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20th Sunday after Pentecost - October 23, 2022

This morning we are in the second week of a three week series called One bread. One cup. One love. Asking the question, in a culture divided, fragmented, being asked to draw lines in the sand and move to a radical right or a radical left – what if we’re being called to the radical center? What might that look like? What language, images, symbols can we gather around and draw sustenance from? One bread. One cup. One love. Last Sunday we looked at bread…specifically the story from Luke’s Gospel of the feeding of the five thousand – the radically centered church proclaims the shared world. This morning we’re looking at a cup…

A couple of years back, an old friend of mine who I haven’t seen since high school – but we grew up together – posted a photo on Facebook of our Little League baseball team – same team, same players, all 6 six years of elementary school. And along with the photo he posted these words, “The losingest little league team in White Rock Dallas’ YMCA history.”

And we were. We were called the T-birds. Not the “Thunderbirds” – that would’ve been cool. No…it just had “T dash Birds” on our jerseys, no cool symbol, no cool font. Other teams were called the Rangers, or the Braves, the Indians and they would ask us, “What’s a T-bird?” And we’d be like, “I don’t know, please stop asking us that question.” Our coach all six years was Coach Mike. He was a lawyer, wore an earring, had one of those little curly mullets, smoked cigarettes all the time (because in the 80’s the YMCA let coaches smoke around kids), and he always seemed to be going through a divorce. We knew this because he talked about it all the time. Our team huddles before games were not the inspiring motivational speeches, we over-heard from the other teams’ coaches. It was not “Let’s get pumped up time” it was more like “Coach Mike deconstruct the meaning of life and relationships with us time” – “You know guys I know…I know I haven’t been the best coach. I got a lotta stuff going on in my life right now. When you guys grow up be sure to marry someone who’s gonna love you for being you…because life is hard. It’s not going to be what you think its going to be. I used to be like yall. I had dreams once too. But you know…here I am…Anybody have any dreams…?

“Yeah, Coach…I gotta dream we’ll get on base at some point. That’d be awesome.”

We were the most losingest team…indeed. But, that’s where I learned to play the game. I did. And…believe it or not, two of my T-Birds teammates were in our wedding. You know, winning is great. No denying it, right. Success feels good… But…there’s something about losing that teaches you something – it gets at something deeper inside us than winning. Richard Rhor writes, “Success has nothing of spiritual value to teach us after the age of 35.”

But, losing…who wants to be a loser?

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, the “sons of thunder” is what Jesus called them…and here comes their mother. I imagine if they’re the sons of thunder – she might be the lightning. She leaps out of the text, electricity in her steps, sparks in her eyes…she stops, she kneels, she’s got a request. “Declare it…now. These two sons of mine sit next to you in your kingdom.” Now, we can’t blame her. Remember, this family developed a lucrative fishing business, set these boys up for success, and then this itinerant Rabbi comes along, her sons drop everything the family worked for and follow him. Now, here they are – the mother, the sons who blew-off the family plan, and Jesus. “Let them sit next to you Jesus.”

That day and age, anyone who got to sit next to the host – well those were the seats of honor, the seats of privilege, that’s where the winners sat. Everyone’s thinking okay if there’s a kingdom, that means we’re going to win, and if we’re going to win, there’s going to be a feast, and if there’s a feast there’s going to be seats, so….

asks them, “Do you think you can drink the cup I’m about to drink?” Eager to please or eager to be marked with the badge of success they say, “Yes…yes. We are able.” Jesus replies, “Oh, you’ll drink the cup…but it’s got nothing to do with whatever you’re thinking…”

Maybe they thought the cup was the Passover cup, maybe they thought the cup was the cup of fates – of destiny as it’s often used in the Psalms and throughout the Old Testament. Whatever they thought…it seems the cup – to them - meant they were going to win. The championship cup. The cup to toast the victory. The cup to taste the wine of success.

You see they didn’t know…yet. But they would find out. That cup they too were going to drink from…the one Jesus was going to drink from once he arrived in Jerusalem – it was the cup of loss, of suffering. They didn’t get it…Because it’s hard to get…even though Jesus tried to tell them, even though he’s still trying to tell us – if you want to find your life, you gotta lose…if you think I came here for the winners of the world, you’re mistaken…if you think your success story has one iota of value in the story of God’s love for the world, you’re missing it… It’s hard to get.

We’re so drawn to success, to power, prestige, position…we’re so fixated on winning. We want our ideas to win, our opinions to win, our party to win, our policy to pass…we want our churches to be big, winning churches, we want our programs to be successful, with all kinds of winning numbers to point to and say, “See. Look. We matter. We’re worthy. We’re winning.” And I can’t help but think it’s because we’ve constructed “church” out of an image of god we’ve created that’s big, and powerful, and muscly, and always wins, and has a special place for all the big, powerful, muscly, winning people of the world. Which is odd…considering that the people who Jesus spent the most time with…the people he ate with, prayed with, and lived with…were losers. He himself being the chief one. Talk about a failed movement. People don’t understand you, your friend betrays you, your other friends abandon you, victim of a religious mud-slinging campaign, victim of political manipulation, mocked, and killed by the very people you’re trying to love. We want to call that a win? That’s the cup he drank from…

Losing is scary…makes sense that we’re afraid of it. The poet William Stafford wrote,

What you fear will not go away, it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you, that’s the world and we all live there. Maybe the radically centered church knows that. Maybe that’s why culture loves getting us into our little tribes, on the edges of the continuum, because in the echo chambers we can drown out other people’s suffering and our own fear of loss, it’s easier to pretend to be big, and powerful, and make winning the goal – because in the radical center we encounter suffering, we encounter our own fear, we come face to face with loss, we learn how to be a loser…because it’s there we learn that we got to lose our life to find it, we learn that before we drink from the chalice of victory, we drink from the cup of defeat. Or…maybe it’s the same cup. One bread. One cup. One love. Seems to me there’s way more ways to lose in this world than there are to win. So, I’m thankful God came for the losers to show us how to lose and still love and be loved. All kinds of ways to be a loser…Author Brennan Manning was a lapsed Franciscan priest who spent the second half of his life writing about his struggles with alcoholism and the radical grace of God. I read this story from him many years ago, but over the past year it has taken on deeper meaning in my own life. Manning writes,

On a sweltering summer night in New Orleans, sixteen recovering alcoholics gather for their weekly AA meeting. This is their home group. They have been meeting on Tuesday nights for several years and know each other well… Some members are wealthy, others middle class or poor. Some smoke, others don’t. Most drink coffee. Some have graduate degrees, others have not finished high school. For one small hour, the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise.… The meeting opened with the Serenity Prayer followed by a moment of silence. The prologue to Alcoholics Anonymous was read from the Big Book by Harry, followed by the Twelve Steps of the program from Michelle. That night, Jack was the appointed leader. “The theme I would like to talk about tonight is gratitude,” he began, “But if anyone wants to talk about something else, let’s hear it.” Immediately Phil’s hand shot up. “As you know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. You also know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days.” The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner….Phil’s voice choked and he lowered his head. I glanced around the table – moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room. Until…voices saying, “The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year.” “Thank God you’re back.” “Boy, that took a lot of guts.” “Relapse spells relief, Phil. Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why.” “I’m so proud of you.” As the meeting ended, Phil stood up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. The soft embrace from several in the room. “You old ragamuffin,” said Denise. “Let’s go. I’m treating you to a banana split.”

Family of God, the radically centered church knows it’s more ragamuffin than royalty; knows it’s shipwrecked souls more than the gathered faithful; knows it’s not just the communion of saints but the joyful company of losers. It’s where the “high and mighty descend and the lowly rise” to sing, pray, and learn alongside all the other losers – all of us – losing it all and gaining it all in One bread. One cup. One love. Amen.

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