Summary: In the face of trials and temptations, we have to follow Jesus' example in Gethsemane and yield ourselves to God's will in prayer.
Three ministers were talking about prayer and the appropriate and effective positions for prayer. As they were talking, a telephone repairman was working on the phone system in the background. One minister shared that he felt the key was in the hands. He always held his hands together and pointed them upward as a form of symbolic worship. The second minister suggested that real prayer was conducted on your knees. The third piped up. saying they both had it wrong – the only position worth its salt was to pray while stretched out flat on your face. By this time the phone man couldn’t stay out of the conversation any longer. He interjected, "I found that the most powerful prayer I ever made was while I was dangling upside down by my heels from a power pole, suspended forty feet above the ground." Whatever way we pray, one of the things we learn from Jesus in our gospel reading from this morning is that in the face of even the greatest trial and temptations, our first line of defense is to seek God in prayer.
Have you ever watched a strong person in your life suddenly become weak? Throughout our lives, we watch such changes occur with our loved ones. I had a very dear friend in seminary whose brother, about two years ago, was doing back flips on a beach vacation. In the midst of the fun (he did tumbling all the time), he landed on his head and broke his neck. He is now paralyzed from the neck down. My friend’s brother suddenly went from being a healthy, strong, independent young man to being weak and totally dependent on his parents, family, and friends. Similarly, a church is dismayed if the pastor or preacher suddenly loses faith, or hope, or integrity. We have watched as one after one, seemingly great sports heroes have become weak in the face of bad mistakes and poor choices. Children face this difficult reality when a parent they have relied on for everything is suddenly struck down with illness or grief. Even adult children struggle as they watch their parents weaken with age. There is no doubt that it is incredibly difficult to watch someone you love very much, someone whom you have relied on, who has been your “strong center” become suddenly weak and frail; dependent on you, rather than you being able to rely on them.
As we recall this morning Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can only imagine the effect on the disciples of the sudden change that came over Jesus in this place. Up until this moment, Jesus has been in control; planning, directing, teaching, and guiding. Now it seems as if Jesus is falling apart and that he is warning the disciples that they too will collapse around him. Overcome with horror, we find Jesus praying in the Garden, seeking another way, claiming the truth that he had already taught the disciples, that all things are possible with God, and yet being told there is no turning back. Though we see Jesus here in Gethsemane in a very weak state, Jesus is still teaching us, Jesus is still guiding us and showing us how to face the temptations of our lives. Jesus was at a point of tremendous pain; he was hurting very deeply because suddenly Jesus realized how very close he was to the agony that lay ahead of him. Though Jesus had been about the work of healing the suffering and pain of hundreds, he abruptly found himself face-to-face with the inevitability of his own suffering. But Jesus did not turn back, nor did he run away! Jesus stayed with his closest friends and committed himself to prayer. Jesus committed himself to prayer! And this wasn’t just any old prayer; Jesus prayed very intensely.
I’m sure that there are times when even prayer seems somehow weak. Falling prostrate on your knees is not exactly a show of strength. As the telephone repairman reminded us, we can certainly be in weak or precarious positions when we pray. But what makes prayer strong is the words we use. Jesus prayed that this hour might pass, that the cup might be taken from him. “Abba, Father…not what I will, but what you will.” Despite the struggles, Jesus yielded himself to his Father’s care. Jesus prayed as a child speaking to a loving father, and Jesus’ prayer acknowledged the personal struggle, but it also recognized the big picture. Jesus does not negate his own feelings; we see very clearly that Jesus did not want to face what lie ahead for him. Yet, at the same time, Jesus yields himself to God’s will. We, too, need to be able to pray in this way; as a child to a loving father. Part of letting go of the trials and temptations of our lives is trusting God enough to take them on. In the face of weakness, of trials and temptations, God is our strength, but we have to be willing to give ourselves over to God.