A Sermon for 31 March 2019
The gospel reading for today takes us to the night of Maundy Thursday. We hear of the last recorded time when Jesus sought the solace of prayer – out in the garden of Gethsemane. The fate-filled night one of his own would lead the authorities out to arrest him. Listen for God’s word to us in a reading of Luke 22:39-46.
“Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” [43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.] 45 When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Picture this: it’s 1955 in a village in Kenya when a 6-year-old boy is abandoned by his family. Left to join the daily grind of thousands of other children, this boy named Charles becomes a street child. Fortunate enough to beg his way through primary education, once this little boy grew to be 16, he became a Christian; then set out to walk nearly fifty miles to the city of Nairobi – something that too him 3 ½ days. This one obviously had smarts. A big heart filled with dreams. And enough determination to turn his life upside down. Finding a job in the city, he saved up enough money to buy his first car. Then another. And another until he eventually had become a wealthy business man owning an entire transportation fleet. His rags to riches story is absolutely inspiring. But no one in the world ever would have heard of him if it hadn’t been for an encounter he had in 1986. Parking his car on a street in Nairobi that day, several teenage street boys stopped him to beg for money. Whether too proud to remember his own roots, or too stubborn to give away any of his hard-earned cash; the boys quickly surrounded what looked to them a shiny, successful, rich man. Charles quickly walked away; but when he returned, his fancy car was gone. Charles was filled with rage. The faces of those boys were burned in his anger. He reports being in emotional turmoil for several years – his life embroiled in a mix of anger, sympathy, and guilt. Until the morning of November 17, 1989. Driving in another fancy Mercedes; he pulled to the side of the road somewhere and spent the next several hours wracked with anguish. He claims there no longer was any peace in his life. The faces of those boys still prominent in his mind, Charles cried out: “God, what is it you want me to do?” According to Charles, it was in the fourth hour that he finally heard a response. He heard: “I gave you everything. I raised you from nowhere and I gave you all of this.” By then, Charles’ fortune was in the millions. The voice said: “Now, I want to take everything that you have and give it to the poor.” Charles reports he didn’t leave that car until at last he said: “Yes LORD. I will do it!” Filled with immense joy, Charles drove home to tell his wife and eight children that he had good news for them. He told them: “I will not work anymore for money. I want to give everything for the poor.” He was determined to become, in the words of the Psalms, the father to the fatherless. The very next day, he liquidated all he had; then went to the streets to find the first three abandoned children he would rescue. Thirty years later, Charles and Esther Mulli have built 6 orphanages in Kenya and Tanzania, they have been father and mother to over 10,000 street children – raising about 1,000 at a time in their own home when the first started. They have rescued 10 failing schools and built many other centers across their nation. Today Mully Children’s Family has been saving children’s lives in their self-sustaining work to transform the lives of children who once had no hope. Wanna learn more about what can be revealed in prayer? Go to mullychildrensfamily.org to watch Mully, the Movie. Be sure to have tissues nearby as your own heart is certain to overflow with the joy of seeing such inspirational Christian service! (Sources:https://eur04.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fyoutu.be%2FluMzrgBDAS8&data=02%7C01%7C%7C79a50e3ffc7441acec5708d6b3b69176%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636893994029006157&sdata=HuEECyHIHvi2uC7Iv8SxOrxiYYZkhWmGWOf7tw647Xw%3D&reserved=0 ; The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, “Visions of God,” Season 3, episode 3. First aired 19 March 2019; and www.mullychildrensfamily.org).
A simple prayer. God, what is it you want me to do? A willing heart. A world changed one life at a time.
Jesus goes from an upper room one night into a beautiful garden. We’ve a tendency to read the gospels as if Jesus knew all along the way exactly what was going to happen to him. Maybe he did. Certainly, he was wise enough to see that if you’re going to live faithful in the struggle against injustice and oppression, there will be struggle. There will be suffering. Sacrifices will come. Because we know the possible consequences for standing against what kills, Jesus in the garden reminds us to seek God’s strength in prayer. To keep ourselves open to faithfulness. To be reminded: God is with us always inviting us deeper into the dance of Life. I love the conclusion of one commenting on the story of Jesus at prayer in Gethsemane. The commentator writes: “God wills that injustice and oppression be opposed . . . The reality is, then and now, that to stand steadfastly against injustice and oppression is to invite the opposition of powerful forces. . . . (Thus) Jesus prays for the strength and courage to witness to the justice, righteousness, and peace that God wills. If this means facing deadly opposition, so be it” (Feasting on the Gospels, Luke Vol. 2; J. Clinton McCann Jr., p. 293). In prayer, it is revealed to him to go forward in peace. Centered in the strength of God despite what comes. In essence, Jesus is praying in that garden: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” The gospel accounts all agree that initially Jesus was asking for something else to happen. “Remove this cup, if you are willing,” the gospel of Luke reports Jesus prays (paraphrase of Luke 22:42). In anguish. Until at last he cries out: “not my will, but Thine. God, what do you want to do through me today?”
We’ve all be invited during this season of Lent to be praying this daily prayer: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” It’s the prayer of our Grateful for the Past; Renewing for the Future campaign and as we can see, it’s the prayer to be prayed each day by a faithful follower of Christ. “God, what do you want to do through me today?” . . . The other day two of us visited Martha and Olivia. By the way, they said we could tell this story – we even caught it on video for everyone to see. A member of our Prayer Team had taken Martha and Olivia a prayer rock – which they absolutely love. Olivia said that when Martha first got it; she held it in her hands, read the prayer aloud: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” And said: God wants me to smile! If you know Martha, you know that she’s such a delight with a warmth that welcomes the whole neighborhood! The other day when we were there; she held the rock, read the prayer aloud: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” And instantly replied: Behave! We all got a great laugh at that! ‘Cuz even in her advancing years, Martha’s still got that spit fire in her that needs a little reminder now and again to behave!
I’ve enjoyed reading what some of the rest of you have noticed so far as you already have been praying: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” One of you has noticed something specific about your ministry here. How what had been really difficult news about a building repair became way more encouraging when a trusted company provided an additional quote. That’s a huge relief for us all as we seek to take good care of this facility for ministry to continue to take place from this building. Another who has been praying “God, what do you want to do through me today?” has been reminded that even with 100 children and staff downstairs in Playcare every day, and weekly Yoga and Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional families meeting upstairs; this building could be bustling with some other daily neighborhood ministry. Won’t it be interesting to hear how that prayer continues to unfold? Another who has been praying daily “God, what do you want to do through me today?” has noticed a new boldness to stand up against injustice. They’ve noticed – as has someone else praying the prayer – being moved to be more forgiving and loving. They’ve even noticed being moved to be a more faithful follower as they consider ways to deepen their giving to this church. Someone praying “God, what do you want to do through me today?” reports that as they have prayed this prayer, suddenly – abruptly – new ways to serve others have happened! Another has noticed shifts in their monthly financial responsibilities that have created new room in their budget to support the capital campaign. One praying daily “God, what do you want to do through me today?” is finding that the prayer is making them more mindful of God in their life. It is absolutely beautiful to see what is revealed when God’s people enter into prayer together.
Maybe none of us will end up hearing that we are to become father to the fatherless. Maybe none of us will experience the wrath of powerful forces unleashed upon us as we seek to stand up for God’s justice, righteousness, and peace. Maybe we won’t hear much – the timing in our lives not quite right. Or the silence exactly what we need to experience in the midst of overly busy days. We are invited to pray. Just pray. “God, what do you want to do through me today?” Then, every few days, check in. Review what’s happening in our lives and in the lives of those around us so that we can notice what is taking place.
Revealed in our prayers through our willing hearts. It’s so exciting to see how a world is being changed one life at a time!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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