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Worship and Sermons
April 9, 2017

 

“God’s Way: Pray, Trust and Obey” by the Rev. Don Wahlig

Year A / Palm Sunday - Psalm 31:9-16  •  Philippians 2:5-11  •  Matthew 26:30-47

THEME:  Trust and obedience:  Pray, seek and follow God’s will, even when it’s difficult and contrary to our own will, because God’s plan leads to new life.

 

            Oh what a difference a week makes!

          It is the week of the Passover celebration in Jerusalem.  Earlier in the week, Jesus entered the city gates to great fan fare.   Crowds were waving palm breaches and shouting Hosanna, which literally means “save us!”  

          It was an auspicious beginning, to be sure.  But this week is going to be very different from what anyone of those folks in the crowd expected. 

          Jesus immediately finds his way to the Temple and wastes no time making enemies there.  The first thing he does is to chase away the money changers.  They are the heart of the economic engine that supports the Temple leadership.  These religious leaders are not happy with him.

          This is the beginning of a running feud that will escalate all week long.  It’s not long before these same leaders are plotting his death.  And Jesus knows it’s coming.  “After the Passover,” he tells his disciples, “the Son of Man will be handed over and crucified.”

          And now that moment has arrived.  After celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus has led them up to the Mount of Olives.

          He’s come there to pray.  He’s got a lot to pray about.  One of his disciples will betray him, the rest will desert him, and he’s staring his own death square in the face. 

          I’ll bet he didn’t say much on that half-mile walk from the city, down across the dry streambed of the Kidron Valley and up the hillside opposite to a grove of olive trees called the Garden of Gethsemane.

          He moves off to pray with more privacy, taking with him Peter, James and John.  These are the same three who witnessed his transfiguration.  Then, they saw Jesus in all his divine, resurrected glory.  Now they see him in his full humanity.

          Until now, his disciples have been depending on him, but now it’s the other way around.  He needs them – and he says so.   “Stay awake with me."

          We all know that feeling don’t we?  We’re facing a crisis and we don’t want to face it alone.

          Knowing what lies ahead of him, Jesus pleads with his father three times to show him another way – a way that doesn’t involve suffering and death.  “My Father, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want.  Your will be done."

          This picture of Jesus is as human as we get anywhere in the gospels.  He’s agitated – grieved – even to the point of death.

          The early church had a hard time with this passage.  How could God’s son and the world’s Messiah be so filled with fear, angst and sorrow?  To them, it just wasn’t fitting that a divine Jesus could be begging his father to avoid the pain of the task appointed for him?

          It doesn’t help him to find that his disciples are all asleep – unable to keep their heavy eyelids open.  “The spirit is wiling,” he says, “but the flesh is weak.”

          For as many years as I’ve read this passage I’ve always thought it referred to Peter, James and John.  That they were the ones whose spirit was willing, but whose flesh was weak.   But it’s not a stretch to imagine Jesus also feeling the same way himself.   

          That’s intentional.  Jesus is giving us a picture of what it looks like to live God’s way.

          At some point or another in all our lives, the road in front of us leads us to carry the burdens of another’s suffering. I’m talking about times when we have to give our lives in order to help someone else live theirs. 

          Maybe it’s caring for a child with a chronic illness or a disability, or a parent who’s no longer able to care for themselves.  At these times, God asks us to make a major change in the direction of our life, and it’s scary.

          God also asks us to make smaller sacrifices, too.  Maybe that means we have to deny ourselves and sacrifice what we want in order to help a friend who’s in a tough spot financially.  Or a family member whose life has been turned upside down by disaster or divorce needs to share our home for awhile.  These sacrifices aren’t comfortable at all, but we know it’s what God wants of us. 

          We may not be facing literal death as Jesus did, but his response shows us how God wants us to respond to these situations, even when it feels like we’re alone.

          When we confront these God-given missions, we can expect that some of our closest friends will do what Judas did.  They’ll desert us.  As painful as the betrayal of false friends is, we can’t let it can’t stop us from following the path God’s laid out for us.

          Others in the world around us won’t be conscious of the gravity of our choice, and they won’t understand our criterion for making it.  That’s because, like the disciples, they’re spiritually asleep.  In their lives, seeking and following what God wants takes a back seat to what they want for themselves. 

          That is at the heart of what makes Jesus’ response so important.  He insists on listening to God’s voice.  Three times he offers the same prayer, asking for what he wants.  Three times God says no. 

          When that happens, Jesus doesn’t waffle.  He realizes God does indeed intend him to make the ultimate sacrifice:  to die on the cross.  It grieves him, but he trusts God.  So he rises to meet his betrayer, in total obedience to God’s will, even when it’s completely contrary to his own.  That is the decisive moment:  From that point onward, God’s plan for the salvation of humankind is unstoppable.

          Friends, this pattern of pray, trust and obey is for you and me, as well.  

          When we pray, all of us ask God for what we want, don’t we?  When he gives it to us, we’re grateful.  We praise him for being such a wise, and loving God.

          But the real test comes when God says “No”.  That’s one of the hardest parts of being a Christian.  What do we do then?

          Few things say more about the maturity of our faith than our willingness to seek what God wants and then follow it, even when his will runs counter to our own.

          Our Session has been grappling with this very question.   We elect our Elders to be spiritual leaders.  As a body of Session, they make decisions to increase the faithfulness of this congregation.  They each have their own opinions about how that should happen, of course.  But the question is always “What does God want us to do?” 

          That takes not just prayer, but listening prayer.  If you ask them, they’ll tell you that can get a little bit messy.  That’s because it involves more than logic and intellect – it also requires us to pay attention to our emotions.  It takes frequent prayer, just like Jesus did, to discern how God’s moving in our hearts.  Equally important, we have to listen to scripture and one another, because often God speaks to us through the voices of others. 

          What about our prayer life?  Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, we use the same words Jesus did:  thy will be done.  That begs the question: Do we do more than just ask God for what we want?  Do we take the time to listen for what God wants?  

          That’s the key.  When we’re willing to listen to God, to trust him and obey him, he never lets us down.  He always opens up the path to new life, even if we have to make major sacrifices in order to get there.  

          There’s no better example of that than what happened to Jesus.  His faithfulness made possible the joyous miracle of Easter resurrection.   And that’s what makes our new lives in him possible.

          But that new life doesn’t come unless we’re willing to do the hard work of listening for God’s will, trusting him and obeying him. 

          So, as you and I go through this Holy Week with Jesus, let’s not move so quickly from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of Easter that we miss the example of faithfulness Jesus gave us in between.  Because the new life we celebrate on Easter won’t mean much if we haven’t walked with him through the grief and betrayal of Maundy Thursday, and the agony and death of Good Friday. 

          Let’s do what he did:  Let’s listen, trust and obey God’s voice.  And then let’s see what kind of new life God opens up for you and me. 

          May it be so – this week and every week to come.

Last Published: July 3, 2017 11:27 AM
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