A Question of Obedience

Keith McFarren

April 14, 2019

Matthew 26:36-46

    


     This upcoming week is the most important week of the Christian year.  In the Church, it’s called Holy Week.  It’s the time we follow Jesus into Jerusalem and walk with him as he approaches the cross. These past five weeks we’ve looked at various topics that are familiar to each of us, our faith, forgiveness, worry, spiritual transformation (rebirth) and discipleship…topics that we can all identify with because each of them affects our life in some way or another. 

     Today’s topic is no different.  Today, the focus is on Jesus’ interaction with God.  He’s already entered into Jerusalem and after he has his final meal with his friends we find him all alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, in deep, deep distress, pouring his heart out to God.  He knows what lies ahead for him, but because he’s human, he’s scared to death.  Eugene Peterson, in The Message says that Jesus prayed, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this.  But please, [it’s] not what I want.  You, what do you want?” (v.39).  

     By the time Jesus is finished praying and his mental and physical anguish are over, he will find himself in the garden all alone feeling isolated and abandoned, and wanting nothing more than to hear the voice of God. 

     Isolated…abandoned…and wanting to hear the voice of God.  Ah…another topic that hits pretty close to home.  There may not be a more difficult moment in our lives than when we find ourselves searching for direction yet feeling isolated and abandoned and desperately wanting, but unable to hear God’s voice and fully understand his will.

 

     It’s like the man who went to his doctor to say that he thought his wife was going deaf.

     “I’ve got a simple hearing test that you can try at home.  It will help identify just how severe the problem is,” the doctor said.

     So that evening, when his wife was getting dinner around, the guy stood fifteen feet behind her and said, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

     No response at all. Nothing.

     So he moved ten feet behind her and asked her again and once again there was no response.

     Then he moved five feet behind her and tried again.  “What’s for dinner tonight?” he said.  But she never replied. 

    Finally, showing a little bit of aggravation he stood right behind her and raised his voice and asked “What’s for dinner tonight?”

     She turned around and looked at him and raised her voice and said, “For the fourth time, I said chicken!”

     Maybe some of us have a hard time hearing as well.  And sometimes we don’t even recognize it.  It’s part of growing old, I’m afraid.  But I think it would be safe to say that no matter how old we are, all of us – all of us –at some time or another, have a hard time hearing God.

     It’s happened to all of us.  We need to make a decision and we don’t know what to do and we pray about it and we wonder if God is even out there listening to us.  So we begin to doubt God and we begin to doubt ourselves and we begin to wonder if maybe it’s us that has the hearing problem…or is it God that has the hearing problem.  All we know is that we need some help so we pray and pray and we end up experiencing absolute silence and we don’t like it.

     If only we could hear God the way Abraham and Noah did.  If only we could see God the way Moses did.  If we could just talk with Jesus like Peter did or like Mary Magdalene did in the garden on Easter morning.  It would be a whole lot easier wouldn’t it?  If we could just hear God tell us what to do or what not to do…we wouldn’t have to struggle so and be under so much stress…and then when we did make our decision at least we could do it with a lot more conviction because we would know exactly what God wants us to do.

     But if it was that easy, how would our faith grow?  Or would we even need to call it “faith?”  Faith is hard and doesn’t come easily.  It’s like the muscles of our body…it has to be exercised if it’s going to grow.  If we didn’t have to struggle and open our eyes and our ears and try to block out all the noise of the world around us in order to hear God then we wouldn’t mature as Christians.  Learning to listen is painful and hard and sometimes overwhelming and bewildering, especially during those times when we feel hopeless and abandoned and alone, but having to listen for God strengthens us and it allow us to come through difficult times much stronger and much more faithful than we ever were before.

 

     When Jesus entered into Jerusalem that day he was feeling pretty good because he had the support of thousands of people lining the streets and he had the support of all the people that were following behind him.  But by the time he got to the Garden of Gethsemane the only ones left to support him were Peter and James and John.  His so called supporters were suddenly leaving him, dropping like flies because they found out he didn’t live up to their expectations.  They wanted an iron fisted ruler to set them free and all they got was a guy riding into town on a donkey…a guy who came to set them free in another way…a way they just couldn’t understand.

     While the disciples weren’t quite as fickle as the crowds that lined the streets on Palm Sunday or those self-proclaimed followers who all ended up leaving Jesus when he didn’t meet their expectations, Peter and James and John also end up leaving Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to suffer all by himself as soon as things started going against them.  And then, then Jesus found himself with no one but God.

 

    Where do you stand with Jesus?  Will you, like the disciples, make an oath to follow him to his death and to your death…but in reality only choose to follow him as long as he meets your needs and your expectations?  Will you choose to identify with Jesus, so long as it’s convenient for you?  Will you stay alert and awake and stay by his side or will you turn and run and abandon him because the risk of pain and suffering has become too great for you? 

     It started out with hundreds if not thousands of people lining the streets of Jerusalem and following Jesus into the city that day and as time progressed, one by one, they all abandoned him…the people of Jerusalem, his friends and finally, even his disciples.

     So there he stands, all alone.  All we have left this morning is Jesus who left everything, his future and his life, up to God.  All we have left this morning is Jesus, who chose to confront his fears despite the overwhelming odds against him.  It was a path that would lead him to the cross; a path that would lead him to certain death.  Yet that was God’s will because in reality it was the only way that would lead to life.

 

     So here we are gathered together to celebrate Palm Sunday 2019.  Will you choose to follow Jesus because you’re comfortable with the expectation that he will meet all your wants and needs…or will you follow him despite the idea that he will lead you into the unknown…into difficult, uncertain times of surrender, self-sacrifice and obedience?

     It’s always easy to choose the path of least resistance.  It’s always easier to make our own decisions based on what we want rather than what God wants.  By doing things our way instead of waiting for God’s way, it’s easy to give in to all the temptations that control you.  It’s easy to give in to and be overwhelmed by the guilt and the shame that has haunted you for what seems to be forever.  It’s easy to let bias and prejudice and hatred warp your way of thinking.  Doing things your way makes it so easy to harbor the resentment and bitterness that have blocked your ability to forgive others.  To not allow God to guide you, to not allow God’s will, is to allow the self-centeredness in you to keep you from using your gifts and talents to make a difference in this world.

     This would be a good day to take a lesson from the Palm Sunday crowds and all those that followed him into town…but later on abandoned him.  Realign your will with the will of God…and remember that it’s not what you want…it’s what God wants for you.

    

     Realigning our will and choosing to be obedient to God not only takes a lot of initiative, but it also takes a whole lot of work from the Holy Spirit.  Realigning our will with God’s will also requires faith…a faith centered on the practice of hearing God’s voice, and learning to surrender and trust God.

     Faced with enormous pressures and life changing decisions, Jesus turned to God knowing that God would listen and never leave him.  Faced with enormous pressures and life changing decisions, know that we too can turn to God knowing that he will listen and never leave us.

     Prayer sometimes means talking and listening to God even though you aren’t sure if anyone is listening or speaking back to us on the other end.  Sometimes, prayer is like talking in the dark because we’re unsure if it’s really doing any good.  But know that every time you pray it is doing some good because God is listening.  Every time you pray the act of quieting your heart and your mind to listen for God will open your life up to so many new possibilities.

     Praying under enormous pressure in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus  serves as a model for opening our ears to hear God’s voice, for opening our minds to surrender to God’s will and to open our heart to give ourselves to him.  Know that it won’t always be easy because there will be loud voices within us and around us that are always trying to drown out God’s voice with their own. 

    As we prepare for Holy Week and the upcoming events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and as we continue to follow Jesus to the cross, we too can quiet our spirits, we can silence all the voices around us except the voice of God and as we feel the pressures of life and the world around us and aren’t sure what to do or which way to turn, we too can sit in the garden with Jesus and we can pray for guidance and direction knowing that he hears us.  And like Jesus we too can give ourselves totally to God by saying, “Not what I want, but what you want for me.”   


   


    


      


 


       


 


            


 


A Question of Obedience

Keith McFarren

April 14, 2019

Matthew 26:36-46

    


     This upcoming week is the most important week of the Christian year.  In the Church, it’s called Holy Week.  It’s the time we follow Jesus into Jerusalem and walk with him as he approaches the cross. These past five weeks we’ve looked at various topics that are familiar to each of us, our faith, forgiveness, worry, spiritual transformation (rebirth) and discipleship…topics that we can all identify with because each of them affects our life in some way or another. 

     Today’s topic is no different.  Today, the focus is on Jesus’ interaction with God.  He’s already entered into Jerusalem and after he has his final meal with his friends we find him all alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, in deep, deep distress, pouring his heart out to God.  He knows what lies ahead for him, but because he’s human, he’s scared to death.  Eugene Peterson, in The Message says that Jesus prayed, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this.  But please, [it’s] not what I want.  You, what do you want?” (v.39).  

     By the time Jesus is finished praying and his mental and physical anguish are over, he will find himself in the garden all alone feeling isolated and abandoned, and wanting nothing more than to hear the voice of God. 

     Isolated…abandoned…and wanting to hear the voice of God.  Ah…another topic that hits pretty close to home.  There may not be a more difficult moment in our lives than when we find ourselves searching for direction yet feeling isolated and abandoned and desperately wanting, but unable to hear God’s voice and fully understand his will.

 

     It’s like the man who went to his doctor to say that he thought his wife was going deaf.

     “I’ve got a simple hearing test that you can try at home.  It will help identify just how severe the problem is,” the doctor said.

     So that evening, when his wife was getting dinner around, the guy stood fifteen feet behind her and said, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

     No response at all. Nothing.

     So he moved ten feet behind her and asked her again and once again there was no response.

     Then he moved five feet behind her and tried again.  “What’s for dinner tonight?” he said.  But she never replied. 

    Finally, showing a little bit of aggravation he stood right behind her and raised his voice and asked “What’s for dinner tonight?”

     She turned around and looked at him and raised her voice and said, “For the fourth time, I said chicken!”

     Maybe some of us have a hard time hearing as well.  And sometimes we don’t even recognize it.  It’s part of growing old, I’m afraid.  But I think it would be safe to say that no matter how old we are, all of us – all of us –at some time or another, have a hard time hearing God.

     It’s happened to all of us.  We need to make a decision and we don’t know what to do and we pray about it and we wonder if God is even out there listening to us.  So we begin to doubt God and we begin to doubt ourselves and we begin to wonder if maybe it’s us that has the hearing problem…or is it God that has the hearing problem.  All we know is that we need some help so we pray and pray and we end up experiencing absolute silence and we don’t like it.

     If only we could hear God the way Abraham and Noah did.  If only we could see God the way Moses did.  If we could just talk with Jesus like Peter did or like Mary Magdalene did in the garden on Easter morning.  It would be a whole lot easier wouldn’t it?  If we could just hear God tell us what to do or what not to do…we wouldn’t have to struggle so and be under so much stress…and then when we did make our decision at least we could do it with a lot more conviction because we would know exactly what God wants us to do.

     But if it was that easy, how would our faith grow?  Or would we even need to call it “faith?”  Faith is hard and doesn’t come easily.  It’s like the muscles of our body…it has to be exercised if it’s going to grow.  If we didn’t have to struggle and open our eyes and our ears and try to block out all the noise of the world around us in order to hear God then we wouldn’t mature as Christians.  Learning to listen is painful and hard and sometimes overwhelming and bewildering, especially during those times when we feel hopeless and abandoned and alone, but having to listen for God strengthens us and it allow us to come through difficult times much stronger and much more faithful than we ever were before.

 

     When Jesus entered into Jerusalem that day he was feeling pretty good because he had the support of thousands of people lining the streets and he had the support of all the people that were following behind him.  But by the time he got to the Garden of Gethsemane the only ones left to support him were Peter and James and John.  His so called supporters were suddenly leaving him, dropping like flies because they found out he didn’t live up to their expectations.  They wanted an iron fisted ruler to set them free and all they got was a guy riding into town on a donkey…a guy who came to set them free in another way…a way they just couldn’t understand.

     While the disciples weren’t quite as fickle as the crowds that lined the streets on Palm Sunday or those self-proclaimed followers who all ended up leaving Jesus when he didn’t meet their expectations, Peter and James and John also end up leaving Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to suffer all by himself as soon as things started going against them.  And then, then Jesus found himself with no one but God.

 

    Where do you stand with Jesus?  Will you, like the disciples, make an oath to follow him to his death and to your death…but in reality only choose to follow him as long as he meets your needs and your expectations?  Will you choose to identify with Jesus, so long as it’s convenient for you?  Will you stay alert and awake and stay by his side or will you turn and run and abandon him because the risk of pain and suffering has become too great for you? 

     It started out with hundreds if not thousands of people lining the streets of Jerusalem and following Jesus into the city that day and as time progressed, one by one, they all abandoned him…the people of Jerusalem, his friends and finally, even his disciples.

     So there he stands, all alone.  All we have left this morning is Jesus who left everything, his future and his life, up to God.  All we have left this morning is Jesus, who chose to confront his fears despite the overwhelming odds against him.  It was a path that would lead him to the cross; a path that would lead him to certain death.  Yet that was God’s will because in reality it was the only way that would lead to life.

 

     So here we are gathered together to celebrate Palm Sunday 2019.  Will you choose to follow Jesus because you’re comfortable with the expectation that he will meet all your wants and needs…or will you follow him despite the idea that he will lead you into the unknown…into difficult, uncertain times of surrender, self-sacrifice and obedience?

     It’s always easy to choose the path of least resistance.  It’s always easier to make our own decisions based on what we want rather than what God wants.  By doing things our way instead of waiting for God’s way, it’s easy to give in to all the temptations that control you.  It’s easy to give in to and be overwhelmed by the guilt and the shame that has haunted you for what seems to be forever.  It’s easy to let bias and prejudice and hatred warp your way of thinking.  Doing things your way makes it so easy to harbor the resentment and bitterness that have blocked your ability to forgive others.  To not allow God to guide you, to not allow God’s will, is to allow the self-centeredness in you to keep you from using your gifts and talents to make a difference in this world.

     This would be a good day to take a lesson from the Palm Sunday crowds and all those that followed him into town…but later on abandoned him.  Realign your will with the will of God…and remember that it’s not what you want…it’s what God wants for you.

    

     Realigning our will and choosing to be obedient to God not only takes a lot of initiative, but it also takes a whole lot of work from the Holy Spirit.  Realigning our will with God’s will also requires faith…a faith centered on the practice of hearing God’s voice, and learning to surrender and trust God.

     Faced with enormous pressures and life changing decisions, Jesus turned to God knowing that God would listen and never leave him.  Faced with enormous pressures and life changing decisions, know that we too can turn to God knowing that he will listen and never leave us.

     Prayer sometimes means talking and listening to God even though you aren’t sure if anyone is listening or speaking back to us on the other end.  Sometimes, prayer is like talking in the dark because we’re unsure if it’s really doing any good.  But know that every time you pray it is doing some good because God is listening.  Every time you pray the act of quieting your heart and your mind to listen for God will open your life up to so many new possibilities.

     Praying under enormous pressure in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus  serves as a model for opening our ears to hear God’s voice, for opening our minds to surrender to God’s will and to open our heart to give ourselves to him.  Know that it won’t always be easy because there will be loud voices within us and around us that are always trying to drown out God’s voice with their own. 

    As we prepare for Holy Week and the upcoming events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and as we continue to follow Jesus to the cross, we too can quiet our spirits, we can silence all the voices around us except the voice of God and as we feel the pressures of life and the world around us and aren’t sure what to do or which way to turn, we too can sit in the garden with Jesus and we can pray for guidance and direction knowing that he hears us.  And like Jesus we too can give ourselves totally to God by saying, “Not what I want, but what you want for me.”   


   


    


      


 


       


 


            


 


A Question of Obedience

Keith McFarren

April 14, 2019

Matthew 26:36-46

    


     This upcoming week is the most important week of the Christian year.  In the Church, it’s called Holy Week.  It’s the time we follow Jesus into Jerusalem and walk with him as he approaches the cross. These past five weeks we’ve looked at various topics that are familiar to each of us, our faith, forgiveness, worry, spiritual transformation (rebirth) and discipleship…topics that we can all identify with because each of them affects our life in some way or another. 

     Today’s topic is no different.  Today, the focus is on Jesus’ interaction with God.  He’s already entered into Jerusalem and after he has his final meal with his friends we find him all alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, in deep, deep distress, pouring his heart out to God.  He knows what lies ahead for him, but because he’s human, he’s scared to death.  Eugene Peterson, in The Message says that Jesus prayed, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this.  But please, [it’s] not what I want.  You, what do you want?” (v.39).  

     By the time Jesus is finished praying and his mental and physical anguish are over, he will find himself in the garden all alone feeling isolated and abandoned, and wanting nothing more than to hear the voice of God. 

     Isolated…abandoned…and wanting to hear the voice of God.  Ah…another topic that hits pretty close to home.  There may not be a more difficult moment in our lives than when we find ourselves searching for direction yet feeling isolated and abandoned and desperately wanting, but unable to hear God’s voice and fully understand his will.

 

     It’s like the man who went to his doctor to say that he thought his wife was going deaf.

     “I’ve got a simple hearing test that you can try at home.  It will help identify just how severe the problem is,” the doctor said.

     So that evening, when his wife was getting dinner around, the guy stood fifteen feet behind her and said, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

     No response at all. Nothing.

     So he moved ten feet behind her and asked her again and once again there was no response.

     Then he moved five feet behind her and tried again.  “What’s for dinner tonight?” he said.  But she never replied. 

    Finally, showing a little bit of aggravation he stood right behind her and raised his voice and asked “What’s for dinner tonight?”

     She turned around and looked at him and raised her voice and said, “For the fourth time, I said chicken!”

     Maybe some of us have a hard time hearing as well.  And sometimes we don’t even recognize it.  It’s part of growing old, I’m afraid.  But I think it would be safe to say that no matter how old we are, all of us – all of us –at some time or another, have a hard time hearing God.

     It’s happened to all of us.  We need to make a decision and we don’t know what to do and we pray about it and we wonder if God is even out there listening to us.  So we begin to doubt God and we begin to doubt ourselves and we begin to wonder if maybe it’s us that has the hearing problem…or is it God that has the hearing problem.  All we know is that we need some help so we pray and pray and we end up experiencing absolute silence and we don’t like it.

     If only we could hear God the way Abraham and Noah did.  If only we could see God the way Moses did.  If we could just talk with Jesus like Peter did or like Mary Magdalene did in the garden on Easter morning.  It would be a whole lot easier wouldn’t it?  If we could just hear God tell us what to do or what not to do…we wouldn’t have to struggle so and be under so much stress…and then when we did make our decision at least we could do it with a lot more conviction because we would know exactly what God wants us to do.

     But if it was that easy, how would our faith grow?  Or would we even need to call it “faith?”  Faith is hard and doesn’t come easily.  It’s like the muscles of our body…it has to be exercised if it’s going to grow.  If we didn’t have to struggle and open our eyes and our ears and try to block out all the noise of the world around us in order to hear God then we wouldn’t mature as Christians.  Learning to listen is painful and hard and sometimes overwhelming and bewildering, especially during those times when we feel hopeless and abandoned and alone, but having to listen for God strengthens us and it allow us to come through difficult times much stronger and much more faithful than we ever were before.

 

     When Jesus entered into Jerusalem that day he was feeling pretty good because he had the support of thousands of people lining the streets and he had the support of all the people that were following behind him.  But by the time he got to the Garden of Gethsemane the only ones left to support him were Peter and James and John.  His so called supporters were suddenly leaving him, dropping like flies because they found out he didn’t live up to their expectations.  They wanted an iron fisted ruler to set them free and all they got was a guy riding into town on a donkey…a guy who came to set them free in another way…a way they just couldn’t understand.

     While the disciples weren’t quite as fickle as the crowds that lined the streets on Palm Sunday or those self-proclaimed followers who all ended up leaving Jesus when he didn’t meet their expectations, Peter and James and John also end up leaving Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to suffer all by himself as soon as things started going against them.  And then, then Jesus found himself with no one but God.

 

    Where do you stand with Jesus?  Will you, like the disciples, make an oath to follow him to his death and to your death…but in reality only choose to follow him as long as he meets your needs and your expectations?  Will you choose to identify with Jesus, so long as it’s convenient for you?  Will you stay alert and awake and stay by his side or will you turn and run and abandon him because the risk of pain and suffering has become too great for you? 

     It started out with hundreds if not thousands of people lining the streets of Jerusalem and following Jesus into the city that day and as time progressed, one by one, they all abandoned him…the people of Jerusalem, his friends and finally, even his disciples.

     So there he stands, all alone.  All we have left this morning is Jesus who left everything, his future and his life, up to God.  All we have left this morning is Jesus, who chose to confront his fears despite the overwhelming odds against him.  It was a path that would lead him to the cross; a path that would lead him to certain death.  Yet that was God’s will because in reality it was the only way that would lead to life.

 

     So here we are gathered together to celebrate Palm Sunday 2019.  Will you choose to follow Jesus because you’re comfortable with the expectation that he will meet all your wants and needs…or will you follow him despite the idea that he will lead you into the unknown…into difficult, uncertain times of surrender, self-sacrifice and obedience?

     It’s always easy to choose the path of least resistance.  It’s always easier to make our own decisions based on what we want rather than what God wants.  By doing things our way instead of waiting for God’s way, it’s easy to give in to all the temptations that control you.  It’s easy to give in to and be overwhelmed by the guilt and the shame that has haunted you for what seems to be forever.  It’s easy to let bias and prejudice and hatred warp your way of thinking.  Doing things your way makes it so easy to harbor the resentment and bitterness that have blocked your ability to forgive others.  To not allow God to guide you, to not allow God’s will, is to allow the self-centeredness in you to keep you from using your gifts and talents to make a difference in this world.

     This would be a good day to take a lesson from the Palm Sunday crowds and all those that followed him into town…but later on abandoned him.  Realign your will with the will of God…and remember that it’s not what you want…it’s what God wants for you.

    

     Realigning our will and choosing to be obedient to God not only takes a lot of initiative, but it also takes a whole lot of work from the Holy Spirit.  Realigning our will with God’s will also requires faith…a faith centered on the practice of hearing God’s voice, and learning to surrender and trust God.

     Faced with enormous pressures and life changing decisions, Jesus turned to God knowing that God would listen and never leave him.  Faced with enormous pressures and life changing decisions, know that we too can turn to God knowing that he will listen and never leave us.

     Prayer sometimes means talking and listening to God even though you aren’t sure if anyone is listening or speaking back to us on the other end.  Sometimes, prayer is like talking in the dark because we’re unsure if it’s really doing any good.  But know that every time you pray it is doing some good because God is listening.  Every time you pray the act of quieting your heart and your mind to listen for God will open your life up to so many new possibilities.

     Praying under enormous pressure in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus  serves as a model for opening our ears to hear God’s voice, for opening our minds to surrender to God’s will and to open our heart to give ourselves to him.  Know that it won’t always be easy because there will be loud voices within us and around us that are always trying to drown out God’s voice with their own. 

    As we prepare for Holy Week and the upcoming events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and as we continue to follow Jesus to the cross, we too can quiet our spirits, we can silence all the voices around us except the voice of God and as we feel the pressures of life and the world around us and aren’t sure what to do or which way to turn, we too can sit in the garden with Jesus and we can pray for guidance and direction knowing that he hears us.  And like Jesus we too can give ourselves totally to God by saying, “Not what I want, but what you want for me.”