Here is my sermon from last Sunday – Jesus praying in Gethsemane. I have to admit that I was having a hard time not laughing every time I mentioned Peter, James and John falling asleep because all I could think of was that episode of Friends where Ross and Rachel got back together and she wrote him an 18 page letter (FRONT AND BACK) and he fell asleep while reading it and when they fought about it and Ross told Rachel he had fallen asleep and not finished the letter she said, “you fell aSLEEP?!”
Thankfully I know well enough to keep those thoughts to myself when I’m actually preaching.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
May 12, 2019
Stop and Pray
When I came to RCC for my interview in 2011, I walked into the Sadie Perry Room and met the search committee in person for the first time. The mood in the room was a graceful combination of nerves and excitement as I sat down and we began our conversation.
I do not remember exactly how this all transpired, but I do remember discussing how we were going to begin and what the interview was going to look like when Kim Chrystie interrupted and said, “Wait! Aren’t we supposed to pray first?” We all laughed and Kim became the first recipient of a pastoral gold star for being the only member of the search committee to remember, “The God stuff.”
We all forget – or neglect – to pray sometimes. We get caught up in what we are doing and it either slips our mind or we just do not think we have the time or it will even make a difference.
I am just as guilty of this as anyone. I will hop from one task to another, trying to be as efficient as possible with my time and get to the end of the day and realize that I have not had any kind of meaningful conversation with God all day. Sometimes I might even think about prayer, but if I am in a tizzy about everything that I have to do, I usually think to myself, “I don’t have time for that,” and quickly move on to the next thing so I can get done what needs to get done.
I think some of it comes from growing up in the New England – particularly in these old congregationally-rooted churches. Prayer is not really something we did publicly or within the rhythm of our daily lives, it was something the pastor did during the somewhat-regimented-and-specific prayer time on Sunday mornings during worship. I do not think I ever just stopped to pray.
When I was a first-year seminary student, my mom called me one morning and said she needed to go in for a biopsy after a concerning mammogram. I was on my way to class when I got the call; when I got there, I sat down next to a friend of mine and she asked how I was doing. I told her about my mom’s biopsy and she quite literally dropped what was in her hands, grabbed my hands and said, “Let’s pray.”
It did not matter to this particular friend of mine that the room was full of students, TA’s and our professor getting ready for class to begin. It did not matter that there were other conversations happening all around us. It did not matter that there were people sitting next to us who could see and hear what we were doing. She saw me in a moment of need and she stopped to pray.
I guess we do have to remember that I was in seminary in the south, so the other hundred or so other people that were in the classroom with us that day were pretty enthusiastic prayers themselves and probably did not think what we were doing was all that weird, but still – that moment has always stuck with me. Because it reminded me of just how important it is to stop and pray.
In those moments when we need strength.
In those moments when we need patience.
In those moments when we need wisdom.
In those moments when we need endurance.
In those moments when we need courage.
In those moments when we need motivation.
In those moments when we need inspiration.
In this morning’s scripture, we see this lived out in some of Jesus’ final moments.
The Passover meal is complete. If you remember from last week, prior to Jesus gathering the disciples around the table for the meal, Judas had gone to the chief priests and agreed to betray Jesus. The hour is drawing near. Jesus does not have a lot of time left.
And so Jesus takes the disciples to the Mount of Olives. He tells them that they will all desert him, which Peter is adamant is not true. Jesus responds to Peter by telling him that he, in fact, will not only desert Jesus, but that he will deny Jesus three times.
The disciples still just do not get it. They do not realize how important these moments are. We further see this when Jesus leaves the rest of the disciples and just takes Peter, James and John with him to pray. They reach a stopping point and Jesus tells the three men to stay there and stay awake while he goes ahead to pray and, bless their hearts, they fall asleep – not once, not twice, but three times.
Peter, James and John are Jesus’ “inner circle,” so the speak. They were the first three disciples that Jesus called at the beginning of the Gospel.They were the only disciples present at the rising up of Jairus’ daughter, who was presumed to be dead in the fifth chapter of Mark, and at the transfiguration of Jesus, where he appeared on a mountain with Moses and Elijah in the ninth chapter. And yet, closest to Jesus, they still do not understand quite what is happening. Did I mention they fall asleep?
But Jesus very much understands what is happening. And Jesus – the calm, cool and collected teacher and healer that we have seen up until this point – is, “distressed and agitated.” He tells Peter, James and John that he is, “deeply grieved.”
Both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew record that Jesus goes to a place called Gethsemane in this story, yet the location of Gethsemane is not, exactly, known. The Hebrew word, Gethsemane, however, means, “olive press,” which refers to the machinery that crushes olives with an intense force to make olive oil. Some biblical scholars have speculated that the name, Gethsemane,might not refer to an actual place, but is symbolic of the intense pressure Jesus would face; a plot twist where the Son of God, who was anointed withoil before the Passover is now preparing not to be crowned king, but to be crucified.
And what does Jesus do? He stops and prays.
Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.
Just because Jesus knows how it is going to end does not mean that is how he wants it to end. We see in this moment the true depths of Jesus’ humanity.
I love Jesus’ intimate use of the word, Abba, which, of course, is the Hebrew term for father. It brings full circle Jesus’ baptism, where God called down from Heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved,”and also the Transfiguration, where, again, God called down from Heaven, “This is my Son.”
But it also reminds me of the intimate nature of my own prayer life; that I do not have to have some perfectly crafted prayer in order to connect to God, but that, at any point throughout my day, I can just stop and cry out to God in the most jumbled mess of a way and know that God is listening to me and loving me.
Jesus says to Peter, James and John that his spirit is willing, but his flesh is weak. And the same is true of all of us. We want to be strong, we want to be faithful, we want to have all of the pieces of our lives put together, but we are human. We are imperfect. We are broken.
We will have moments when we need strength.
When we need patience.
When we need wisdom.
When we need endurance.
When we need courage.
When we need motivation.
When we need inspiration.
And it is in those moments that we need to stop and pray; that we need to – like Jesus – throw ourselves on the ground and pray intimately to God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer who knows us and loves us. Because it is in those moments that God will give us what we need to get up and face the journey ahead.
And here’s the thing – it does not just need to be the big and defining moments where we stop and pray, either. It can be the seemingly ordinary and mundane parts of our every day, as well. What matters most is that we are inviting God into our narrative.
The third and final time Jesus finds Peter, James and John sleeping, he says to them, “The hour has come … Get up, let us be going.”
He is ready.
And we will be, too.
Jesus’ time in Gethsemane reminds us of just how important it is for us to stop and pray. We may think that we are too busy or that we are not qualified to do so or we might just forget, but I promise you if you make this a priority – if you stop and pray – you will have the strength, patience, wisdom, endurance, courage, motivation and inspiration to face whatever comes next – the good, the bad, the big and the small.
As you leave the safety of this worship space today – the safety of a space that is designed for prayer, where you pray at intentional times in community – and enter a world that perhaps is not designed as nicely for prayer, I encourage to stop and pray.
Even if you think you are too busy.
Even if you can think of 17 other things that you could be doing.
Even if you are not really sure how to pray.
Even if prayer is not a normal part of your life and world.
Stop and pray.
Jesus did not try to do life without prayer; we should not, either.
Stop and pray. You will be equipped for the journey ahead.
Thanks be to God!
Mark 1:16-20, though Peter is referred to as Simon in this passage, Jesus called him Peter, which means, “rock”.
Mark 4:21-24, 35-43
Feasting on the Gospels: Mark: a feasting on the WordTM commentary / Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, general editors © 2014 Westminster John Knox Press. Page. 471 (Exegetical Perspective)
Mark 14:46, NRSV