Just Like Me – Lenten Reflection on Mark 14.32-36

Mark 14.32-36

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.”

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I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and I love this little detail about how the disciples are so tired that they fall asleep. One of the problems with reading small bits of scripture in worship is that we fail to pay attention to what happens immediately before a particular narrative. Now I know that we here are all good United Methodists, and therefore we would not know what it was like to stay up all night drinking wine with our Lord. But I can imagine that they must have been very tired after that celebration. After all this was to be Jesus’ last evening with his closest friends and companions. They shared wine and bread together and eventually made their way to the garden.

Upon arrival Jesus begged his disciples to keep awake with him. But they didn’t. So Jesus went off to the side, threw himself on the ground, and cried out to God, “For you all things are possible, remove this cup from me, don’t let me die tomorrow. But in the end it’s not about what I want, its about what you want.” Thats the story of Jesus in the garden.

I graduated from Duke last May, I haven’t even been in the ministry for an entire year. But while I was at Duke, I took a class on the Greek Exegesis of the Gospel according to Mark. My professor, Joel Marcus, knows more about the gospel of Mark than Mark knew about Mark. Throughout the course of the semester we translated the entire gospel from Greek into English, we would dissect every verse looking at the grammar and discussed the depth of the Word of God.

On one such occasion we found ourselves translating the story of Jesus in the garden. We discussed certain grammatical options when my professor finally asked a question, (He could never remember my name, Taylor, so instead he often called me Tinker) “Tinker, why does Jesus pray for the cup to be passed from him. This is a very troubling verse. On the eve of his execution he calls out to God to save him from death. So, Tinker, why does Jesus pray for the cup to pass from him?”

One of the saddest things about seminary is that everything became a competition; I tried to explain why Jesus prayed this, “Im sure he knew what he was doing, he prayed this for our benefit in the future, so that we would know about prayer.” “No Tinker,” one of my peers interrupted, “Jesus did this to help us recall the Psalmists words of prayer to be delivered from the pit, Jesus wanted us to understand his command over the Old Testament Scriptures…” This went on and on. We showed off in front of our professor explaining and rationalizing why Jesus said what he said. Our answers got better and better, we began to yell at one another across the room when all of the sudden my professor slammed his hands on the table. He said, “I am so sick and tired of hearing young seminarians like you, try to explain away what Jesus said. This verse in Mark is one of my favorites. Do you know why? Because in this scripture Jesus is just like me.” Then it was silent. Though we still had thirty minutes left in class, my professor packed his belongings and walked out of the room.

For days it was all I could think about, and even now I think about it all the time. That in the garden, in this precious moment we have recorded, we see Jesus just like us. You can bet that if I was in the garden and I knew what was going to happen to me I would’ve shouted out, “Please God don’t let it happen!” If I found myself hanging on the cross I would’ve shouted out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is just like me.

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If Jesus was to restart his ministry today in Staunton, VA He would not walk up and down Beverley St. with a three piece pinstripe suit and italian leather shoes. He would be wearing worn out Carhartts, dirty and used. He would be wearing a plaid shirt and hiking boots. He would walk up and down our streets seeking out the last and the least and the lost. Jesus is just like you.

We don’t come to worship to pretend to be someone we’re not. We come together just like this to learn exactly who we are and whose we are. We are just like Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane.

But at the same time, Jesus is completely unlike me. My prayer would have stopped with, “God take this cup from me.” But thats not where Jesus’ prayer ended. Jesus continued on to say, “not what I want, but what you want.” For as many ways as Jesus can be just like us, he is completely unlike us because he knew the Father’s will and marched up to the top Calvary to hang and die on a cross for you and me.

So I wonder; what are your prayers like? Are they like mine: O God please deliver me from this and that… Or are your prayers like Jesus’? “God I know I’m in a tough spot right now, I know that you can fix me and heal me, you can make my son or daughter well, but, in the end its not about what I want, its about what you want.” You know that great part of the Lord’s prayer? Thy Will Be Done. Many of us say it everyday. Do we really want God’s will?

Its not about what I want, its about what you want.

 

The Temptation of Temptation – Sermon on Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7

Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

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The Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

In the entire range of the world’s writings, it would be immensely difficult to locate any passage so brief that has had such immense influence on human thought. I have heard this scripture preached upon countless times, I can remember learning about it in confirmation class years ago, and I can vividly remember struggling with the text as I attempted to explain it to pre-school age children during a particular Vacation Bible School. The story of Eden is so well known and discussed that even most self-affirmed “non-religious” people can even explain what took place in the Garden. 

This passage has been debated, ripped apart, examined, micromanaged, and exegeted for centuries. Generations of Christians have dwelt upon these verses unlike any others to explain the introduction of sin into the world through the one man, Adam.

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I know a family that had it all together. The husband and wife always sat next to one another in church, fingers wrapped together as they listened to the sermons week after week. The children were all attractive, known in the community for their well-behaved manners, regular fixtures on the honor roll at school. Because of their wide interests and pursuits the family was known throughout many of the segmented areas of the community; sports, music, drama, politics, faith, etc. On the surface they were that perfect family. Others families would often hold them up on a pedestal and compare their own flawed family to this ideal one. Why can’t my children work harder like theirs? Why don’t our parents love us as much as theirs do?

What no one realized, was that underneath the exposed public appearance, the family was about to fall apart. I don’t know all the details about what happened leading up to the great schism, I don’t know who was to blame for the many rumors than began to spread around town, but I do know that it began with the husband.

He felt unfulfilled. There was a constant nagging sensation that he deserved more than what he had. Though he had that ideal wife, and the ideal children, with the ideal house, and the ideal job, he believed he deserved more.

Thats when a younger woman appeared in his life. He knew that it was wrong to flirt with her, he knew that it was wrong to lie to his wife about spending time with her, but he did it anyway. As time went on, casual get-togethers became more frequent, the conversations moved from flirting to romance, and soon they were engaged in an affair.

I don’t know if this is true, but I imagine that late at night, when laying awake in his bed he would rationalize what he had done: If she makes me happy how can it be wrong to be with her? I deserve her love. I deserve this kind of happiness in my life.

Eventually he could no longer continue to live the lie. He told his wife what he was doing, without remorse he left her and the children, and started a new life.

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He gave meaning to existence, brought forth light and life, and populated the earth with his creations. The paramount of this creative work were our first parents, Adam and Eve, made in God’s image. They were given everything they needed: life, land, food, companionship, and purpose. At the beginning of our scripture this morning Adam and Eve were content with all they needed, but they did not have everything. 

Enter the serpent; crafty and wise. He said to Eve, “Did God tell you that you could eat from every tree in the garden?” and she replied, “Of course we may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God told us not to eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, not even to touch it, because if we do we will die.” But then the serpent said, “Surely you will not die! God knows that when you eat of that tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” At that moment Eve saw the tree in a new light, she believed that it was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and that it would make her wise. So, she took the fruit from the tree and ate, gave some to Adam who also ate, and their eyes were opened. For the first time they realized they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Real temptation is never an offer to fall, but instead it comes as an offer to rise. Notice: the question was not, “Do you wish to be like the serpent?” but instead, “Do you want to be like God?” The truest forms of temptation are indications of strength, not weakness. We are not tempted to do what we cannot do, but what is within our power. The greater our strength, the greater the temptation.

This is how the seductions of sin and temptation present themselves: Want to know a little bit more about life? Want to be a little bit greater than you are already?

The serpent of life, the deepest part of our imaginations, plays on our condition and places the seed of doubt: I know this is wrong, but if the fruit of it is good, what sense can there be in not enjoying it? The way the serpent tempted our first parents in the garden comes to us still this very day, presenting us the idea that we can know better than God.

Reinhold Niebuhr once asked, “Do we belong to God, or do we belong to the devil? We most certainly belong to God, but we are in danger of becoming the devil by imagining that we are God.” That is true temptation at its most frightening degree; you can be like God! In our pride and lust for power, we begin to define our own understanding of good and evil. We become masters of rationalization for the sins and the wrongs we commit.

Thats what happened to the man from that perfect family. Its what happens to each of us when the temptation of temptation dangles before us. We rationalize ourselves out of making the right choice. We instantly become the center of our own universe, our own god; we become the only thing we worship.

And its not just us. This has been going on throughout the entirety of human history, particularly through what has been revealed in scripture. When God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they reached out for the dangling fruit and consumed it. When God commanded the wandering Israelites to have no others gods before him, they created their own golden calf and began to worship themselves instead. When Jesus called Peter to follow him, Peter was quick to deny Jesus three times as he was being led to the cross. When temptation strikes, it hits us in the very core of our beings, and once it enters the realm of possibility it can be dangerous and evenly deadly.

But the fact remains that we live in a universe which God controls, not us. When God gave each of us the breath of life to exist in this world, to live, laugh, and love, he did not intend that we should take over the school and change the expectations to suit ourselves.

Temptation will confront us whether we ask for it or not, it hangs out like fruit begging to be plucked and consumed. In order to confront our temptations we are called to recognize that we live in a created world where we must accept reality and not believe that we can indulge in every single wayward fantasy. There are some things in life that we are not to have, some prizes we shall not win, and some ambitions that the grace of God will not let us gratify. When our consciences tells us, as it told Adam and Eve, that some particular temptation is not for us, we do well to not rationalize our curiosity or our appetite into an justification for reaching out to take it.

We live in a risky world full of temptations. Some of us are strong enough on our own to resist the constant bombardment of sinful choices, but most us will give into temptation when it appears before us. As Christian disciples we recognize that God means for us to grow in this difficult world, surrounded by influences clamoring for our allegiance. Our call is to not shift our responsibility onto someone or something else, but to make our own creative choices for the good.

Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Many people act as if no one could reasonably be supposed to resist temptation. Temptation is a present element in every life and it comes to everyone. But it is possible to confront our temptation and not yield to their alluring powers. Just because a choice exists, that doesn’t give us reason for choosing the wrong one.

In my experience, one of the best ways to resist the temptation of temptation is to speak them aloud and confess them to our trusted friends or loved ones. The cost of this honesty is a remarkable amount of vulnerability. To confess our weaknesses requires a fundamentally strong trust with others.

So, confession time. One of my greatest temptations is to believe that I deserve this. That somehow I have been blessed with such an incredible community, church, and vocation because I have earned it. That the reason so many new people have been coming to church is because of ME. Now on some level this is true, I have worked hard to be where I am, but there is a remarkable temptation to believe that I have achieved this all on my own. There is a power that comes with the pulpit, a tempting power to become the center of my own universe, to preach myself, to be the shining example for all of you to follow.

The truth, however, is that I am called to proclaim Jesus Christ, and him alone. I am a flawed and weak creature, guilty of sin and falling short of God’s glory. I want all of you to know about this temptation in my life, so that in speaking it aloud I might confront it, and that by making it known all of you can help me battle against it.

For some of us, though, speaking aloud a temptation is too difficult. The amount of vulnerability required to admit a temptation is so staggering that we cannot even imagine sharing it with someone else. Thats okay. There is another way that we can begin to address our temptations. Before sharing it with someone else, we do well to admit our temptations to ourselves. 

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In each of your bulletins you will find a blank piece of paper. I encourage you to take it out, and in the next few moments prayerfully consider the temptations in your lives; the true and deep temptations that you wrestle with. Write one of them down on that piece of paper. Admit the temptation to yourself so that you can begin to resist it. When our service ends this morning there will be a fire (in a fire pit) on the front lawn of the church. Throw your confession of temptation into the fire. Let God take that temptation from you. Let the God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, help carry your burden. Watch you paper burn in the fire knowing that God is with you in this life, walking beside you, loving you in spite of your temptations.

(Pause to write down the temptations)

My friends, here we are taking our first steps into the season of Lent. This liturgical journey is always tough. But it gives us an opportunity to confront the different sins and temptations in our lives. Over the next six weeks we can begin to reconcile our broken relationship with God, with others, and with creation. As you prepare to leave from this place, watch your temptation burn in the fire. Repent and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. Witness the flame of the Holy Spirit consume that temptation in your life knowing that nothing will ever separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.