Thursday, March 24, 2005

This is the sermon I preached at FBC Austin's Maundy Thursday Luncheon Service:

Jesus Before The Powers: The Disciples

They didn’t get it.

You know the kind. As the head counselor at the new high school, speaking at the senior assembly about education, promise and America’s future you watch blank faces file out of the auditorium asking who finished the algebra assignment and can they copy it. Or you make an honest attempt to create a moment with your child – you speak of the air in your lungs and the way the grass feels under your feet and with glove in hand you sprint outside as he walks off to play X-Box. Or you’re at dinner with this new guy you’ve been dating and while you talk about beauty, truth, compassion and justice, he interrupts to ask if you’re gonna finish your burger.
People who don’t get it: those who miss the point, misunderstand, and fall awkwardly short of the topic at hand.

Jesus knew the kind. He had twelve of them anxiously listening, dreaming and not getting it most of the time. Remember with me the book of Mark. One night during a storm, Mark says the disciples wake Jesus in a panic, screaming at him for his apathy at their impending death. Jesus in turn criticizes the disciples for their fear, and calms the wind.
In chapter 6, at one of Jesus’ massive preaching events, the disciples worry about feeding five thousand people at lunchtime, and so try to send them away. Jesus, however, feeds the thousands on just a couple of fish and some loaves of bread, but even after experiencing this miracle the disciples are at a loss as to what happened. Mark says they “did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Just a few days (and a few chapters) later at another gathering, as if they missed the first major feeding miracle, the disciples, come lunchtime, lament again, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” to which Jesus with wide eyes responds, “Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?”
Time and time again the disciples fail to comprehend. After contending with the Pharisees in chapter 7, Jesus and the disciples leave to get away by themselves for a while at which point Jesus discovers that the disciples don’t get it either. “Then do you also fail to understand?” he cries.
In chapter 9, the disciples fail to cast out a demon for lack of faith and then later try to stop someone else who is casting out demons and doing the work of Jesus. Talk about missing the point: egos versus miracles. No wonder they get into arguments over who is the greatest and who will get to sit next to Jesus in heaven.
Throughout Mark’s gospel the disciples are described as “perplexed.” Verse 9:32 says “they did not understand what [Jesus] was saying and were afraid to ask him.” Finally, when one of them does get something right (when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah), he turns right around and misunderstands the Messiah’s calling. Jesus rebukes Peter, calling him Satan for having a mind centered on human thoughts and not divine ones.

Jesus Before The Disciples: their massive misunderstanding of Who Jesus was proved a significant power with which Jesus had to contend.
When I initially heard the topic of “Jesus before the powers,” I thought of Ciaphus, Pilate, the Sanhedrin, even Satan. I didn’t initially think of the disciples. The disciples were Jesus’ “best buds,” his “traveling companions,” his “students,” his “family.” But the disciples didn’t always understand Jesus...

In Mark chapter 14, we are painted a picture of an agonizing Jesus, a Christ who goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and sweats blood, cries blood, and foreshadows the blood he will shed in just a few hours. We get a glimpse of a man who pleads with God to undo what is about to happen, to make it all go away, to reverse the process already set in motion. We find a human Jesus who cries before his Father; we witness a man in psychological anguish. And we find his three best friends sleeping after three times Jesus begs them to keep watch.
Destined for death but willing to go there, Jesus and his three guilty sleepers descend from the Mount of Olives to the streets below where dawn will soon be breaking for the darkest days in Christian history. Judas arrives to greet them. The other disciples join them. A crowd of people gather around Jesus as usual. And then come the guards. With weapons in hand they come to arrest this gentle man who spent the night before not sharpening his sword, but sharpening his will in prayer. The moment of truth has arrived; Jesus had been warning the disciples of this hour for weeks now. Would they stand up to the truth of who they confessed Jesus to be? A kiss is placed, a warm embrace from the man who found it possible to put a price on friendship. Judas misunderstood Jesus’ calling and with a tender kiss, betrayed his master. The guards seize the marked man. Swords are drawn as the mob gets anxious and a guard loses an ear. The disciples’ hearts quicken. Is this the revolution they’d been waiting for? Is today the day Rome will fall? But Jesus surrenders to the guards willingly, and walks off with them towards the Temple.
The disciples panic. The guards try to seize those who had been with Jesus, but rather than stand up for their faith, the disciples flee the scene. One man hangs around too long and a guard gets a grip on the man’s linens. Ripping free, he leaves his clothes in the hands of his assailant and runs naked into the night. Some scholars say this is Mark’s testimony of his own reaction to Jesus being taken captive, that it is the author himself who bares the shame of his naked body and flees without his faith. But the imagery is the same with or without a name attached to the naked body escaping the garden, and we are taken back to the first garden, when the first man, also aware of his nakedness and his fear, fled into the night.

And Jesus alone walked to the Temple.

The disciples had given up their families, their jobs, their homes to follow Jesus (much more than most of us), but when the final hour came, they wouldn’t walk with him.

Probably because they didn’t get it.

All Jesus wanted was for them to stay awake. All he wanted was for them to keep watch over their faith. All he wanted was for them to love their God and bring his kingdom by loving their neighbors. But they drew their swords and then fled the scene.
And Jesus walked alone to his death.

The disciple’s misunderstanding of the mission of Jesus was the first power Jesus contended with and the first battle he lost. It was probably the most painful power he faced. Please stay awake, please keep watch, please love your neighbor, please love me. But the disciples turned their faces away, and Jesus walked alone to face the next set of powers.

I’ve been there, have you? Wanting people: a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend to love you enough to stand by you through think and thin . . . only to find they won’t. Patty Griffith wrote a song called 10 Million Miles, in which she sings,
I must’ve walked 10 million miles
I must’ve walked 10 million miles
I wore some shoes that weren’t my style,
10 million miles.
I’ve been kind of told some lies
Like anyone who’s lived or died,
Like anyone who’s really tried
To walk 10 million miles.

Disappointment, betrayal, longing, hoping and complete misunderstanding . . . forget the guard’s ear, the disciples’ lack of courage plunged the swords of misunderstanding deep into Jesus’ heart. And talk about shoes that weren’t his style, Jesus gave up the perfect communion of Trinity to descend to earth to become human. And when he tried to create community and understanding here, he discovered one of human community’s most disappointing characteristics: we hurt each other.

Not one stepped out of the shadows in Mark’s account. Not one took a stand.

And 2000 years later, I am Judas. I am Peter. I have slept, and I have fled.

But Jesus’ love and compassion for our lonely souls compelled him to walk the loneliest walk of his life . . . so that we don’t have to.

Thanks be to God. And now I find myself singing . . .

I memorize and I forget
I do some things that I regret
Wish for things I’ll never get
Walk in the rain and get wet
I must’ve walked 10 million miles
I must’ve walked 10 million miles
Wore some shoes that weren’t my style
Fell into the rank and file
So just say I was here awhile
A fool in search of [His] sweet smile
10 million miles

Ann Pittman
March 24, 2005
First Baptist Church Austin
Maundy Thursday Luncheon Service


lynnette said...

nice, ann...very nice. i was in need of a good sermon. you delivered. thank you.

Michelle said...

Ann, I think that is the best sermon I have heard (read) from you. Yet, when it ended I felt myself wanting more. Is there anything more you wanted to expound upon at the end? I don't know, maybe I am crazy.

Ann said...

no, there's nothing else i wanted to say. perhaps if you had heard the words from the song being sung, you would have felt more resolution - i don't know. thanks for the encouragement!

Ann said...

ps - that's not to say you're not crazy though . . . !