Matthew 26:36-44
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
July 29, 2018

I don’t know about you, but I find this passage to be reassuring and inspiring.

What makes it so is that there was a part of Jesus, the human part, that resisted embracing God the Father’s will, but Jesus trusted God enough to be real about it with the Father in prayer.

So often when we don’t like what we see in ourselves, we run and hide, or pretend to be different than we actually are. But Jesus dared to be honest with God and went straight to the heart of the matter. In the dark of night, Jesus threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if possible, God would change the course of action He expected Jesus to fulfill.

We rightly say that Jesus is the model we should follow in all things. That means that His struggle in prayer in Gethsemane reassures me in my humanity and inspires me to come to God just as I am in prayer — no fronts, no fancy phrases.

Jesus was real with God the Father about his desire to avoid all the pain that lay ahead, but His being real about that put Him in touch with an even deeper reality within Him: that He had a still deeper desire to love sinners and to fulfill the wishes of his Father to redeem them. In other words, His being open about His wish to avoid pain and death opened His eyes to what mattered even more to Him: saving sinners and pleasing the Father — and that awareness of His heart’s true priorities enabled Him to refuse to indulge His wish for self-preservation and comfort.

What reassures and inspires me is that after letting God know the depths of his grief, Jesus was able to offer himself without reservation into God’s service and to submit to God’s will completely, saying, “…yet not what I want but what you want…” He would not run the other way but be led by God to his crucifixion, believing that God would win over the ‘evil one’ in the end and through his suffering bring to all humankind the opportunity for life everlasting with the Creator.

Jesus’ prayerful struggle in Gethsemane reassures and inspires others as much as me. When ABC’s reporter Diane Sawyer interviewed Mel Gibson about his making of the movie, The Passion of the Christ, Gibson bore witness to how the story told in today’s scripture lesson transformed him. He openly offered that he was not presenting an unbiased perspective on the final hours of Christ’s life in the movie. Rather, he directed this film as one who believed, one whose life had been radically altered by the life and message of Jesus.

At one point, Gibson said, “I have to believe.”

“You have to believe?” asked a confused Diane Sawyer.

“I have to”

“Why?”

Gibson responded with an intense, deadpan reply. “So I can hope. So I can live.”

Gibson’s putting into film Jesus’ prayerful struggle in Gethsemane brought him into a personal encounter with the power of God in Jesus Christ. Gibson saw how Jesus’ owning up to his humanity helped Him own up to His deepest desire. When Jesus kept His eyes on the prize of fulfilling God’s will — that is, our salvation — Jesus courageously embraced God’s will despite the terrible cost of doing so. Without conditions, Jesus offered up His life to God and submitted to God’s wishes.

God will ask none of us to do as horrifying a thing as Jesus had to do; but like Jesus we are required by prayer to offer ourselves up to God without restraint and to submit to God’s will completely — even though God’s will for us is to do something very humbling, simple and everyday.

I think of the first stage of God’s will for St. Francis of Assisi.

The Assisi countryside in Italy, like much of Europe in the 1200s, was dotted with chapels, churches, and abbeys, each dedicated to one saint or another. Some buildings were well maintained, but many were neglected, and most had a priest who had to beg for support from the locals to sustain him and the church.

San Damiano, a little less than a mile below Assisi, was such a church. It was guarded by olive trees and had a sweeping view of the wheat fields on the plain below. The church itself was in general disrepair; the walls crumbled all about it, and the priest eked out an existence. He didn’t even have enough money to buy oil, let alone a lamp, to burn continually in the church.

On one of his country walks, Francis of Assisi decided to step into the chapel. In scattered light, he made his way to the front to pray.

How long he prayed and what exactly he said is unclear. But sometime in the middle of his prayer, Francis heard Christ speak to him: “Francis, go and repair my house, which, you can see, is all being destroyed.”

Francis, up to this point in his life, had never experienced such a direct spiritual communication. He was “more than a little stunned,” one of his biographers notes, “trembling and stuttering like a man out of his senses.”

He pulled himself up from prayer and then pulled himself together. He vowed to carry out the command as quickly and as literally as he knew how: he found masonry, mortar, trowels, and other supplies, and began repairing the church he had been praying in.

Francis later became the key figure in the 13th-century revival of the church, a church that was racked with moral corruption from the pope to the local priest. Francis, at least for a time, was able to stem the tide of immorality. But it is interesting to note how it all began with his doing the mundane work — but with all his heart! — of repairing the little medieval church right in front of him. [Mark Galli]

It was by offering himself to God in prayer with an openness to hear, that God was able to get the attention of Francis of Assisi so strongly that he felt as though there was only one option: offering himself entirely, submitting unconditionally to God’s will, and getting on with the grunt work of slathering mortar between stones to build a tiny, almost forgotten or written-off chapel. God had more than that in store for Francis, but it all had to start with Francis’ choosing a heart that was willing, surrendered and committed come what may.

God wants all of us who want to follow Jesus to be that willing, surrendered and committed— and that we must be even if we can’t figure out what God has asked us to do or what good will ever result from it.

Our calling in prayer is to offer and submit, even when we are not sure where things are going, how they make any sense or how they make a positive difference in the long run.

A pastor named Tom Hess writes, As I was walking by, I noticed a young woman staring out of a hospital window with a glazed look in her eye. About halfway down the parking lot, I felt as if I should return and offer to pray with her, a feeling that completely contradicts my non-imposing nature. Momentarily, I struggled to know whether God was prodding my heart, or if I was simply being overdramatic. “I’m trusting this is you speaking,” I said to God as I awkwardly retraced my steps up the parking lot and into the waiting room.

As I approached the young lady, she turned and looked at me as if I were a panhandler asking for money. “Yes?” she asked with her eyes. “I-I-I was just wondering if everything was alright,” I managed to stammer.

“Yes, I’m waiting for my ride,” was her reply “Okay,” I continued quickly. “I was just going to ask if you wanted me to pray with you. But if nothing’s wrong, then…” She still said nothing, but her eyes questioned my every word, and my nervousness didn’t help. As I sheepishly turned to exit, thinking it could get no worse, my ears could not believe what they heard my mouth saying: “I’m not a weirdo. I just, well, I just, uh, okay. Bye.”

As I walked back to the car, I talked with God: “I knew I shouldn’t have turned back in the first place. What was I thinking? That was by far the stupidest thing I have ever said. She probably thinks I was trying to hit on her. I hope I never see her again. Don’t count on me to pray with a stranger again. And to think I thought for a moment it was your voice. She didn’t need me at all. What a fool I am!”

As I slunk into my car and started the engine, God spoke to my heart, “I didn’t send you back for her. I sent you back for you! You see, Tom, I can’t use you like I want to until you completely surrender yourself to me.

Will you be a complete fool for me?

Will you die to yourself and your pride?

Will you let me put you in any position, regardless of the personal cost to you?”

It was then I realized that I will never be an effective tool for God until I am willing to be a complete fool for God!

God wants us to be His effective tools. Even more He wants us to be His friends: His friends who talk to Him all the time, and about everything; His friends who are fools for love, the love of Him, and thus who offer their lives to be His and submit to His will whatever it will be. When this happens, not only will our lives be enriched, but so too will the lives of those around us. And God’s life of love for us will be enriched with fuller joy.

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