Gethsemane

Read Mark 14:32-51

Today marks the day when we recall all the events of Jesus’s last night with his disciples before his resurrection. We remember him bowing to clean the feet of his closest disciples. We hear the prediction which he makes in regard to this betrayal. We are witnesses to his telling Peter that this man who swears his dying allegiance would deny even knowing him, not once but three times. We sit at table with the Lord as he gives us the institution which we now call the Lord’s Supper, a partaking in and remembrance of the giving of his body and blood for love of us. Finally, we follow along up a hill in the Mount of Olives to a place known as Gethsemane. At this place we witness his full surrender and complete commitment to the greatest act of love we could ever know. Even though he is conflicted and in great despair, he commits to what he does for love.

Come to Gethsemane…

Receiving the Signal

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever becau1 se of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God,[a] and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

1 Samuel 3:1-21 (NIV)

In the day when transistor radios were common, the familiar sound of trying to precisely locate a station on the radio dial included a lot of static and distorted sounds. Car radios of today can still provide a similar experience if you do not use the automatic search feature on them. Anyone who has manually adjusted the dial of a radio knows that often you  have to fine tune the radio in order to receive a clear signal which produces the best sound quality. If the signal is not on the exact frequency, the message or music will be garbled or mixed with annoying static. Getting and understanding a clear signal is important to the listener.

The Bible passage presented today involves a signal and understanding that signal. God had told Eli that because his sons were corrupt and Eli did not put an end to their corruption, Eli’s family would be stripped of their priestly duties. God also said that both of Eli’s sons would die on the same day. Time passed and the boy, Samuel, was living with and ministering alongside Eli. Samuel had been given by his parents to serve the Lord when he was an infant. One night Samuel heard a voice call to him while he was sleeping. Samuel assumed that it was Eli so he went to Eli. Eli told Samuel that he had not called and the boy should go back to sleep. This occurred three times. On the third time Eli figured out that the Lord was calling Samuel. So he gave Samuel a response for the next time the voice was heard. When God called again and Samuel responded as Eli instructed, God told Samuel of the fall of Eli’s family. The next morning when Eli asked Samuel what he had been told, Samuel did not want to give the message but Eli pushed the boy until he shared God’s words. This began the path which would lead to Samuel being seen as one of God’s great prophets.

Have you received a message which you would rather not share? Maybe you have been prompted by God to take a stance or an action which you wish to avoid. God’s calling of people did not end with Samuel. The Lord continues to call out to people each and every day. Some are called to speak at specific times about difficult topics. Others are called to respond or take actions which may place them in an unfavorable light. Like Samuel we may struggle to understand the source of the signal or what it means. We may need a mentor such as Eli to help us understand and know how to respond. We may also feel the fear which Samuel felt so we need to be prodded to follow through. Some fine tuning may be needed for clarity to exist. Whatever our situation, we must always be ready to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

The Challenge

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)

Tonight is Christmas Eve. This is the night which we set aside to remember the incarnation of God. There are many stories told about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Some of these stories come from the words found in two of the Gospels. Most of what we hear about events surrounding Jesus’s birth are a combination of Gospel accounts, the Prophets and some folklore. All of this together creates a beautiful and cherished story. The accuracy of the story has no bearing on the truth of the story — God chose to become human in the person of Jesus.

In the letter to the church in Philippi, we are reminded of this truth. Jesus, the Christ, is God choosing to humble God’s self and assume a human identity. The profoundness of this is not duplicated in any other faith tradition. As a complete act of love, God chose to allow Jesus to die on a cross to remove the burden of sin and the power of death forever. This human was then exalted to the place of highest honor in God’s kingdom and given a name above all names to whom every person will bow and declare as Lord. This is the purpose of the story told on this night. Declaring the truth described in the portion of the letter to the Philippians, is why we set aside tonight as holy and combine the words of Gospel writers, prophets and human experience into a story of love.

The challenge we receive this night is to become imitators of Jesus, the Christ. We are to humble ourselves and become servants to humanity. Our words and actions are to communicate the love of God as Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Our lives are to point to the One whose name is above all names. The world should see us bow before and declare Jesus Christ as our Lord.

Leadership Transitions

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

John 3:22-30 (NIV)

One of the hallmarks of the way in which our nation is governed is the peaceful transition of power following an election. This is a closely followed tradition at every level of government from the President of the United States to the members of our local school boards. This type of transition sets our nation apart from many other countries. Nations which have adopted a variety of forms of democracy have emulated this quality of the United States. Even in very contentious elections, this hallmark has always been honored. The transition of power is a well-orchestrated process. How smoothly this occurs is based on the character of the individual in leadership prior to the election.

The passage from John’s gospel is about a transition of power. Prior to John baptizing Jesus, John had been the heralder of the Messiah and the one chosen to prepare the people for the coming of God’s kingdom. John was a leader who drew many people to himself. Once Jesus had been baptized by John and had begun his ministry, the process of transition was placed in motion.

Today’s passage brings Jesus in close physical proximity to John. Both men were continuing to teach and baptize the people who came to them. Because they were in the same area, a person came to John to point out that more people were going to Jesus than John. This is when we get to see the nature of the leadership of John. He reminds them that he had already said he was not the Messiah but instead he was to point others to the Messiah. Then John indicated that it is proper for the transition to take place. Jesus is to be the one who gathers more people to him while John’s influence is to diminish.

Transitions can be easy or very difficult. When the transition involves power and influence, the nature of the transition is amplified among humans. John, the Baptist, provides an excellent role model for leaders. Instead of fighting to retain power, control, and influence, a strong leader acknowledges the need for transition. The leader gracefully lessens the role which they now play and welcomes the new leader. This is the model which has been followed in our country since George Washington. This is the model of a servant leader. May we always see this model followed by all our leaders this day and forever more in our nation.

Servant Leader

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

21 “What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:17-28 (NIV)

Many years ago, Robert Greenleaf wrote a book on the subject of servant leadership. In his book, Greenleaf indicated that service should be an identifying characteristic of leadership. Over the next thirty years, corporations, schools, government bodies and nonprofits began to examine and implement some of the concepts which Greenleaf presented. The idea of allowing company employees to volunteer during some of their work time grew out of the servant leadership theories. Higher education began to include a section on student applications where students were expected to share how they had served others through volunteering. This section was included in the decision process for admitting students into the institution. Servant leadership became a common buzz phrase.

Looking at the passage for today, we can quickly see that Greenleaf was not the first person to introduce servant leadership. Jesus demanded it of his disciples. The passage begins with Jesus telling the twelve what is about to happen when all of them enter Jerusalem. Clearly Jesus will be taking on the role of a servant in the greatest way possible. Throughout the three years of ministry, there had been endless examples of Jesus serving others. Now that service will result in his death and resurrection. In the midst of this comes the request for two of the twelve to receive the highest seats of honor beside Jesus. Jesus has a conversation with the two, in which he questions how far they are willing to go in service. This then sets up a leadership dispute. Here is  an opportunity for Jesus to explain a reversal in God’s kingdom. He tells the twelve that with God the leader must become a servant and the last will become first. For Jesus, service brings honor and the right to lead.

We tend to struggle with God’s reversal of what we have determined is the right order of things. Even in the United States where our ancestors have thrown off the robe of royalty, we still believe that leaders are to be given certain honors and privileges, especially when we are in leadership. However, Jesus would disagree at some level. Leadership is seen in service. Honor is given based upon how the person has assisted others. Servant leadership is the only type of leadership found as important in God’s order of the world.