finishing 2nd behind Ledecky in the Olympic Trials last June said, “I’ve never been able to see her feet before. That was exciting.” This has become the new measure of success when competing with Ledecky.[i] What’s more, Ledecky just goes about her business in a quiet and humble way. No grandstanding, just focused on doing what she is purposed to do.

Ledecky pic

The other unavoidable name in the pool is that of Michael Phelps. After the 2012 London games Phelps had announced his retirement from competitive swimming. Yet, when he tried to step away he said that he didn’t know who he was anymore. His whole identify had been wrapped up in swimming, in competing, so when he stopped, he was lost. “A downward-spiral” is how he described it in a recent interview with Bob Costas. He didn’t know where the spiral would end, but he knew it wasn’t good.

Bottom for him came when he was arrested for DUI in 2014, the second such arrest in ten years. By the time he faced a judge a few months later Phelps had undergone an in-patient addiction treatment program and was turning his life around. Addressing the judge, Phelps acknowledged his poor judgment, saying:

“I now have the tools to move past this. What I did was wrong, and I made a bad mistake. I’m looking forward to having a much brighter future than I had in the past.”[ii]

And now at the age of 31, with his mother, his fiance and their infant son, Boomer, by his side, he came t0 Rio with something to prove. He knew in his heart that despite the medals he won in the London games, he hadn’t given his whole self to it. Now, he had a chance to correct this. He wanted go out on a high note, where preparation matched the level appropriate for the Olympic games. This was necessary for him to live into the baptism with which he was to be baptized. Fully. Authentically. Wholeheartedly!

phelps

That is what Jesus, in today’s gospel, is calling each of us to do.

In Wesley Allen’s commentary on Luke’s gospel, he asserts that “Luke offers the bulk of Jesus’ teaching along the way to Jerusalem.” It is in this narrative on the road that we as readers “travel into discipleship, learning what it means to follow Jesus and to participate in the reign of God.”[iii]

In the parables told along the way, and in Jesus’ act of sending the disciples and the seventy out, we too are being instructed in how to be followers of Jesus. We are to GO OUT – to share the good news of God’s love with unfamiliar people in far off places. This often means stepping outside of our comfort zone. The goal even then, wasn’t simply to come together and hang out with Jesus. It’s to GO and to DO. To live into our own baptism fully, authentically and wholeheartedly!

A little earlier in this chapter, when Jesus is telling parables, saying “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (Lk 12:35), Peter asks, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us [meaning the disciples] or for everyone?” (Lk 12:41).

Jesus responds with yet another parable, and at its conclusion, he says: “From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Lk 12:48b)

mm-go4glorySome may take this last command as a daunting task. Jesus’ words tell us that those who are his followers have a higher standard to meet. I believe that it is expressly because we ARE followers of Jesus, that we are in a position to embrace this higher standard as our own Gold Medal challenge! But, instead “Go for the Gold!” let’s “Go OUT for God!”. As something we can intentionally strive for!

The fire Jesus is referring to in today’s gospel – the fire he wished were already kindled, is the fire of Purpose! This Purpose is the baptism we are each baptized into.  Each of us must ask ourselves:

  • What is the baptism into which I am baptized – that is, what is God calling me to do in the world?
  • Where do my gifts lie and how can they be used to share the love of God with others?
  • What must I do to live into this baptismal purpose?

Yet, when we discover our purpose and how to go about it in our lives, Jesus warns that what comes next isn’t always easy. He declares, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” When our purpose-fire is kindled, we must change our focus, and that can be divisive. It will most likely disturb the peace and patterns in our lives. Even so, Jesus’ words tell us that this is necessary for us to live into our baptismal purpose.

“From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Go OUT for God!

While I was away on vacation, I spent some time thinking about my own purpose. It seems to be an on-going thing, it doesn’t always stay the same I’m still discerning some of it, but one thing I’m sure of is that my baptismal purpose includes the spiritual formation of young people – the current disciples of the church. I also feel called to the ministry of outreach.

We at Christ Church have been striving to discern more fully our collective baptismal purpose, as well. In that process, when asked what you wanted Christ Church to be known for by outsiders, many of you said Outreach. With this acclamation, I’m eager to take on a more intentional focus on Outreach at Christ Church, in addition to my work with Youth. We have some amazing outreach ministries, and I’m excited to see how they can grow, with your participation, in the weeks, months and years ahead.

“From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Go OUT for God!

2016 olympicsThe good news is this Jesus-following thing is a team sport. Like any team sport, we each have gifts we bring, and each have a role to play. So just like Phelps and Ledecky each have individual races, they are also part of Team USA. They support each other, and share in one another’s victories.

In the same way, while we each discern and live into our individual baptismal purpose, we also participate in a shared purpose as followers of Jesus. He calls for the fire of purpose to be lit in us, not unlike the Olympic cauldron – always burning bright, lighting our path through day and night. A constant reminder of God’s presence in our life, and guidance in our purpose.

With the final week of the Olympics in view, we leave the baptismal waters of the pool, and put our feet on solid ground as we redirect our priorities, removing obstacles that get in the way of God’s purpose for our lives.

We are reminded from the letter to the Hebrews:

since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that (easily distracts us), and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Like Team USA, we share the load with one another and also reap the victory together. A victory grounded in the love and teaching of Jesus Christ. Let us run the race fully, authentically and wholeheartedly.

JS96405539

 

Gospel Text:

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son

and son against father,

mother against daughter

and daughter against mother,

mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law

and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Luke 12:49-56)

 

 

[i] Pat Forde, “Olympics 2016: When keeping sight of Katie Ledecky is considered a victory,” Yahoo Sports college football and basketball columnist, Jun 28, 2016, 12:08 AM. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/olympics-2016–when-keeping-sight-of-katie-ledecky-is-a-victory-040839321.html, Accessed August 12, 2016.

[ii] Associated Press, “Michael Phelps pleads guilty to DUI,” Dec 19, 2014. http://www.espn.com/olympics/swimming/story/_/id/12052498/gold-medalist-michael-phelps-pleads-guilty-dui, Accessed August 12, 2016.

[iii] O. Wesley Allen, Jr., “Luke,” in Theological Bible Commentary, ed. Gail R. O’Day and David Peterson (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 330.

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