Prepared for and Presented to First Presbyterian Church in Eustis Florida
Text: Matthew 26:36-44, Jesus prays in the garden at Gethsemane
Happy Valentines Day.
Coming in to preach on Valentine’s Day is almost like taking the pulpit on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. These special days aren’t noted on the Liturgical Calendar, but you can bet they are on everyone’s minds…and not always in positive ways.
Many people are anti-Valentines.Not because they are against expressions of love per se, but because the holiday seems to be run by greeting card makers, florists, restaurateurs and chocolatiers.Even the marketers get into the mix, making sure that kids can swap cards with characters from the latest movies, tv shows and cartoons.
Me? Well, I am a little ambivalent.My husband and I will exchange cards and we usually have a special family dinner in. But when I look at our candy dish, Valentine’s Day feels more like a mile marker in the candy marathon that starts with Halloween treats and ends with Easter jelly beans. And those little heart candies with the little messages printed on them? They always make me wonder.What can this single “Day of Love” really teach us about the true nature of love?
The movies are always a good place to look.There were plenty of romantic comedies mixed into the action and adventure films this weekend.But If I had to choose just one movie to watch on Valentine’s Day, I would probably choose the Princess Bride.
If you aren’t familiar, the Princess Bride is a movie made from a William Goldman novel.It’s a fairy tale, of sorts, with the protagonists going through all sorts of trials to complete quests, defeat the bad guys and find true love.It’s much more complicated than that – with some extremely memorable characters and very quotable lines along the way.There are two that came to mind as I was contemplating the message God has for us today.
The story opens by introducing Buttercup, a beautiful peasant girl who lives on a farm in Florin. A young boy named Westley lives nearby and helps out with chores.As time passes, Buttercup comes to realize that each time she asks Westley to do something, he replies with “As you wish” and that what he really means is “I love you.”And then one day she realizes that she loved him back.
As you wish…`It’s a simple phrase, really.But it’s haunting. And challenging.It’s not, “if you say so” oreven the Ritz Carlton’s famous line, “It’s my pleasure”
Saying “As you wish” is saying “I am willing to put my wishes aside…I am at your service…I am your obedient servant.”Saying “As you wish” in place of “I love you” is placing yourself in a position of great vulnerability.It means that my feelings, my desires, my hopes, my dreams, my talents, my strengths, my skills, my very heart…all of these things are yours.And I will use them at your service.
As you wish…
The gospels record many of the moments where Jesus describes what true love looks like.But there is something about the scene in the garden of Gethsemane that speaks to the truth of life and love on a whole different plane, despite never using the word, “love.” But it is in the words that Jesus prays:
Not what I want, but what you want.Not my will, but yours…
For many of us, the first verse we memorized in the Bible was John 3:16.God so loved the world that God sent Jesus- God’s own and only son- to the World.Why?In his words, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.To give his life as a ransom for many.God FOR us, God WITH us.AMONG us.One of us.
Yes, Jesus was fully human.And in his prayer, he was saying, quite clearly that being human on this mission to give his life wasn’t easy.And yet, fully obedient, Jesus says to God – As You Wish.He knew that in a matter of hours he would be betrayed, setting in motion a mockery of a trial, the embarrassment and excruciating pain of the cross, and separation from God in death.Jesus didn’t WANT to go to the cross.Probably didn’t WANT to do any of those things that were painful.I mean, who wants pain?
And yet…life IS pain, isn’t it? Even in fairy tales.
Our farm boy Westley wants to marry his true love, Buttercup, but being a farmboy, he doesn’t have any money. So he says farewell to his love and sets out to seek his fortune.Word comes back that his ship was captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who takes no prisoners.With Westley dead, Buttercup was resigned to life without love.She says, “I will never love again.”
I don’t want to give away the rest of the plot, but it is after this point that Buttercup meets up with another character who hears her story about love and loss, but shows no pity.He tells her “Life is pain, Princess.Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something”
Perhaps not the way a good Christian would have said it, and yet…there is wisdom in that statement. Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Even the most surface reading of Acts and a review of the history of the early church tells us that life was far from easy for the women and men who risked their lives to follow Christ.
Jesus also spoke clearly about the fact that there would always be some among us who are hungry, without homes, without standing and status.There will always be people in need of healing.These least and lost were welcomed and cared for in the fellowship of the early church, and they are welcomed and cared for today.
But being in community with God and other believers doesn’t make one exempt from layoffs, cancer, foreclosure, learning disabilities, or being prone to addiction.We know that Jesus came that we might have life…abundant and eternal.But sometimes life feels more like abundant trouble and eternal trials.
My husband and I are blessed to have best friends who happen to married to one another.We met about 11 years ago, and for about 5 years we raised our kids together, cleaned each others’ refrigerators, celebrated joys, mourned losses, and grilled a lot of meat together.When B was laid off 6 years ago, his new job took them out of state.Thank goodness for cell phones, Facebook, low airfare and cars with good gas mileage.
B and M’s older daughter, A, has suffered with severe epileptic seizures for most of her 15 years.After 13 years of trying different medications, each more powerful than the last, but none strong enough to keep the seizures at bay, doctors finally determined she was a candidate for surgery.Brain surgery.It’s a scary thing to let people cut open your daughter’s skull and remove a portion of her brain… even if it is the culprit that has kept your family on edge for more than a decade.It’s painful to watch her suffer, but it must be balanced against the pain of knowing you might lose her on the operating table.So B and M prayed- God, we know you can heal A, and if surgery is the way you plan to heal her, then your will be done.
As you wish.
About a month ago… the week before A’s surgery, Megan and I were making plans for me to go up post-surgery, when we knew cabin fever would set in during the long recovery at home.But then she said, I wish I had told you to come up for surgery. I need someone to walk through this with me.I need family here, and you are my family. I gave the only response that I could-
As you wish.
You know, Jesus didn’t plan on being in the garden alone.Jesus asked the disciples to come out with him.And he asked Peter, James and John to come keep watch. They were his people.They had been with him for three-ish years, while he taught and preached and did miracles – and they learned, and re-learned, and learned again the lessons he had for them.They were the ones he loved.They were his family, and he needed them.
I can’t tell you why the disciples fell down – fell asleep – on the job. Other than, just like we do today, sometimes people just blow it. Sometimes, life overtakes us. It used to be hard for me to relate to that. I am an action gal. The tire is flat? I’ll fix it. You need me in N-Town? I’m coming! Your dryer is busted? Come use mine…
But I think I get it now…I had been in the waiting room with B and M for about 6 hours, and we knew that we could expect to hear from the surgeon any time. My celI phone rang- it was my husband. But instead of asking for an A report, he said “Honey…” and was using that voice- You know, the one that sends a chill right up your spine.“Honey, I just put our son in the hospital.”
I looked back over to the one other person I would turn to in this moment of crisis…and the surgeon was talking to them.I was supposed to be there – wanted desperately to be there for her, holding her hand, ready for good news or bad.But instead I was frozen across the room.I could see that the news was good, and as B and M and their pastor hugged the doctor then gathered to pray, I couldn’t join them.I might as well have been asleep.
Life is pain, even in the midst of great joy. And life had overtaken me.
And yet, in the midst of her great joy, M could sense my pain. She knew from the look on my face that I was the one in need of support.She came and hugged me, asked me what I needed, what she could do to help, assured me that it would be ok. She was there for me, as the darkness fell in the garden.
I left early the next morning, with my heart ripped in two. I was leaving my best friends while their daughter was still in ICU, with the hardest days of recovery ahead.And I had no idea what was awaiting me. I heard this voice in my ear saying, “Life is pain, Sweetheart. And anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.” Not very comforting.
All I could do was pray…Lord, I don’t want any of this, but if I’m going to make it through, I need you to lead me to people who will stand with me while my best friend is at her own daughter’s bedside.
You know what God’s response was…
As you wish.
But I had to do my part…I had to be willing to open up and share something of my pain with someone besides my best friend. And, as I have entrusted my heart and my pain to people around me, asking for help and for prayer, I have seen the gracious hand of God in my life in ways that exceed anything I could ask or imagine.
Instructors at seminary who not only offered extensions for assignments, but also shared moments of fear for their own children’s lives.
Pastors who know me and my family only from afar, offering prayer and checking in on us.
Co-workers whose children have been in similar situations – some who are still finding their way through
I not only have people who are able to pray with me and for me, I have people who will walk through the pain with me, people who know the way because they’ve been there already.
When I started thinking about this sermon a month ago, I thought it would be a fun, light meditation on Valentines Day and true love. In the events of the past month, I have seen so much more of what God is up to in this.When I saw Leon’s plan for his next sermon series, it became even more clear.
You see, we have to be willing to vulnerable.We have to be willing to let other people see and help carry our stuff.Some of our reticence is privacy.Some of it is pride- we want to be able to say, “Me & God, we’ve got it covered. Thanks for asking!”Some of is is the reality that we all have stuff.And if I dump my stuff onto you or someone else, then it will be too much.
But here’s the thing.Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.For my burden is weak, and my yoke is light.”When we bring our cares, our trials, our burdens to Christ, he understands. He’s been there. And he can handle anything we lay on him.
AND Christ dwells in us, which means that when I come to you, or when you come to me—we aren’t carrying each others’ stuff alone and without help. We are able through Christ to do anything, including holding one another up. Being there for one another in the dark night. Loving one another.
Three weeks out, A is a walking miracle, getting better every day. Our son is home and improving as well. Both of them have a long way to go to reach full physical and emotional healing. Along the way, both of our families will be surrounded by communities of faith, not because we deserve it.But because we invited people in and we trusted them with our hopes, fears and needs.
Real life- abundant life – comes from walking through both joy and pain.
In community. In obedience. And In love. As God wills…
As God wishes.