Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wilderness and Gardens

Mount of Olives (Turner April 2011)
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want."
--Mark 14:32-36

Today our Wilderness Sermon Series took us to the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus.  I didn’t have time to talk much about it, but gardens are usually the polar opposite of wilderness.  Gardens are tended with painstaking care.  They usually have borders and are characterized by order.  Gardens are lush.  By contrast, in Scripture, the wilderness is barren.  By definition, wilderness is untamed, wild, and characterized by chaos.  Yet, Jesus experienced wilderness in the middle of a garden.
In Gethsemane, Jesus endured agony.  He prayed so hard he was sweating blood.  In English, the NRSV translates it that Jesus “began to be distressed and agitated,” but the Greek word is stronger.  Ekthambeo means “terrified.”  Jesus was scared to death of what the next 24 hours would hold for him, so in anguish he prayed to God that the cup of suffering might pass.  
There was silence from heaven.  The Father did not answer the prayer of the Son.  
There is some solace in Jesus’ experience.  In those times when we feel alone, forgotten or forsaken, in times when it feels like our prayers are not being heard much less answered, in times when we are terrified, Jesus has been there, done that and has the T-shirt.  The T-shirt reads, “Wilderness Expert.”  Jesus has walked in our shoes, experienced our desolation , suffering, and grief.  He has come to rescue us from it.

 Although we didn’t have time this morning, I do want to share one more thing about Gethsemane.  We always call it the Garden of Gethsemane, but really only one gospel tells us that Jesus is in a garden.  They all tell us that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray.  They all tell us that the place was called “olive press,” or Gethsemane, but only the Gospel of John says that the place Jesus prayed was a garden.  Why would John think that detail so much more important than Matthew, Mark, or Luke?
Incidentally, John is also the only gospel writer who tells us that Jesus’ tomb is in a garden. 
What is John’s preoccupation with gardens?  John thinks these garden details are important because he sees a connection.  There’s a connection between what happens in those gardens (the Garden of Gethsemane and the garden tomb of Jesus) and something that happened in another garden.  
If you remember, the whole Gospel of John begins with these words: “In the beginning…”  Of course, that is an echo from the Creation story in the Book of Genesis.  There in Genesis, when God began Creation, God place Adam and Eve in a garden.  
In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve one commandment: “You can eat of any tree in this garden, just don’t eat of the tree at the middle of the garden.”  
You know the story.  The serpent came and tempted Adam and Eve, and they fell prey to that temptation.  With their actions, they said to God, “Hey, we’re going to do what we want to do, not what God wants us to do.”  In other words, “God, not your will but my will be done.”  And there was a price to be paid for that disobedience.  The price was the curse--slavery to sin and death.  
Fast-forward to another garden near an olive press.  Some have said that an equally grave temptation is taking place in this garden.  It is often called “the last temptation of Christ.”  You might remember when Jesus first started his ministry he went out into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil.  
Each time out in the desert, Jesus resisted.  He won.  And, at the end of the three temptations, the Gospel of Luke tells us that the devil left Jesus until a more “opportune time.”  
Well, if there’s every been an opportune time, the Garden of Gethsemane is it.  Jesus is scared to death, sprawled out on the ground, sweating bullets, his heart tearing in two, praying, “Father, please, if there is any other way...Let’s go to Plan B...I don’t want to do this...Father, let this cup of suffering pass from me.” 
Jesus didn’t want to do it, but there wasn’t any other way.  
There’s the connection to Eden.  In Eden Adam and Eve say to God, “Not your will but mine be done.”  The results were catastrophic.  But, in Gethsemane, Jesus reverses Adam’s prayer and disobedience with trusting obedience, “Not my will but Yours be done.”  
What happens in a garden at Gethsemane has everything to do with what happened in a garden at Eden.  Then, that great reversal was completed in a tomb in another garden in Jerusalem when death was swallowed up.

Thankful for Gardens,

Pastor Michael

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What's Love Got To Do With It?

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
--John 13:34-35

Not long ago, I had a conversation with one of my parishioners who is a real estate agent.  I said, “How’s the real estate business these days?  Are things picking up for you?”
His response surprised me.  He said, “Pastor Michael, things never really slowed down for me.  Right now, I don’t have enough houses to show.  I can’t keep enough inventory.  Lately, I hate the thing that has been driving my business, but business is good.”
“You hate the thing that is driving business?  What do you mean?”
“Well, lately I’ve had a lot of business because of divorce, because all of a sudden you have two people who need to sell their one house and buy two.  That has brought me a lot of business.”
I understand why he said he hated it.  It’s sad.  As I said on Sunday: Sometimes divorce is inevitable, but we all know how painful it can be.  Even if we haven’t been through it ourselves, we have family members who have.  I don’t know of many families that have been left untouched by it in one way or another.  And, it always leaves a wake of brokenness and pain.  Nobody goes into marriage hoping for that.  It was reflection on this real estate agent conversation that gave birth to our series Made To Last.  
Yesterday, we began by  looking closely at what Jesus says in John 13.  Disclaimer: The context of this passage is not marriage relationships.  Jesus is not speaking to married couples.  He’s talking to his disciples.  In fact, these were some of Jesus’ parting words to his closest friends at the Last Supper just hours before he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  
It was there that Jesus gave them a new commandment.  As we learned on Sunday, the Greek word kainos can mean “new,” but it can also mean “unprecedented, uncommon, unheard of.”  Jesus is giving his disciples a new, unprecedented commandment: Love one another.
Most of the time, when our culture talks about love, we’re talking about an emotion.  Particularly, when we talk about the love between husband and wife, we talk about passion, chemistry.  Love as a noun.  Love as a feeling.
But, Jesus doesn’t speak of love that way.  Instead, Jesus calls love a command.  You can’t command feelings.  But, according to Jesus, you can command love.  Jesus commands us to love one another when it is easy and when it is terribly difficult.  Jesus commands us to love even when we don’t feel very loving.  
If Jesus demands that kind of love of us for brothers and sisters within the Body of Christ, how much more should we obey his command when the “one another” is the one with whom we have promised to spend a lifetime?  We are called to, commanded to, in the words of Andy Stanley, make love a verb! That is the foundation for a relationship that is made to last.

After the sermon, someone said to me, “In your sermon, you said, ‘Sometimes divorce is inevitable.’  I don’t think divorce is ever inevitable.” 
I didn’t know exactly what to say in that moment.  I could see her point.  After all, we believe in the Resurrection.  If our God would reach into a dark tomb, after three days of death, and bring forth life, then there’s no telling what God might do with our relationships, no matter how hopeless they may appear.  Especially, when we obey Jesus’ commandment to love one another in action.
And, yet there are times when one spouse seems absolutely intent on not doing that.  The other might try as hard as he or she can, might give 100% toward making the marriage work, might do everything conceivable to make love a verb, but if there is no reciprocation, ever, for years, can see some inevitability.  
Or, there are times when one spouse is abusive and the abuse does nothing but spiral downward.  Nobody should remain in that type of situation.
So, having had some time to reflect, if I had another shot to respond, it might be like this, “I don’t think any relationship is hopeless if both parties are willing to work, to make love a verb.  The same God who breathed life into a pile of dust and vivified a valley of dry bones and wrested life from a tomb in Jerusalem is still at work in the world.  Still, in the broken world in which we live where committed spouses don’t have the power to force uncommitted spouses to love against their will and where violence is often perpetrated against the ones closest to us, I will have to stand by my statement that “Sometimes divorce is inevitable.”  
But, that’s no excuse to neglect Jesus’ commandment: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Trying To Make Love A Verb,

Pastor Michael