Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Your Cup is Still Running Over” (Psalm 23:5)
March 26, 2017
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the hilarious and moving 1998 film Patch Adams, Robin Williams plays the lead role about an eccentric man’s journey to becoming a doctor.  The film opens with a scene of a bus winding through the snowy Blue Ridge Mountains.  On the bus sits Patch Adams—unkempt, unshaven, and in a voice-over he observes:

All of life is a coming home—salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers—all of us, all the restless hearts of the world…all trying to find a way home.  It’s hard to describe what I felt like then.  Picture yourself walking for days in a driving snow.  You don’t even know you’re walking in circles—the heaviness of your legs in the drifts; your shouts disappearing into the wind.  How small you can feel.  How far away home can be.  Home.  The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin…and a goal or destination.  And the storm?  The storm was all in my mind.  Or, as the poet Dante put it…“In the middle of the journey of my life I found myself in a dark wood…for I had lost the right path.”  Eventually I would find the right path…but in the most unlikely place.

Patch Adams indeed found the right path in the most unlikely place, a psych ward.

The psalm for today is Psalm 23, attributed to King David.  This psalm reminds us that although each of us may think we are our own shepherd, it is actually the Lord who is our shepherd.  It is the Lord who provides for us, makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us to still waters.  It is the Lord who revives our soul and leads us along right pathways for his Name’s sake.  It is the Lord who walks with us “through the valley of the shadow of death.”  It is the Lord who comforts us.

But today I am preaching on just the fifth verse in Psalm 23, in which King David wrote, “You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over” (Psalm 23:5, The Book of Common Prayer 613).

David had literally experienced the Lord as the One who had spread a table for him in the presence of those who troubled him, who anointed his head with oil.  This is recounted in today’s Old Testament lesson from 1 Samuel.  The Lord had ordered the prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be the next King of Israel.  Samuel arrived and invited Jesse and his sons to a banquet, a sacrifice to the Lord.  One at time seven of Jesse’s sons stood before Samuel, and yet Samuel tells Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”  I suspect there was an awkward pause and then Samuel asks Jesse, “Are all your sons here?”

Jesse responds dismissively about his rejected son, David, “There remains the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”  David had not even been invited to the banquet by his own family.  David probably did not even know there was a banquet.  Listen to what Samuel then says: “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”  When David is brought before them, the Lord tells Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  And Samuel did just that as he “took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers” (1 Samuel 16:10-12).

I wonder what David had been thinking earlier that day as he sat alone with the sheep.  He was probably used to feeling rejected and left out.  How small did he feel?  How far away from home did he feel?  Perhaps he, like Patch Adams or Dante, felt he had lost the right path.  And yet, he found the right path “in the most unlikely place”—or rather he was sought out and brought back to the right path.

Although David had not been invited to the banquet by his family, the Lord had spread a table before David in the presence of those who troubled him.  Moreover, the Lord, through the prophet Samuel, anointed David’s head with oil, so that, as scripture tells us, “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”  And as King David recalls all this while writing Psalm 23 he adds, “My cup is running over” (present tense).  God continually provided an overflowing cup of grace for King David.  It never stopped.

There are many people out there, perhaps even some in here, who feel like they have lost the right path, and who would include themselves among “all the restless hearts of the world.”  The Lord has a special place in his heart for such people, so if you are among them, you are in good company.

Scripture tells us that during his earthly ministry when Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).  And Jesus identified himself as the Good Shepherd who knows each lost sheep by name, who calls each lost sheep by name, who seeks out and saves his lost sheep, and who welcomes his lost sheep home.

In fact, did you catch in today’s gospel lesson what Jesus did after the Pharisees “drove out” the blind man Jesus had healed?  After “Jesus heard that they had driven him out,” he sought him until he found him.  And after Jesus had found him, he revealed himself as the Messiah, the Son of Man, and the healed man responded, “Lord, I believe,” and then “he worshipped him” (John 9:35-38).

Incidentally, the church is called to follow Jesus’ example in welcoming lost sheep home.  “Welcome one another, therefore,” Paul wrote to the Romans, “just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7)—or as Christian professor and sociologist Tony Campolo puts it, “We are not on God’s program committee; we are on God’s welcoming committee.”  I hope that every single time you walk through the doors of Christ Church you feel genuinely welcomed, every time.

Like David, Jesus was another king from Bethlehem, and like David, Jesus was also anointed with the Holy Spirit, not only as the King of Israel and the King of the Jews, but as the King of kings and Lord of lords.  In fact, Jesus was also anointed in the presence of those who troubled him, and throughout his earthly ministry he was nearly always in the presence or those who troubled him.  And yet, Jesus still persisted as the Good Shepherd.  Jesus still sought out lost sheep.  Jesus still welcomed the lost sheep home.

At the Last Supper Jesus welcomed his disciples to the banquet, even Judas Iscariot, who would trouble him beyond imagination.  Jesus personally washed their feet (John 13:1-5).  Jesus personally gave them bread—“This is my body, given for you”—and Jesus personally gave them wine—“This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).  Just as Jesus had taught after his miracle of the feeding of the multitude, “I am the bread of life…Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48, 51).

In the collect for today Jesus is identified as “the true bread which gives life to the world” (BCP 219)—and that is exactly what happened on the cross.  As his arms were spread on the cross Jesus gave himself as the banquet spread on the table in the presence of those who troubled him, even to his final breath.  The way back to the right path is found in “the most unlikely place”—Calvary.

Back to Patch Adams for a moment…while reminiscing with patients in the hospital he turns to Aggie Kennedy (played by Ellen Albertini Dow), and elderly lady in her last days.  “What about you, dear?” he asks, “What’s your fantasy?”  Her deep blue eyes light up and she replies, “Oh, when I was a little girl, whenever my mother would cook spaghetti, she would let me reach into the pot and squeeze the noodles.”  “Oh,” Patch grins.  Mrs. Kennedy continues, “I’ve always wanted to be in a swimming pool full of noodles, wall-to-wall and top-to-bottom, an entire pool full of noodles.”

Later Patch Adams walks into the hospital and asks one of the doctors, “Do you still want help with Mrs. Kennedy?”  In the next scene Mrs. Kennedy is lying in her hospital bed, hands folded, looking completely bored, and two doctors enter her room with a wheelchair, scoop her out of bed and into the wheelchair, and take her outside into the beautiful sunny day and across a lush green lawn.  And who is waiting there?  Patch Adams, standing, you guessed it, in a pool of noodles—“wall-to-wall and top-to-bottom, an entire pool full of noodles.”

Surrounding the pool are many of the hospital nurses and orderlies, all clapping and cheering for Mrs. Kennedy.  As her face lights up, Mrs. Kennedy is scooped up again and gently placed in the pool of noodles.  She and Patch Adams join hands and begin laughing and twisting in the noodles.  Then she scoops up a huge handful of noodles and drops them over Patch’s head.  Then they fall backwards in the pool of noodles and begin acting like they’re swimming in them.  Mrs. Kennedy’s cup was finally running over.

The cup of grace God gives you is running over—“wall-to-wall, top-to-bottom” running over with grace.  And every week at Holy Communion you have the opportunity to receive that grace anew from the banquet the Lord has spread for you, even in the midst of the troubling people or troubling circumstances in your life, to receive anew the “true bread which gives life to the world.”

In his poem “Love (III)” the brilliant early seventeenth Anglican priest and poet, George Herbert (1593-1633), described his experience of God’s gracious and personal invitation to this banquet:

Love bade me welcome; yet my souls drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
        Love said, You shall be he.
I, the unkind, ungrateful?  Ah my dear,
        I cannot look on Thee.
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
        Who made the eyes, but I?

Truth, Lord; but I have marred them: let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, Who bore the blame?
        My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
        So I did sit and eat.

The gospel is very good news for “all the restless hearts of the world…all trying to find a way home” because Love “bore the blame” and Love has bid all “harassed and helpless” sheep a welcome home, including you.

The Lord your Shepherd has indeed spread a table for you in the presence of those who trouble you, anointed your head with the oil of the Holy Spirit, and given you a cup running over with grace.

And your cup is still running over.