Gifts from the King
Matthew 26:36-46 “And going a little further, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”
How many of you have seen the Movie “Good Will Hunting” I’m going to begin this morning by describing a scene from that movie. It is toward the end of the film, and it is critical to the plot.
The film is about an extraordinarily brilliant young man named Will Hunting, a genius, who, while he devours books and solves impossible mathematical problems, insists on keeping his talents buried deeply within himself. On a daily basis, Will Hunting’s arrogance and fear blind him to the incredible possibilities of his life, a life which has become the opposite of what it could be. His childhood is clearly the key; Will has never been able to accept it: his was a miserable upbringing marked by tragedy and rejection – a total lack of human love; an early life as empty and dismal as his one-room south Boston apartment, his life of menial labor by day, his life in bars with his high school buddies by night. Yet his rage and desperation can not be contained, as demonstrated by the fights he got into on a regular basis. Will is stuck. He is going nowhere. Until a series of events occurs in quick succession: he is discovered by a mathematics professor, he meets a girl, and he goes to jail – in that order. How Will works out these pieces of the plot is what the movie is about – yet the pieces cannot come together until he gets unstuck, which is where a psychotherapist comes in, an unlikely and fascinating figure played by the wonderful actor, Robin Williams. As you might guess, it is only after weeks of failure and frustration, the most brutal honesty between therapist and patient, when all seems lost, that a break-through occurs. The root of Will Hunting’s fear is unmasked, and he is finally able to accept himself as a human being, because his therapist, who has become his friend, has seen into his soul.
For years Will had borne the weight of his love-starved childhood as an impossible burden; as an adult the only way he could make sense of the pain he felt was to be convinced that somehow, he had deserved it. The shell in which he lived, his armor of anger, arrogance, and fear seemed nearly impervious – until his therapist confronting him with the truth, repeating it over and over to Will’s face, gently but firmly insisting on the truth – broke through Will’s shell. At first it was more than the young man could bear, and he resisted mightily. Until the persistence of love won out. The message to Will was simple: it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault. You know – I think it is the hardest thing you and I have to do. I mean accepting who we are, accepting our humanity. Allowing the voice of truth to penetrate our armor. Admitting that we too have kept a secret – from others, from ourselves: the secret that there are parts of our lives we don’t understand; Pain in our lives we don’t understand; Memories from our past, events which occurred years ago, decades ago, that we still do not understand. They seem like dark rooms with no windows, we don’t want to go in there, only we know that if we do not we will somehow lack light we need, that sense of light we need deep within ourselves. Will Hunting lives within us all. It is so incredibly hard sometimes to accept ourselves as human beings. We try so hard; we try to be strong; We smile in the face of adversity. We take upon ourselves the weight of responsibility, even blame, for any failure; we convince ourselves that we can bear it, we can deal with it, we can handle it – so often because we just don’t know what else to do. All the while we wait for someone to say to us with understanding and with conviction, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.
At this point in the sermon we leave the movie. We object: oh yes it is, oh yes it is, oh yes it is! Until finally the truth gets through, the voice gets through, the word of grace gets through: God says you are not perfect! Neither are you the lord of your life. You are not God! I am. Put your life in my hands.
It is so hard to do so. But it is why we are here. We need to be reminded each Sunday, each week — each day – that God is not in our hands, we are in God’s hands. And that word is delivered to us by God’s son who himself understands our human experience, our doubts and fears, because he has experienced those same doubts and fears. We all know the difference it makes when someone has been through what we are going through. We remember those people; we remember how they helped us without knowing it. Their compassion, their understanding, their friendship, their honesty, even their silence was for us a source of strength and hope. The same is true of Christ’s in his role as monarch. Which is why his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is so important for us to hear. Because the gospels show Jesus praying not as some Superhero, not as someone impervious to fear and pain, but as a human being. My father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.
Here’s the thing – It has to be the most important nevertheless in the bible. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. For it’s like a bridge, a mile-long span across a great river. Without it the river cannot be crossed; without Jesus’ nevertheless how would we know we can make that crossing from what we want over to what God wants? Without his nevertheless how would we be assured that we will not be left alone when we make our own tough choices, when we say yes to the challenge of living our lives? Without his nevertheless why would we even bother to take the name Christian upon ourselves; Why would we even begin to believe that we can place ourselves in God’s hands; Why would we even bother to think that being human finally has to do with being faithful to the spirit of God in Jesus Christ?
So many in the world today are convinced that religious faith is nothing more than a last resort, something people turn to when they’ve exhausted all their other options. We know what that is about because we’ve found ourselves thinking the same way. I catch myself doing it. I’ll be in a hurry about something, in a fuss about something; I’ll be wondering why something isn’t turning out as I would like, as I think it should. Until it occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, God is waiting to be consulted, to be allowed in to the conversation. And I’ll kick myself, because I’m a minister for heaven’s sake, and I should know better – until a voice from somewhere immediately replies, don’t pray because you’re a minister , pray because you’re God’s child.
Here’s the thing Prayer is not an ought.is not a should. is a pathway; prayer is a possibility. Prayer is a bridge from our greatest reluctance to God’s highest willingness. We want to get there ourselves, but God waits until we pray. The disciples thought that by being physically present in the garden of Gethsemane was enough. Jesus could go off and pray and they would be fine. He asked them to remain with him, to watch with him, but they didn’t know what he was talking about so they took a nap instead. We assume it is because they were weak, because they were tired. I don’t think so. I think Peter, James, and John napped while Jesus prayed because they were over-confident. They didn’t begin to think he might be suffering, their companionship was critical at that moment in his life, that he truly needed their prayers. They slept because they did not grasp how incredibly important they were to him. They slept not because they were weary but because they were proud, thinking not of him but of themselves. We’re Jesus’ disciples, they thought, there’s nothing we can’t handle. We’ll stay here until he gets back. In the meantime, he can take care of himself. To which the lord replied, watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Meaning that which is of God within us is willing, but there is also this stubborn power of pride within us that can blind us to the fact of our need for God. It is not that our spirits go one way and our bodies another – that is a mistaken understanding of the gospel message. The tension is much more subtle and much more important, for real temptation, temptation in the biblical sense, is subtle and important. It is not just giving in to things, indulging ourselves, lacking willpower to say no when we want to say yes. True temptation is when we think we can go it alone. Temptation is when we leave Christ alone, by himself; refusing ourselves time to reflect, to pray, to consider in our hearts what it means to love him with our lives.
For years I thought the petition in the Lord’s Prayer didn’t fit; that it didn’t make sense. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Why would God want to do that, I wondered? What interest does God have in our testing; why would God want us to fail? Don’t we lead ourselves into temptation? Until I realized that the prayer is an expression of our heart of hearts, it is a declaration of our human frailty, it is our constant reminder that as Jesus’ disciples, especially as the lord’s disciples, we can’t make it on our own, no man-made armor will work, no tough shell will be tough enough if we are put in a situation where only our faith will deliver us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil – please, lord, in those critical moments of our life, – wake us up! Shake us, whatever it takes so that when we really need to be obedient to your will we will take our stand on your promises. Don’t let us try to be superhuman, just let us be ourselves, A human being you have rescued many times before. Be with us as we take hold of our faith and stand beside you. Really it is our prayer; it is the church’s prayer. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Because we need each other to remind each other that we all need God. Which is what so many people are waiting to hear! That faith is not a last resort but an open door to the lord of love; that we don’t have to be something we are not; being human is enough.
Being human is a gift.
Needing God is a gift.
Needing each other, being the church together, is a gift.
Reaching out to all people in the love of Jesus Christ is a gift.
Knowing that each of us has a purpose is a gift.
Trusting that we are always in his hands is a gift.
God Bless and Amen