Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 28, 2010

2010.02.28 “24 Hours That Changed the World:

Central United Methodist Church

“24 Hours That Changed the World:

Thursday Midnight: The Garden of Gethsemane”

Pastor David L. Haley

Luke 22: 7 – 20

February 28th, 2010

“Leaving there, Jesus went, as he so often did, to Mount Olives. The disciples followed him. When they arrived at the place, he said, “Pray that you don’t give in to temptation.”

            He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?” At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.

He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief. He said, “What business do you have sleeping? Get up. Pray so you won’t give in to temptation.”

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a crowd showed up, Judas, the one from the Twelve, in the lead. He came right up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said, “Judas, you would betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

When those with him saw what was happening, they said, “Master, shall we fight?” One of them took a swing at the Chief Priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.

Jesus said, “Let them be. Even in this.” Then, touching the servant’s ear, he healed him.

Jesus spoke to those who had come — high priests, Temple police, religion leaders: “What is this, jumping me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I’ve been with you in the Temple and you’ve not so much as lifted a hand against me. But do it your way — it’s a dark night, a dark hour.” – Luke 22: 39 – 53, The Message


       It was a night I’ll never forget: the night of Easter Day, 1992.  Around midnight, I was awakened with a phone call from a paramedic friend, who informed me that he and his partner had just taken one of our town’s police officers to the hospital, after he’d been driven down by a man attempting to steal a car.  He was not expected to live.

        As police chaplain, I went immediately to the police station, where the entire force was visibly distraught.

        So began a long night for all of us, where, in darkness, the commander, another officer, and myself, went from the police station, to the officer’s house, to the scene of the crime, and then to Loyola hospital, where we said prayers over the young officer and watched him die. 

        I didn’t get home until sometime the next day, and fell into bed exhausted, but – given what I’d just witnessed – I couldn’t sleep. Believe me, it was a night – and a week – I’ll never forget.

Have you ever experienced a night like that – a night interrupted with an unexpected phone call?  A summons that took you places you didn’t want to go, to see things you didn’t want to see?  Perhaps to a hospital, a jail, a morgue?  It’s just as well we don’t know such things are going to happen beforehand, because if you did, we’d be tempted to run, flee, or despair whether we can endure it.

        I think about my sleepless night – about such nights – when I read today’s Gospel, the 2nd episode in the last 24 hours of Jesus. 

After the Passover Seder Jesus shared with his disciples from approximately 5 pm to midnight on Thursday, they concluded with a hymn, most likely the Hallel, with which Passover is concluded, selected verses from Psalm 113 to 118.

Approximately around midnight, Jesus led his disciples not home to comfortable beds, but to a little garden in Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives, called the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus liked to pray. Did you catch Luke’s phrase, “as was his custom.” 

Taking Peter, James, and John with him, Jesus went a little distance from them, and fell to the ground in anguish, in prayer.

Peter, James, and John, meanwhile, passed out, as the text says, “from grief,” at the news Jesus had given, not only that he has about to be betrayed, but that one of them would do it.  Throughout, Mark’s Gospel in particular, portrays Jesus’ disciples as clueless, faithless, always sleeping.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tries to awaken them three different times.

But, in fairness, stop and consider.  Sometime in the last week, you hiked 75 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem, from Galilee. The time since has been filled with non-stop excitement, controversy, and anxiety.  You’ve just spent five hours eating and drinking, which included several glasses of wine, and on top of that, Jesus has just predicted one of YOU will betray him.  It’s the middle of the night, you’re sitting in a garden, and supposed to be praying.  What do you think, would you be praying, or like Jesus’ disciples, passed out? 

But not Jesus. The last 24 hours of his life would offer no rest for him. The Gospels are clear, and use unusually descriptive language, about the anguish Jesus was in, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mark says Jesus was “distressed and agitated, deeply grieved, even to death.” Luke shortens Mark’s account by half, but as if to compensate for the omission, a later addition adds: “an angel from heaven appeared to Jesus and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.”

What was the prayer Jesus prayed in such anguish?  Thanks to the Gospel authors, who considered it important that we know, it was a prayer of intimacy and honesty, indeed the way we should pray:

“And going a little farther, Jesus threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba (Papa), for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’

This prayer of Jesus raises questions that Christians have discussed and debated through the centuries, questions which arise repeatedly through the last 24 hours of his life.

        Did Jesus only suspect, or know in specific detail, what was about to happen?  The Gospel writers portray it that way, but how much of that was their writing in retrospect? Was Jesus, as portrayed here, weak and afraid?  Who wouldn’t be?  Remember, he was human, in every way like us.

        Was the tempter again whispering in his ear, as he had in the wilderness, raising questions, and consequent doubts, about what he was about to do?  “Jesus, does God really want you to die? Think of how much more good you can do if you live?  And this band of misfits you call disciples – do you really think they can carry on?  Look at them – sleeping!  It’s not too late, Jesus: Run!  Fight!  Compromise!  Anything but die!

Even more profoundly, Jesus prayer raises this question, “Did Jesus have a choice? Could he have said “No?”  To me, the scene in the Garden, the agony of Jesus, and his honest and intimate prayer to the Father make no sense unless he really had a choice, unless he could have actually said “No.”

Do we have a choice?  Is our destiny determined for us, shaped irrevocably by circumstance, fate, destiny, God; or do we have a choice?  Does God take human freedom so seriously that we – like Jesus – can say “Yes” or “No” to God’s will for our lives, and thereby change the course not only of our lives, but perhaps of history?

        And speaking of God, where was God in all this? Was Jesus – as John’s Gospel puts it – “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, destined, from before the foundation of the world, to die?” Did the Father send his Son, such that as the Son prays, “If it be possible, take this cup from me;” the Father responds, as some Christians portray God, “Sorry kid – it’s a bitter cup, but you got to drink it.” Or consider this possibility: perhaps – at that moment in his life, just when he needed it most, there was no answer from God, no voice speaking from heaven.  Perhaps it was up to Jesus – just as it is up to us – to make the decision, in this 24 hours that would change the world. 

“Jesus walked that lonesome valley,

he had to walk it by himself.

Oh, nobody else could walk it for him,

he had to walk it by himself.”

        Perhaps the most profound insight of the story is not, finally, the question Jesus asks, but the prayer Jesus prays.  Indeed, it gives us our best glimpse into just what it is that makes Jesus fully human and fully divine. Given that Jesus had a choice, nevertheless he prays: “Not what I want, but what you want.” Whatever theology Jesus had in his head, whatever motives he had in his heart, regardless of whatever temptations he faced and what fear he felt, what was most important was the trust and obedience that won the day:  “Not my will but yours be done.”

Let me be clear here.  Some people think religion is all about being a moral person, not doing bad things and doing good things, but that’s not religion, that ethics. This prayer of Jesus, this is what religion in general and being a follower of Jesus, specifically is all about:  trusting God, rather than doubting God, for what we cannot see; seeking God’s way, rather than our way, as best we understand it.  Remember how Jesus put it in the prayer he taught us: “Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” That was the prayer Jesus prayed and practiced in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Similarly, there are Christians who will tell you – in whatever terms they use – (gotten saved, come to Jesus, given your life to Christ, entered a personal relationship) that once that prayer is prayed, the choice is made.  On the contrary, as this incident in the Jesus’ life, it’s a decision you have to make ever day, at every twist and turn in the road of life.  Because, as the story also makes clear, today we may profess him; tomorrow we may deny, desert, or even betray him.  Which is the next thing that happens. 

In the darkness, a crowd approaches. As they draw closer, who is at its lead? Judas – Jesus own disciple, who betrays his master with a kiss.

A scuffle ensues, the disciples try to fight – perhaps there is another way – but just as quickly it’s over, and all of Jesus disciples run for their lives.  Only Jesus – and perhaps Judas, his betrayer, remains – and Jesus is bound and led away, to face his destiny alone.  No wonder Luke literally ends the scene in darkness – which all of us who have experienced such nights of overwhelming darkness – clearly understand. 

Before we go to the Garden of Gethsemane with Adam Hamilton via the DVD, let me leave you with four questions to consider:

Where is our Garden of Gethsemane?  Where do we go to pray, especially – but not only – at our times of darkness and crisis?


At what times, and in what ways, have we betrayed, deserted, or denied Jesus?  Perhaps not outright, but simply by being AWOL when we really needed to stand up and be accounted for? When in our experience of faith have we heard – and sometimes heeded – the tempter’s whispered temptation, “Just run!”

        What do we feel God is calling us to do, that we really don’t want to do?  Probably every one of us knows what it is like to sense that God wants us to do something we do not want to do.  We may feel called to take on a new ministry, to leave behind an unhealthy relationship, or to give a sacrificial gift to an organization. How did – how do – we respond?

At the end of the day, perhaps the most important question of all: Is Jesus’ prayer, our prayer: “Not what I want, but what you want.”   “Thy will be done.”  

In just a few minutes, Adam Hamilton is going to teach us a particularly Methodist version of such a prayer, giving our lives wholly and unreservedly to God.  I invite you to pray along.

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low by thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.


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