Thursday, February 25, 2010

February 21, 2010 - Sit Here, Whilel I Pray

Sit Here While I Pray - Lent 1
Mark 14.32-36 - Jesus' prayer in the Garden

A. Lent began last week with Ash Wednesday.
B. Over the season of lent, we will be telling the story of the last 24 hours of Jesus' life from the Last Supper to the Cross. Our resource for this series is Adam Hamilton's book, 24 Hours that Changed the World.
Today, we begin right after the Last Supper has finished. Jesus has gone out to the Garden of Gethsemane; he leaves the disciples at the edge of the Garden and he goes further to pray. We will tell this familiar story again, examine the details to make sure we understand it well, then ask, "What does this ancient story have to do with us?"

[BIBLE ~ Mark 14:26-36]
26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives...
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 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."

I. He said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray."
First, consider this moment through Jesus' eyes. Let the scene play in your mind: Jesus walks into a grove of olive trees; he knew it as the Garden of Gethsemane. It is late, 11:00 pm or so. Most families are at home by now; even though it is Passover, most have already gone to bed. At the entrance of the garden, Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them to wait on him. He does not take the group of twelve with him to pray; he leaves most of them behind. Knowing what is coming, Jesus is already separating himself from them – preparing them and himself for his death and absence from them.
It is hard for us to comprehend what lies ahead of Jesus. The gospels keep reminding us that Jesus knew that the cross lay before him. He knew that he would be betrayed and who would betray him.
How does any person, knowing all that lies before him, chose to go forward?
+Jesus is no suicide bomber.
+Jesus is not manipulating the circumstances to make himself a martyr.
+He is not trying to go out in a blaze of gunfire like Bonnie and Clyde.
The witness of the gospels is that Jesus knew what lay before him and understood that he was born to this. And yet, the enormity of this had to be encountered gingerly. He had to be sure that he understood the path before him. So, he pulled away from the disciples so he could spend time with the Father in prayer. He pulled away knowing that he would soon be taken away.
Do we also have times in our lives when we become clear about our task? The conviction might form in your mind that you have been called to some great work OR some life-long calling. You might say that you are no hero; you were just in the right place at the right time.
+US Airways Flight 1549 was a scheduled commercial passenger flight from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina, that, on January 15, 2009, was successfully ditched in the Hudson River. The pilot was Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, 57, a former fighter pilot who had been an airline pilot since leaving the Air Force in 1980. He was the right pilot at the right time.
+Remember the story of Queen Ester in the Bible. When the Jewish people were threatened with annihilation, her uncle asked her to appeal to the king for justice. As he put it to her:
Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this" (Esther 4.14)
+I hope that each of us have had or will have occasions and seasons when we can think to ourselves: "This is the reason I am in this job at this time."

We all share such an experience of call and rightness for the job with Jesus. The difference between everyone else and Jesus is that early in his ministry, he knew that it would lead to his death. Thankfully, few of us will ever have to make such a choice. So, he said to the disciples, "Sit here while I pray; I have to talk this over with the Father."
Now, let's consider this moment through the eyes of the disciples. Jesus says to them, "Sit here, while I pray." Could we take liberty of completing the thought? "Sit here while I pray ...for you? ...for the world? ...for the lost? What if he spoke those words not just to the long-ago disciples, but even now to us? What if Jesus wants us *to sit* while he prays?

The next time you settle down to pray for any reason, sit still and imagine Jesus coming to you and saying, "Sit here while I pray for you."
There is a passage in Paul's letter to the Romans that speaks to this as well:
"If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8.25f).

Imagine the thought: God prays in us while we wait. To take upon ourselves the posture of sitting while Jesus prays brings us into the most grace-ful mystery of the waiting experience that there is: that of opening to the intimate presence of the Spirit of Christ praying within, penetrating, seeking, and holding us in our darkness (1).

"Sit here while I pray."

II. 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. Later in the prayer, he will say: "Yet, not what I want, but what you want."

Jesus' words echo the Lord's Prayer when he teaches us to pray: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It is an expression of obedience and trust for us to pour out our deepest desires to God and then conclude by saying, "thy will be done." It speaks of trust that God, who loves us, will care for us even in circumstances too great for us to control. It also reminds us that discipleship can be costly.
As the prayer of Jesus reveals, he was in anguish over his coming pain, separation from the disciples, and death for the sins of the world. The divine course is set, but he, in his human nature still struggled.
Like to gospel song says:
Jesus walked that lonesome valley.
He had to walk it for himself.
O, nobody else could walk it for him.
He had to walk it for himself.

The writer of Hebrews understands Jesus' prayer in the Garden to mean: Because of the anguish he experienced, he understands our suffering. We are not without a comforter. We are not alone. Christ walks beside us, and there are tears of tenderness in his eyes.

III. In his prayer Jesus said: 36 "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me.
A. The Jewish people in Jesus' day had a strong tradition of prayer, three-times a day. They prayed in the morning, then around noon, and finally just before sunset. In addition, these were traditional prayers which every faithful Jew learned from childhood.
These traditional prayers were in Hebrew, the formal language of Israel, even though the language of ordinary people was Aramaic. Jesus begins this prayer in Gethsemane by addressing God as "Father." What we miss because we read in English is that Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray in Aramaic, the language of the street, instead of the formal Hebrew. This was a huge departure from the common teaching of his day.
Jesus lived in a world where the public reading of the scriptures was only in Hebrew, and prayers had to be offered in that language. When Jesus took the giant step of endorsing Aramaic as an acceptable language for prayer and worship, he opened the door for the N.T. to be written in Greek (not Hebrew) and then translated into every other language.

B. This means that in Jesus no sacred language is the "language of God." Across the Christian world, many people assume that one language (usually *their* language) is the language of God. By praying in Aramaic, Jesus demonstrated that there is no official language of God. Fifty years ago, for example, there were many English speakers who were sure that God spoke in King James English.
The traditional prayers that Jesus learned as a child were in Hebrew. In addition, they addressed God in several beautiful ways:
+God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob;
+God of our Fathers,
+Blessed one,
+Holy one,
+Builder of Jerusalem,
+Mighty one,
+Redeemer of Israel,
+"Our Father (in Hebrew),
and a few other names for God.
Jesus used none of these; addressed God on the night as "Abba." The Aramaic word "Abba" (Father) was used by an Aramaic-speaking person in addressing his/her earthly father. It was also used to address a respected person of rank. A student might address a beloved and respected teacher as "Abba."

"Abba" only appears three times in the N.T.
[1.] In this prayer recorded in Mark (the other Gospels use the Greek word for "Father" when they tell this same story).
[2.] In Romans 8.15; [3.] In Galatians 4.6.
In each case, Mark and then Paul immediately translate the Aramaic word, "Abba," with the common Greek word for Father, just in case their readers do not know Aramaic. This suggests that the Aramaic "Abba" was so important to the Christian communities that they kept it, even though they were careful to translate it. All three times it is used, it is in a fervent prayer – just as Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. It appears that the word, "Abba," as an address for God the Father was important to Jesus and thus it was important to keep it.

This great Aramaic word, Abba, affirms both respect in addressing a superior and a profound personal relationship between the one who uses it and the one addressed. It is easy to understand why the early Christian church continued to use it even while praying in Greek. It invoked the quality of relationship the believer had with God through Christ.
So, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane falls on the ground in fervent prayer. There he addresses God,
[36] "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me;
yet, not what I want, but what you want."

C. According to Kenneth Bailey in his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, to address God as "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" is to pray the prayer of a particular people with a particular language and a particular history. But, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray *Abba* in the common language of his day, he affirmed a vison of a family of faith that went beyond the community of those who claimed an ethnic tie to Abraham. To address God as "Father" recognizes that every human being, of any tribe or nation has a *father. Therefore, if God is "our father," then all people are able to address God equally. There is no ethnic or historical “insider" or "outsider" with the word "Abba" (2).
1. All are welcome at the Lord's Table.
2. The only limit on those who may come to Christ is that you must be born of father and mother. No other limit applies.

[Bill Hybels, Lead Pastor at Willow Creek Church] in his book, *The God You're Looking For*, tells of learning to sail his Dad's sailboat out on Lake Michigan. He said that his father would often tell him, "Go ahead and take the boat out, but take a friend with you."
A 42-foot sailboat on a body of water the size of Lake Michigan is a big responsibility. But, always up for a challenge, he'd find a junior high friend to accompany him, and they'd sail past the breakwater, hoist the sails, and head out to open water. But as soon as he'd see any cloud formation coming their way or the wind seemed to be picking up, he'd head back to shore, take the sails down, and regain his normal breathing only when they were safely tied up in the slip. Most of the time, it was fun having a friend along, but in a storm, he knew this kid wouldn't be much help.
Other times, however, Hybels and his Dad would go out together. When he was sailing with his dad, he'd actually look for cloud formations and hope for strong wind. He loved the feel of the strong winds and the rough waves.
His dad had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. He had endured five days of sailing through a hurricane. He was an experienced sailor, and therefore Bill was confident that he would be able to handle anything Lake Michigan could throw at them. He concluded by saying, "Everything changed when my Dad was on board" (4).

What Jesus showed us in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is that God is that sort of Father.
+The father who welcomes the affectionate, respectful name that only that Father's child has the right to use.
+The father who can handle anything the world can throw at us.
+The father who goes with us when we sail out into dangerous waters.
Every time I read this story and this prayer, I think to myself: Is that also my prayer? Do I have the confidence in God to keep that prayer for the day of my great testing? The fact is that everyone of us will one day find ourselves in a Garden like that one. Everyone of us will find ourselves needing to pray that prayer. The good news is that God is the *Abba, Father*, who is ready and able to walk with us.

1. Kidd, Sue Monk. "Sitting while Jesus Prays," When the Heart Waits, 1990.
2. Bailey, Kenneth. Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 96.
4. Hybels, Bill. The God you're Looking For, (Thomas Nelson, 1997).
5. Hamilton, Adam. 24-Hours that Changed the World.

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