Great God of steadfast love, 1 Kgs. 3:6
we study your works and delight in your ways. Ps. 111:2
Illumine our understanding by your Holy Spirit, Eph. 5:18
that we may reverence your name and grow in your wisdom. Ps. 111:10
If you haven’t been here in a few weeks – this will seem very strange – why has Ingrid chosen the story of Jesus’ arrest before his crucifixion in the middle of Summer? Don’t we do that in the Spring sometime? Like just before Easter?
We definitely do – and yes, it is a totally strange time of year to read it. We have been recounting the last week of Jesus’ life, focusing on some of the tiny details that undergird the very big and important things that happen. Little bits that are important but sometimes get lost in the telling of the big and overarching story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Today we heard about the way Jesus was arrested, before his trial and subsequent execution – just a reminder, Sunday he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, Monday, flipping tables, Tuesday: confrontation with the Scribes and Pharisees, Wednesday: Judas plans to betray him and the anonymous woman anoints him with oil; Thursday: Last Supper. It is now the middle of the night and they have come to arrest him.
Today I would like to take our camera lens out and set our focus in on the disciples.
Last week we learned about Jesus’ Last Supper and shared in the sacrament of Communion together.
In that last meal with his friends, Jesus modeled self-giving love – he was the one who served, he offered them wine and bread; he invited them to share and to remember, as they enacted the beginning of a new covenant of life together.
Yet even as he poured himself out for them in that sacred holy moment, they failed.
At the table was Judas, the one who would give Jesus over to the authorities.
At the table Jesus warned Peter that he would deny him three times.
Setting the stage for our reading today, they all set out, moving to the Mount of Olives. Jesus instructed the disciples to stay alert! and pray, and then retreated to pray on his own. And what happened? He came back from his own prayer time to find them sleeping! They failed again.
And then in today’s selection – a crowd arrived, Judas at the front and he leaned in to kiss Jesus – a betrayal in the intimate act of friendship. And the others? Had they learned anything from Jesus? Peter grabbed a sword and cut off ear of the assistant to the High Priest!
The disciples failed to understand, all through the Gospel stories of Jesus earthly ministry. And they fail even up to the very end of Jesus’ life. They fail and fail and fail, highlighting for us the dramatic contrast between the Kingdom of God and the Prison of our own selfishness and our own inability to do what is right on our own.
The disciples learn the depths of their weakness, their frailty, and their need for a strength beyond their own.
And what about our caterpillar today? He starts out well – an apple, couple of pears, few plums…but whoa Saturday? Chocolate cake, ice cream, salami, sausage, pie, candy – and then a whole lot of regret. Caterpillars know what they are supposed to eat, and yet our little friend failed to do what he knew he should be doing.
And if that were the full expression of our story, it would be very bad news indeed – you will fail, even when your intentions are good. You will screw stuff up, important stuff, at critical times, right in front of God.
But that isn’t our story. Our story is one of second, third, 589th chances.
Yes, at the table of the Last Supper was the one who would give Jesus over to the authorities, yet Jesus did not withhold the bread and wine. Yes, Jesus warned Peter that he would deny him three times, yet he did not cast him away, but rather urged him to return once his failure was complete, to strengthen the others.
Even after all that time teaching love, mercy, forgiveness, and non-violence: when they came to arrest him and Peter pulled out the sword and used it, Jesus jumped up and said NO! But he didn’t send Peter away, he healed the man’s ear saying, “Let them be, even in this” (V. 51, MSG).
And can you just picture Peter as he is corrected in this way? The anguish screwing up his face as he realizes what he has done – how could I have done this, I know better. Maybe it is the same sorry face we saw on the caterpillar after his frenzied day of binge eating. How could I have done this, I know better.
Over and over again, throughout the stories of Jesus in all the Gospels, the disciples don’t measure up. Don’t get me wrong, they do plenty right – they drop those nets and follow, they go where he leads them, they listen and learn and try and work.
But left to their own devices they cannot do what is right – Paul writes about this very thing in Romans, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I do not do the good I want to do.” (Romans 7: 15, 19 NRSV).
But the good news here is that we are never told that we need to do this on our own. We are assured time and time again that Jesus is here and Jesus is for us and God will give us the strength we need to live out our call as Christians, as disciples of Christ, so long as we keep coming back, we keep seeking, we keep trying.
I don’t know about you, but those disciples? Those are my people – I get them. I try, and I have the best of intentions and when push comes to shove, I can so easily forget all the things I know and believe and teach…and I step in it again. And that caterpillar? Starting out with fruit, vegetables…only to follow it up with pie and cupcakes and the like? I know this story all too well.
And the response is the same – whether literal or figurative, the disciples and the caterpillar – and me too – we feel awful after having done the wrong thing, especially because we know the right thing, because we spend time and energy, we spend our lives trying to follow.
And yet, the disciples didn’t just end there – and neither do we. This story highlights for us, yes, the depths of their weakness, the depths of our own weakness, but it also shows us that no matter what terrible things we do, Jesus is there with us.
Even there in Garden, the sweaty, adrenaline filled moment in the dark of his very last night, bloody ear in hand, Jesus remains with them and for them, healing the wounds they inflicted, correcting the mistake, forgiving. Even after the gluttonous extravaganza of the caterpillar, he is led back on course, given another chance, and eats the nice green leaf and feels better.
That is why today’s sermon is called Gifts of Humility – humility means to be teachable – and that is faith in Jesus. To know that we can be taught, that we can screw it up again and again, even in the most dire of circumstances, and Jesus can catch our attention, heal the wounds we have inflicted, and teach us about love.
Now, all this talk about all the ways we have, do, and will mess up and fail, might sound like a discouraging word – but I promise you, it is not. The recognition of our own weakness is paradoxically our greatest source of strength, not no mention a huge relief.
We will not get it right all the time, we are not expected to be perfect – we are not God.
The disciples learned the depths of their weakness, their frailty, and their need for a strength beyond their own. In our day-to-day living, we too encounter our own failings, and come face to face with the reality that we need a strength greater than our own.
And we have it. That strength is here, it is with us, it is for us.
With the spirit of humility – teachability – we can grow, we can learn, we can be the church, just as Peter did.
Because despite all of our denials, our betrayals, our violent outbursts and sneaky backstabbing, Jesus still shows up for us, still calls us to be his body on earth, his church. Shockingly Peter becomes the rock on which all of this is built. Shockingly, the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly – and perhaps, so will we.