Sunday, March 1, 2009

March 1 - The Disciples in Gethsemane: Quality Time

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.
Mark 14.32-50 - “The Disciples in Gethsemane: Quality Time”

Note: I had the great opportunity to preach at the Sunday morning services this week. The church, in good Presbyterian fashion, is going through a Lenten study series, this year on Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages. Each week, a member of the pastoral staff has taken one of the love languages and sought to show how it is rooted in the gospel. Below is my meditation on Quality Time as a way of expressing love within the church community.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to the disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.

During the season of Lent, we as a congregation are working through Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. Our goal is to become better at communicating our love to other people. In Mark 12 verses 30 and 31, Jesus says God’s most important command to us is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second most important, he says, is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mk 12.30-31). In John 15, Jesus puts it another way: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command (Jn 15.12-14). God cares a lot about the love we show to others in our daily lives.

So how do we love? Is it a skill that we practice like scales on the piano? Does it take hard work to learn like polevaulting? Are we liable to get bruised and sore along the way? Yes, yes, and yes. But most of all, love is a choice to change the way we behave, to change what we do. Sometimes we think of love as a feeling, but love that stays in our heart is about as useless as a drug that cures cancer locked up in a top secret pharmaceuticals laboratory.

Last week Pastor Mark talked about how we can show love through the words we use. This week I want to talk about how we can show love through the way we spend our time. We need to learn to use our time lovingly in our relationships, parents with kids, parents with adult children, husbands to wives, friend to friend, dating couples, coworkers and strangers. But I don’t want our time together this morning to become simply a how-to laundry list. Instead I want us to dig down into the deepest heart of what it means for us to love one another by spending quality time together.

Jesus has already pointed the way toward the heart of all love. In Mark 12, he says the greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. Wherever we show love in our lives, in whatever relationships we’re in, underneath it all lies our obligation, unspoken, maybe unrecognized, to love God. If our love for anyone is to be true and real and good, it must spring from our loving relationship with God our Father.

So the question we must answer this morning is, “How are we to love God by spending quality time with him?” We can fill our schedules up with our kids basketball games, special date nights with our spouse, weekends with the grandkids, or time hanging out with the guys. But if we fail to prioritize our relationship with God, we will not have the love to give others when the going get more difficult.

We read Mark’s story of the disciples in Gethsemane this morning because it offers the most distressing example of Jesus’ followers failing to love him by spending time with him. This is the night that Jesus will be betrayed by one of his own. This is the night before Jesus will be rejected by his own people. This is the night before he is accused before the Roman governor, before he is insulted by the Roman soldiers, before the crowds of Jerusalem call out for his execution. This is the night before he will stumble as he carries his cross. This is the night before his hands and feet will be nailed to the wood beams. This is the night before he will die.

So after dinner with his closest followers, Jesus goes out with them for a walk. He’s upset. The disciples can see it, but they don’t understand why, they don’t understand what’s coming the next day. He leaves some of them huddled together and continues on with only Peter, James, and John, his best friends. But he soon leaves even them behind, telling them, “Stay here and keep watch.” And Jesus goes to pour out his anguish with God his Father in prayer.

After a while he comes back to his friends, and they are clumped together, nodding off, drowsy from the good meal they ate early that evening. Jesus pokes Peter and looks at him in disbelief: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” He goes back to pray by himself, but a little later he returns and the same scene repeats again, and the disciples stammer in shame. Don’t they care for Jesus? Can’t they see he is distressed? How can they just sleep? Jesus goes off to pray again and comes back a third time, and, once more, his best friends are dozing. They do not watch and pray, they do not stay up with Jesus through what is the hardest night of his life. And what happens? Do they stand the test, the temptation? No. When Judas leads in the mob, they run. Everyone deserts Jesus.

This may be the darkest point in all the history of the church. In the morning the crowds will condemn Jesus to death, but what do the crowds know? They are blinded by sin and selfishness and oppressed by the religious leaders and the devil. But this night Jesus’ friends betray him, the church sleeps through his agony and runs away from his suffering. How can we avoid reliving this dark hour? How can we be faithful where the heroes of our faith were not? Jesus tells us how in his words to Simon Peter, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

This week we had a soup and salad dinner before the Ash Wednesday service. I had some great bean and kielbasa soup. I had great time talking with a lot of you, hearing stories about the places you’ve been, talking about good music, eating some very nice desserts. I’m a big fan of eating food together. I think it’s a great way to love one another. We even have a potluck every Sunday night after the Five O’Clock service just for this reason. I think this is a good thing that our church does well.

But I’m worried. I’m worried that in our hard work and the busyness of carrying out the second greatest commandment, spending quality time eating food together, we’re prone to rush right by the first and greatest commandment. I’m worried that we could be holding our potluck dinners in Gethsemane, sipping coffee or lemonade, chewing on some fried chicken, while Jesus is a hundred yards off, crying out to God and feeling abandoned by his followers. Potlucks, prayer circles, talent shows--they are truly good things, but they must be rooted in our love for Jesus.

So Jesus tells us, “Watch and pray.” We show people we love them through spending quality time with them and giving them our undivided attention. When Cindy and I sit down to have a conversation, I am not showing her love if I pick up my guitar and starting strumming out a tune while we’re talking. I’m only half paying attention to what she says, which means, really, that I think what she has to say is only halfway important or, maybe, that she is only halfway important. That is not loving. So how do we give God our full and undivided attention? There a many way to--bible reading, fasting, solitude--but the most common way is prayer. By prayer I don’t mean a hurried “Now I lay me down to sleep” or “God’s neat; let’s eat.” I mean taking some time--five minutes, ten minutes, half an hour--and coming into the loving, holy presence of our Father. I mean telling God our concerns and the needs of those we know, and trusting him to respond. I mean turning over and over in our minds who he is and what he has done for us. I mean waiting to hear what he through the Spirit asks of us. If we practice showing God how important he is to us, if we dedicate ourselves to spending time with him daily, then maybe we will not desert Jesus in his suffering.

What would have happened if the disciples had not run away? What would the next few hours have looked like? Would Jesus still have been crucified? Yes. Would he still have been insulted and abused by the crowds and by the Roman soldiers? Yes. Would his followers who stuck it out by his side have changed any of these circumstances? Probably not. In fact, they might have been insulted and abused and even executed too. But it would have changed how Jesus felt. Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There is deep truth in those words that we could talk about for long hours. But couldn’t Jesus have just truly cried out, “My friends, my friends, why have you forsaken me?” Might he cry out today, “My church, my church, why have you forsaken me?” He was left to hang there alone.

We cannot go and comfort Jesus on the cross. We cannot go there and stand alongside him. We cannot speak true words in his defense before the crowd. We can’t say to them, “No, this man is not a failure. No, he is not a fraud. No, he is not dying for nothing. He is saving us here, he is saving you now, if only you will accept it.” We cannot make right what we have already failed to do.

But where is Jesus suffering today? This may sound like an odd question. Jesus suffered on the cross once for all, and God spoke in his defense by raising him to new life, by seating him again at his right hand in heaven. But Jesus still suffers today. Listen to Matthew 25 verses 35 through 40. Jesus is describing the future Judgment of his followers. He says,

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

We can be with Jesus by being with those who are suffering, with those who are distressed. We spend time with Jesus when we invite hungry people into our potlucks. We spend time with Jesus when we welcome strangers to take shelter in our homes and in our church building. We spend time with Jesus when we sit up with the sick, visit those in prison or other places far away from their families.

But it’s only if we watch and pray that we won’t desert Jesus. Good-intentioned time together in and of itself is not the secret. The disciples were together in Gethsemane. Maybe they huddled together to stay warm in the night air, maybe they chatted or told stories as they sat out on the grass. Maybe someone lit a little campfire and, one by one, they dozed off while the flames flickered. They might been having a great time together. But when the mob showed up, when the servants of the chief priests tied Jesus hands together, they disappear. When Jesus needs them the most, all their sweet fellowship evaporates.

Only by being rooted deep in our love for God will our love for others, will our love for each other, survive. Only when we spend time each day, praying for each other’s needs, crying out to God over each other’s sorrows and grief, begging God to meet the needs of those losing jobs or homes, asking him to rescue friends from addiction; only when we sit and wait for him to answer us by showing us who he is, to show us the face of his Son in the faces of all those who are hurting--only then will we be ready to respond faithfully when he asks us to go and sit with the family grieving a parents death, when he asks us to invite strangers to live in our homes until they can find work, when he asks us to withdraw money from our bank account to buy school supplies for the neighbor kids, when he asks us to go and sit with our friend week after week in a twelve step program. Only when we love God with all we have will we be able to love our neighbors.

Gary Chapman makes clear in the Love Languages books that love is a choice, not a feeling. I would say that love is a hard choice, a choice that demands a lot out of us. Loving God demands all of our time. If we love God with all we have, we live every part of life paying attention to him, to what he wants, to what he thinks. If we love God, we use our time along with all our other resources however he asks us to, even when what he asks doesn’t seem to make sense. But if we love God this way, then we are able to love others, with our time, with our words, with our actions, with our possessions, with our whole selves. We can stand with Jesus as he stands with those who suffer or are in need. We can eat meals with Jesus, have a good time at our potlucks, without consciences guilty because we are at heart deserters. We can watch and pray.

Please pray with me.

Father, we thank you for sending your Son to struggle and die. We thank you that he is not only like you--fully divine, but like us--fully human. He has experienced the depth of humanity, including loneliness and pain. May we never desert the lonely. May we be faithful to your Son by being faithful to the brokenhearted. Amen. (The Missio Die Breviary, Week 4, Tuesday Morning.)

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