Monday, March 10, 2014

March 9, 2014 The Way of the Cross - You're Never Alone

Today we begin a new series of messages that will take us to Easter Sunday.  The title of the series is The Way of the Cross, and we’ll look at events in the final days of the life of Jesus.

As we move through the season of Lent the messages of this series will take us through very difficult and somber events.  Lent reminds us that we can’t always put a positive face on the brokenness of the world, and of our own brokenness.  But we also know that Easter is coming, and with Easter comes the promise of new life and resurrection, so in all of these passages, though they take us through difficult events, we find a message of hope.

We begin with a passage that tells us of Jesus and his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark 14:32-41 –

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.
34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.
36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?
38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.
40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
41 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 delivered into the hands of sinners.

One day I was sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s office.  Seated across from me was a mother with a tiny, newborn baby.  That baby was so helpless.  It couldn’t sit up on its own or even hold its head up.  As I watched that precious little baby an elderly man came in.  He had a cane in each hand and was leaning on them very hard.  He had a person on each side of him as well, helping him along.  What an interesting scene it was, these two people at opposite stages of life, and neither one could make it without the help of others.

I’m somewhere in the middle of those two.  Well, maybe a little past the middle, but the reality is I can’t make it alone either.  And you know what?  Neither can you.  I didn’t get anywhere in life on my own.  And you know what?  Neither did you.  No one does, no matter how much they believe so.  I can say I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps but that’s not true for me and it’s not true for you. 

I find this passage so interesting because it gives us such a fascinating insight into Jesus.  Here is the Son of God, with every power of the universe at his disposal, the one who could work any miracle, and the one who possesses such a deep reserve of strength.  As he is just hours from his crucifixion what does he want?  To avail himself of those powers?  To work a miracle that frees himself from what lies ahead?  No.  He wants the presence of his disciples, his friends.

Jesus took his friends with him to the Garden of Gethsemane.  This was a group of friends that did not always understand what Jesus was teaching them.  They didn’t always understand what he was teaching them about his mission and purpose.  They certainly didn’t understand when he told them about his imminent death. 

But in spite of their difficulty in comprehending Jesus they were with him.

We don’t always understand our friends and our family do we?  But we love them anyway.  In fact, it is often when we least understand our friends and family that we most love them, because we know that is what they need.

I imagine the disciples were bewildered as they followed Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane.  I’m sure their heads were spinning with all Jesus had shared with them at the Last Supper.  So many important teachings he was trying to get into their heads and hearts before his crucifixion.  And they probably wondered what in the world he was talking about.

But they went with him.

Stay with those you love.  Stay with them when you don’t understand them; stay with them and love them.  Walk with them where they are walking in life, even if you don’t see the path and if you are uncertain about what is ahead.

Having said that the disciples stayed with Jesus, we also know what came just a short time later.  When Jesus was arrested, what did the disciples do?  They ran.  Took off.  Left him.  It may be unfair to criticize them for doing so, because we don’t know what we would do in that situation, do we?  We can talk a pretty good game, just as they did, but when push came to shove they were gone.

Sometimes, we fail those we love.  We’ve all been there.  We’ve all been let down, and we’ve all let someone down.  It hurts being on both sides of that, doesn’t it?  Despite our best intentions, despite our best efforts, sometimes we just fail, and when we fail someone we love, that pretty painful.

Give your friends and your family a break when they fail you.  Don’t be too hard on them.  Don’t be too hard on them because we’ve been the failure at some point.  It’s rather remarkable that Jesus never condemned his disciples for deserting him.  When he was in his hour of greatest need, they were gone.  But he doesn’t start complaining about them – what a bunch of friends.  Just when I needed them, they turn tail and run.  I’ll show them.  I won’t forgive them for deserting me.  I’m going to hold a grudge.  There was none of that; there was only love.

The disciples fell asleep in the garden, which discouraged Jesus, and they fled at his arrest, which must have broken his heart, but they did reassemble in the upper room.  They did find their courage and their conviction.

If Jesus was in need of others, how much more necessary must it be for us?  There are a lot of people who feel alone.  You might be working with one.  You might be sitting by one.  You might live with one.

I don’t know how Jesus felt in the garden.  Obviously, it was a very difficult moment.  I don’t know how alone he felt, but by the time of the crucifixion he felt abandoned even by God, asking My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Those are very difficult words to read and to hear, aren’t they? 
But Jesus knew he wasn’t alone.

God created us for relationships.  Jesus sought relationships.  He built a group around him, certainly to teach them and to prepare them to carry on his work, but also because that’s how we work – we are created for relationships and God demonstrates how he desires to be in relationship with us.

Reach out to someone.  Reach back to someone who is reaching out to you.

No one makes it through life on their own strength.  Our lives are interconnected and intertwined in powerful ways and I believe that is exactly what God has always intended.  It is, I believe, God’s will and intention that our lives are interconnected and intertwined.

I moved to Louisville in 1981 to continue seminary.  Two weeks before moving I received a letter than I had no place to live.  The dorms were overbooked and I was one of the ones who got bumped.  I thought about it a while and decided to go on to Louisville and something would work out.  I had never been to the campus and had only passed through Louisville once, so I didn’t even know how to find the campus.  If I needed, I thought, I could sleep in my car a couple of nights.  When I finally found my way to the campus, after getting lost in Louisville, I made my way to the housing office to see if they could provide any help.  They could not, unfortunately, but they said they would put my name on a list.  When I gave my name someone at another desk said I have a note here for you.  That was a surprise to me, because I didn’t know anyone at the seminary.  It turned out that a couple I knew in college had moved to campus earlier in the summer.  His wife had a job in one of the other offices and had somehow learned of my predicament.  The note said to call them as soon as I arrived and they would put me up in their apartment as long as it took me to find a place to live.

That was a really great moment, to find someone was looking out for me.  Someone is looking out for you as well.  We are never alone, thank be to God.

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