The weight of Holy week bears down on Jesus- feet washing, bread breaking, Peter boasting, Gethsemane praying, disciples sleeping, Judas betraying, Peter denying, everyone scattering, mothers weeping, preachers lying, bishops whispering, governors conspiring, crowds mocking, thorns piercing, soldiers crucifying, sky darkening, sunshine hiding, earth quaking, love bleeding, hope dying. “Now my soul is troubled, what should I say?”
Some peddle a plastic Christianity free from troubles. Such Christianity-light is not weighed down by our sin-sick world. However, Jesus declares “Now my soul is troubled.” Matthew recounts Jesus’ exceeding sorrow as he prays in Gethsemane: “I am deeply grieved, crushed even to the point; remain here, stay awake with me.” (Matthew 26)
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” When trouble abounds what do we say? Do we pray, “Lord, bless me. Lord, save me?” or do we pray, “Lord, use me?” What do we do in this hour? What do we say in the fierce urgency of now? Jesus comes into the world for this his hardest hour. Jesus comes into the world for the cross. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus throws himself to Gethsemane’s ground and prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not my will but your will be done” We pray Jesus’ Prayer every Sunday, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, one earth as in Heaven,” but perhaps not with the conviction and focus of Jesus.
How we could we look at our world and not lament “My soul is troubled- what should I say?”
Mark tells us Jesus’ calling for this hour, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”
The cross looms before us. It asks us: what kind of people will we be? Who will we be when the sins of the world presses upon us? What should we say—‘Father, save us from this hour’? Or will we step into God’s saving action and declare “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Creator come shine through us?” What will we build with our time, talents and treasures? Who will we follow? What will be our ultimate concern? Will we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven”? In the fierce urgency of right now, what kind of people will we be?
Jesus speaks of our mission. It is a troubling truth, “Very truly, I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever… For if you want to save your life you must lose it, and if you lose your life for the sake of the Gospel,, you will save it. For what will it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul? What can you get in return for your soul?
At times, we trade our souls for consumer goods. We store up treasures on earth. We feed a constant craving for more. A good friend of mine, Travis Garner, preached a sermon years ago, entitled “enough”. As a youth director at a large church, he noticed how the teenagers’ parents could never have enough for their children. Rec. league was not enough, so there was select teams, then travel teams, then select travel, then state select travel, then pre-olympic… never enough. Advertisers know our craveness for more. We bow before idols with leather seats, lovely hedges, elite titles, prestigious positions. Does our national wanteness plays a part in the despair that fuels a rising levels of opioid addiction, alcohol abuse, anxiety, escapism, depression and suicide? Is the market our national God (or false god the guides our behavior)? Doctor King founded the Southern Leadership Conference in 1957 with a motto “to save the soul of America” (A Time to Break the Silence), seeking far more than equal rights.
For if you want to save your life you must lose it, and if you lose your life for the sake of the Gospel, you will save it. For what will it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul? What can you get in return for your soul?
“What should we say—‘Lord, save us from this hour’? Jesus looks at the weight of the cross and declare: “No It is for this very hour, I was born!” The cross offers no consumer benefits. A market driven gospel lacks insufficient funds for this hour. A cross-less Christianity leaves us void-bankrupt of spiritual power. Jesus dies to self: praying, Your will be done!
Such a radical realignment of our priorities demands intentional focus. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness facing temptations and clarifying his mission. Jesus often withdrew to the quiet places to pray, praying all night before selecting the 12. Jesus went up on the mountain to worship- Elijah and Moses come and dwell with him. Just before the cross, Jesus took his small group to the Gethsemane for prayer.
But how exactly do we die to self? How do we move this beyond a slogan? I made a little list, an ABCs of things we need to die to, or attitudes we need to lose in order to find life.
We must die to anger in order to be born into reconciliation. (Ephesians 4:26)
We must die to our busyness. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)
We must die to consumerism. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” Luke 12:34
We must die to our entertaining distractions to be present. Jesus says “truly” 33 times!
Envy keeps from knowing ourselves and finding authentic relationships. (Mark 7)
A love of winning the fighting keeps us from experiencing community. How can we fulfill the Golden Rule and Greatest Commandment if we always have to win? (1 Corinthians 3:3)
We must die to greed. Jesus said “Watch out, be on guard against every kind of greed- for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
We must die to hate to be born again into love. (1 John 3 & 4)
We must forego gains earned through injustice to build a just world. (James 2&5)
We must stop judging to comprehend grace. Judging puts us on Jesus’ throne! (Matthew 7:1).
Thou shall not kill. (Exodus 20)
We must die to laziness to create, build, and defend life. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
Manipulation– you can’t manipulate your neighbor and love your neighbor as yourself.
We must die to name-calling. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29
We must die to oppression. The Burning Bush spoke to this. (Exodus 3&4)
We must die to “punching back harder” Jesus said “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39)
We must die to a love of quarreling. 2 Timothy 2:23 “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, patient, and gentle.”
We must die to racism- “favoritism is sin” (James 2:9)
Slander Set aside anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. Colossians 3:8
We must die to titillation to see God’s beauty! “Focus your thoughts on all that is excellent, admirable, true, holy, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise.” Phil 4:8
We must die to unforgiveness to abide in forgiveness. “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14 Oh, friends, unforgiveness is like a lock on windows of our souls, we hold onto old wounds, and the stale air of unforgiveness is suffocating our souls!
Violence never breaks a cycle of violence. (Matthew 26:52) We must die to our love of violence!
Warmongering and peacemaking can’t co-exist. (Matthew 5:9)
We must die to x-rated thinking. 1 Corinthians 6: ”I have freedom, but not everything is helpful. I have freedom, but I won’t be controlled by anything. The body isn’t made for sexual immorality but for the Lord! Don’t you know that your bodies are parts of Christ? Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit! You belong to God, so honor God with your body!
We must die to zealotry. Zeal leads Paul to persecute the church. (Philippians 3:6)
Friends, what will we pray—‘Lord, save us from this hour’? No, It is for this very hour we were born! Lord, may your will be done in our lives as in heaven.”
Oh Creator, as we look at this world, our souls are troubled;
we are overwhelmed and wonder what to say.
Do we pray, “Lord, deliver us from evil?” or
“Lord, it was for this hour, that you brought us to this earth?”
Oh, Jesus, you bore the cross and know the suffering of our world.
Come, use us.
May God’s kingdom come and God’s will done
on earth as in heaven.
Holy Spirit, comfort us and strengthen our resolve.
Search us, know us, guide us, forgive us, and empower us.
We lay aside our entertaining distractions and focus on life.
We exhale the stale and yet sweet toxins that unconsciously poison our souls.
Come Holy Comforter, oxygenize our living with truth, faith, hope, and charity,
So that die to the things that will kill us, take up our cross, and live with you,
So that justice, healing and love might reign in us and this world
that you love and died to save!. Amen.