Live Streaming of Services                                     Browse recent sermons




A Sermon Preached by Rev. Gregory Hall at Clarence Presbyterian on April 5, 2020.

WRESTLING WITH GOD

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt.  
                                                                                                                                                    ~ Matthew 26:39


       The primary symbol of Christianity is the cross of Christ.   People wear crosses around their necks, crosses often are placed in the front of sanctuaries and the cross has been a central theme of western art.  There are various types of crosses in art and architecture.  These crosses often are associated with various streams of Christianity. You can find Latin, Greek, Russian, Celtic and many other styles of crosses.  While they all look different they all point to the core truth of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us.

Even though our central claim is that Jesus died for us, Protestants have all too often ignored the story of Jesus’ Passion.  When I was a child, if my memories are correct, the Church was full on Palm Sunday as we remembered Jesus the super hero arriving in Jerusalem.  I grew up just outside New York City so Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem always brought to my mind a ticker tape parade down the canyon of heroes.  After that celebration even more people showed up to shout He is Risen on Easter Sunday.

There were some people who came for the Maundy Thursday service, but that service in my home church focused on the choir doing some big anthems and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  In my home town the Good Friday service was always at the Episcopal Church and included the last words of Jesus.  People came and went during the three hours.  There was no real reading of the passion.

In short, the Protestant Church of the 1960’s skipped over the hard story of Jesus’ Passion and death.  One of the great changes in our new Book of Common Worship is to call the Sunday before Easter Passion/Palm Sunday.  We are encouraged on this Sunday to read the whole story of Jesus’ Passion from the Triumphal entry to his crucifixion.  

When we read the story of Jesus’ Passion we are reminded that Jesus was fully human as well has fully divine.  The Passion underscores the humanity of Jesus.  This is especially true in the story of Jesus' time of testing in the Garden.  It is one of the most human experiences of his life.  In this story Jesus wrestles with God.  Jesus struggles to accept God’s will for his life.

Recall again with me Jesus' experience.  He had spent the better part of the week in Jerusalem.  He entered with great fanfare on Palm Sunday.  The crowds greeted him as a popular hero.  They demonstrated great emotion as he entered the city. Jesus himself may have begun to believe that all of Israel might accept his message of the kingdom of God.

Yet as the week progressed the leaders began to work against Jesus.  They conspired to find a way to arrest Jesus and put him to death.  They had bribed Judas to betray Jesus. Jesus had celebrated the solemn feast of Passover with his disciples and then gone out to the garden to pray and wait. As he went with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew what would soon happen to him.  The shadow of the cross filled him with gloom. Jesus spent time in prayer wrestling with the will of God.
 
One of the most controversial films of the last twenty years was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  It caused a great stir because of its graphic depiction of Jesus' death.  It took liberties with the Gospel Stories. as Gibson added details that are not found in the Bible.

In many ways I thought this movie should be approached as a work of art. I felt it was like a triptych painting found in Cathedrals.  These triptychs have three paintings that are complete in themselves and yet related to each other.  Gibson used film to present three basic scenes, first Jesus’ time in the Garden, then his scourging and finally his crucifixion.

The most effective of this triptychs is the Garden scene.  In his portrayal of Jesus in the Garden, Gibson is able to help us feel the turmoil and inner pain that Jesus endured in prayer wrestling with the will of God.  Jesus did not want to endure the humiliation, pain and suffering that was before him.  He asked God one last time to change the course his life. Jesus himself struggled with God's will.  He prayed that if there was any other way, could not that bitter cup pass him.  Jesus, in his agony, questions where God is in all this.  His prayer was so intense that he sweated blood.

If Jesus needed to struggle with the will of God, how much more do we need to share our own questions, doubt, struggles, and even anger with God?  You and I need to share our negative thoughts with God for one reason.  He desires to be in a complete relationship with each one of us.

God wants our whole being.  He does not just want that part of us that is sweetness and light.  He does not just want our positive emotions and feelings shared with him. He does not want us to talk with him only when we feel good about Christ.

If we are honest for a moment we recognize that there are many 
times when we question God's wisdom
times when we wonder about God's love for us.

When the company closes and we lose a job, we feel anger at the unfairness of life. 

When a spouse is ill or dies, we wonder where God is?

When a child loses their way in addiction, we ask how the Lord could allow it to happen.

When we are sick or depressed or life seems without meaning, we question God's love for us. 

Today when our whole world is suffering from sickness, death, and economic hardship from a virus we had not heard of two months ago, we wonder what God is doing.

This scale of human suffering makes us ask why?  What does it mean? 

Each one of us has understood more than once in our lives the words of Jesus My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt.

Christ wants us to bring our whole selves into his presence.  We are to bring not only our joy, and hopes before him in prayer, but also our frustrations, disappointments and yes, even our anger.

When we wrestle with God we are at least still in relationship with him.  Every real relationship has times of anger, disagreement and tension.  Is there any one that has never had a fight with their parents?  Is anyone listening who has never had even one disagreement with his or her spouse?  Is there anyone anywhere who has not argued with his or her children?  

Every relationship has ups and downs.  The worst thing that one can do with anger is to deny it.  There are people who instead of arguing with you when they are angry, instead try the silent treatment.  You know the kind of people who smile coldly and if you say what is wrong they say curtly, "Oh, nothing" or even worse they do not respond at all.  So many relationships are broken through the silent treatment.

There are many people who have lost their faith, because they have given God the silent treatment.  There are many men and women who have been wounded by something in life, who do not express their anger towards God, but rather merely turn God off.  They cease to worship him.  They stop praying.  They no longer read the Bible. They give God the cold shoulder.

The Bible teaches us that our anger with God is not wrong in and of itself.  The Scriptures remind us that instead of pretending everything is all right, the way to grow in our relationship with Christ is by sharing that anger in prayer.  We are to argue with God.  We are to tell him our frustrations.  

In the book of Genesis, Jacob spends a night wrestling with God.  When the struggle was over Jacob was blessed.  Each one of us has experienced the truth that crises in relationships can lead to deeper understanding and a stronger bond of love.  If we hang in there in the struggles our love grows deeper.   Arguments and disagreements often produce a stronger enduring bond. 

When you and I argue, vent, contend, struggle and wrestle with God our relationship with him will grow stronger. 

Friends, when you pray bring your whole being,

   Bring all your feelings, good and bad, and
share them with Jesus and your relationship with him
will grow.

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt.