30 November 2008

The Pride in Christ's Cup of Cold Water

Douglas G. Grace
Broadway Presbyterian Church
Heritage of Pride Sunday 2008
Lectionary Texts: Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? – Psalm 13:1

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,

and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet

will receive a prophet’s reward;

and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of righteous person

will receive the reward of the righteous;

and whoever gives even a cup of cold water

to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you,

none of these will lose their reward. – Matthew 10:40-42

How long Oh Lord, how long? How long must we bear pain in our soul and have sorrow in our heart all the day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

The Psalmist’s lament surely does speak to the pain and frustration many of us Presbyterians have felt for a long time. Time after time, our church has not welcomed gay and lesbian prophets, nor received the queer as righteous.

How long oh Lord, how long...

Well, maybe not much longer now!

Praise God for the wisdom of this past week. Our Presbyterian General Assembly has voted to remove the constitutional barrier for out and open, affirmed, and faithfully practicing homosexuals to be openly and honestly ordained in our church. And the Assembly voted to remove the unjust and improperly translated slander against homosexuals in the English version of the Heidelberg Catechism in our Book of Confessions.

So, now it is up to the 173 presbyteries across our country to vote on ratifying these constitutional changes that this General Assembly has initiated.

How long oh Lord?

Not much longer now!

How long oh Lord?

And we answer,

Not much longer now! Amen!

I am honored to be here at Broadway Presbyterian Church where the answer to that question has been an affirmation of love and support for the little ones the church has long denied Christ’s cup of cold water.

The Assembly also passed a new Authoritative Interpretation that overrides a recent Presbyterian Judicial Court decision not to allow individual presbyteries to decide the “essentials” for ordination. So even while we must wait two years for the final outcome of justice for our denomination’s constitution, the Presbytery of New York City will now be legally free to ordain whomever they deem worthy –

“practicing” gay or celibate.

I celebrate with you this morning! And I applaud all of you for your faithfulness to Christ on this Sunday of Pride and hope in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Thank you for your leadership in NYC Presbytery in affirming GLBT people, and for your discipleship in advocating for ordination.

It is places like Broadway Presbyterian Church that are not only the salt of the earth, but cups of cold water for God’s thirsty children.

How long oh Lord?

Not much longer now.

So what is God’s Word saying to us today, in the presence of this potentially historic moment in our denomination and here in a congregation where I am preaching to the choir?

What are we hearing the Spirit say to us this morning?

Jesus said, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

There is a lot of Biblical wisdom and holy salvation floating in that cup of cold water.

If we reflect a moment, we remind ourselves that the region of Israel has never had an abundance of water.1 So Matthew’s congregation certainly would understand the significance of a cup of cold, refreshing water on a hot, dry, Sunday morning.

Rain descending from heaven was the primary source of water in ancient Israel since streams and springs often dried up. In this land where thirst was common and plant life was frequently parched, water was viewed as a gift from God in heaven that gives life to humans, animals and plants. Even the psalmists and prophets used water as a symbol for blessings and salvation from God.2

To drink from the fountain of the water of life, says Psalm 36, is to receive the salvation and blessings of God. Psalm 42 compares a longing for God during times of trial to a longing for the water of a flowing stream.

And today’s Psalm cries, “How long oh Lord, how long?”

And we answer,

Not much longer now.

Jeremiah referred to God as “the fountain of living water.”3 And Ezekiel envisioned a river flowing out from “below the threshold of the temple.” Even in the barren wilderness of the lonely desert, “everything will live where the river goes,” says Ezekiel.4

The sparse streams and the uncertainty of water in the land of Israel gave rise to final visions of hope for God’s ultimate reign of a world where water would be in overflowing abundance.5

How long of Lord, how long?

And we answer,

Not much longer now.

The Gospel of John develops this idea of the water of life in Christ6, and in Luke, water was offered in hospitality to guests so that they could wash their feet of the sand from the desert.7

Water was also a means of ritual cleansing in a religious context where people and articles were washed in preparation for a religious ceremony.8 And let’s not forget that rain from heaven cleansed the Earth from unjust human dominion and left a proud rainbow of faithful covenant.

This morning’s Prayer of Confession and Assurance is a reminder of this cleansing; where we “live as forgiven people, free of guilt and resentment; abiding in Christ’s love and freedom; striving for mercy and justice; and living at peace.”

God’s Grace is joyfully bathing in Christ’s cup of cold water. And it is offered this morning to all in the Presbyterian Church USA –especially the deemed “Queer.”

The Gospels declare that Jesus embodied this divine “living water,” and Christ’s love is offered as a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. Those who drink water from a well, Jesus proclaims, will eventually be thirsty again. But those who drink the water that he offers will never thirst. Instead, because you and I drink the water of life, we partake in the promise of “the spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”9

This cup of cold water, it reminds us of our baptism too – probably since a cup of water is about all we use today in the Presbyterian Church to do a baptism! Cold water, well, maybe not so much of the right image for baptism since cold water would certainly make a baby cry!

But that cup of cold water that Jesus challenges to be offered to the little ones is a reminder that all children of God find family in the body of Christ, and deserve the hospitality of love, respect and honor.

The family of Christ aids each other to feel the Holy Pride in who we are as created beings in the image of God; who we are in knowing that God created all life and called it good.

So Christ’s cup of cold water is filled with a spiritual soup that quenches thirst, offers abundance of life, performs ritual cleansing, gives salvation to the little ones, offers hospitality, restores the shamed to righteousness, and gives hope for God’s love to ultimately reign supreme in this unjust world. There is a warm, eternal fountain of flowing and living streams gushing up to heaven from Jesus’ cup of cold water down here on Earth!

And whoever gives even a little bit of this cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

So it begs the question of us, do we, as disciples of Jesus, offer this healing hospitality of Christ’s love?

And more pointedly today, do we receive that cup of cold water with the same loving grace now that it may be finally offered to us?

Will the little ones respond with the maturity of faith, and the wisdom of Christ?

Paul also speaks to us today by saying, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace!” May the Presbyterian Book of Order never be used as an instrument of wickedness!

How much longer Oh Lord?

Not much longer now!

Because Holy Pride is at the center of the cup of cold water which is being offered in the name of Christ’s disciples!

We are called now more than ever to discipleship in offering Christ’s cup of cold water, and we are also called to receive it with grace when offered to us. This is the hard work of spiritual discipline which we face now.

We may have won the primary in this victory at last week’s Presbyterian General Assembly. But we still face the general election of presbytery ratification in changing the constitution of our denomination to fully accept the ordination of GLBT people.

So there is yet a mission that we are sent out to complete.

And the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew speaks to Christ’s disciples in this hour of Presbyterian hope. For God’s hour is upon us this morning of Pride as we prepare for the final victory of God’s justice and peace.

It tells us to go to the lost sheep of Israel and proclaim the Good News of Christ’s love and freedom.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet and move on. Let go of your anger and resentment, and move on.

Jesus says that he is sending us like sheep in the midst of wolfs, so be wise and innocent in our own right.

Have no fear; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered and nothing secret that will not become known:

“Come Lord Jesus, Come!”

Be proud of who you are, in the grace you have received, and how God made each one of us, good.

What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops:

“I am who I am,” and “This is my story!”

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

Everyone, therefore, who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my God in heaven.

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

AND…Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward!

How long Oh Lord, how long?

And we answer,

Not much longer now!

There is hard work before us. And many of us recognize all too well the pain that the church has invoked over the years.

The church has kept many people deep in the closet, far behind the winter coats and down at the bottom of the pile of old and worn-out shoes.

But it is God’s Church that lets us stand here today and affirm

in honesty,

with integrity,

and legally

those who have been long denied ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in The Presbyterian Church (USA).

Here we stand together with Jesus at the thirsty grave shouting,

“Come out Lazarus,

Come out!

You are not dead! Drink from Christ’s cup of cold water and be alive!”

How long of Lord, how long?

Not much longer now!

Nowhere in our Bible does it say that God’s Way will be easy; and for Pride seekers, the parade route hasn’t always been clear. But we know this morning, after the close of our General Assembly last night, of the hope of the pathway that lies before us: For this is our story and this is our song, praising our savior all the day long!

Our thirst will be quenched by the cold water of our Savior’s cup; happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above for God’s rain/reign and lost in Christ’s love.

How Long Oh Lord, How Long!!

Not much longer now!!!

So will you join me?

Will you stand up and join me in affirming that the Spirit does justify us by faith through Grace; sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor as we watch for a new heaven and a new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

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