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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, February 23, 2013



Mark 14:32-50

Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Jesus Prays

32 Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he told them, "Sit here while I pray."
33 Jesus took along Peter, James, and John. He was sad and troubled and 34 told them, "I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me."
35-36 Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt down on the ground and prayed, "Father,[a]if it is possible, don't let this happen to me! Father, you can do anything. Don't make me suffer by having me drink from this cup.[b] But do what you want, and not what I want."
37 When Jesus came back and found the disciples sleeping, he said to Simon Peter, "Are you asleep? Can't you stay awake for just one hour? 38 Stay awake and pray that you won't be tested. You want to do what is right, but you are weak."
39 Jesus went back and prayed the same prayer. 40 But when he returned to the disciples, he found them sleeping again. They simply could not keep their eyes open, and they did not know what to say.
41 When Jesus returned to the disciples the third time, he said, "Are you still sleeping and resting?[c] Enough of that! The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to sinners. 42 Get up! Let's go. The one who will betray me is already here."

Jesus Is Arrested

43 Jesus was still speaking, when Judas the betrayer came up. He was one of the twelve disciples, and a mob of men armed with swords and clubs were with him. They had been sent by the chief priests, the nation's leaders, and the teachers of the Law of Moses. 44 Judas had told them ahead of time, "Arrest the man I greet with a kiss.[d] Tie him up tight and lead him away."
45 Judas walked right up to Jesus and said, "Teacher!" Then Judas kissed him, 46 and the men grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
47 Someone standing there pulled out a sword. He struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.
48 Jesus said to the mob, "Why do you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like a criminal? 49 Day after day I was with you and taught in the temple, and you didn't arrest me. But what the Scriptures say must come true."
50 All of Jesus' disciples ran off and left him.


OK. Verse 32. So, Jesus goes with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he tells them, "Sit here while I pray."

He goes a few steps further and prays the prayer to end all prayers. In Luke's version of the gospel Jesus is praying so hard, he's literally sweating blood. This is huge.

And here's how his closest disciples mark the occasion.


Asleep. Out cold. Sawing logs.

Now, granted. According to the Bible's timeline of events, it's probably one o'clock in the morning. But still. C'mon, guys. You're disciples. You're better than this. And Jesus tells them so. Verse 37: "Can't you stay awake for just one hour?"

Verse 39. Jesus goes back and prays again. But by verse 40... I don't know. Maybe they took an Ambien.

So, after waking them up uhh-gain, Jesus goes back and prays a third time. If you're reading this you wanna say, Hey! Disciples! Bite the inside of your cheek. Pinch your forearm. Put matchsticks in your eye sockets. Jesus is praying the greatest prayer in the history of prayers and you, can't, stay, awake.

Verse 41. Jesus comes back, finds them, and he's over it.

41 When Jesus returned to the disciples the third time, he said, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough of that! The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to sinners. 42 Get up! Let's go.

Who would have thought doing nothing would be so hard?


I don't know about you, but I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the disciples. Like them, and perhaps like some of you, I've slept through my share of religious activities. Yep. Preachers do that, too. Especially during sermons. Other preachers' sermons. I don't think I've ever fallen asleep during one of my own. That would be embarrassing.

And praying. Any of you ever fall asleep while you're saying your prayers at night? It's not because your prayers are boring. I'm sure you're not putting God to sleep. Wouldn't that be awful. You wake up the next morning and find out there's been an earthquake, or a plague. Fox News reports, "Apparently, God fell asleep. Because of one person's prayers from the greater Knoxville area." There's some pressure.

Jesus didn't ask the disciples to do anything. He didn't ask them to watch him pray and see how a master does it. He didn't ask THEM to pray along with him. He didn't ask them to do anything. Just,  stay awake.

Who would have thought doing nothing would be so hard?


From a very early age, we are trained to be experts at not doing nothing. Or, turn it around: We're taught to always be doing something.

I love that bumper sticker: "Jesus is coming! Look busy!" It takes on a religious tone, doesn't it? If you're good at doing nothing, you're a good-for-nothing. You're lazy. Just sit around on your parent's couch all day, eating Doritos and playing X-box. Idleness is the devil's workshop. Get a job. Be productive. Volunteer. Take up yoga. Run a marathon. Read to preschoolers. Lose weight. Try out for a game show. Paint a masterpiece. Write a manifesto. But for God's sake, do something.

That's what we hear.

Am I right?

Say something. Don't just sit there.

Only a few times have I had the thrill of praying with folks from an African-American church. No offense, but they make praying easy. "Oh, Lord." "That's right." "Umm hmmm." It's no wonder AME services go on so long.

It's part of our religious upbringing, or, to say it the other way around, it's the religious part of our upbringing as Americans to be experts at not doing nothing.

So, we can have a lot of sympathy for those late-night disciples, after a big Last Supper, lots of bread, some wine. After all that, Jesus tells them to just sit there and do nothing. And they fall asleep. Duh! What else could he expect?


In the Old Testament, in the book of First Kings, chapter 19, God sends the greatest prophet, Elijah, to a hilltop, not all that spiritually different from the hilltop where Jesus prayed in the garden.

11 [God] said [to Elijah], "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Silence. Silence. The sound of God throughout the Bible, at so many of its pivotal points, is the sound of... nothing.

And if it's so hard for us to do nothing well, we will miss The Lord passing by.


People get very opinionated about silence. Especially in church.

It's different in other places, because in other situations everybody knows what to do. You go to a basketball game and, say, UT beats Kentucky. You yell your head off. Everybody knows that's what you do. It's understood.

You go to Bonnaroo and hear Paul McCartney, or Mumford and Sons, or Weird Al Yankovic. You scream and throw your clothes at them. It's understood.

In church, on the other hand, it's harder to know what to do. Some of you were brought up in churches where whenever the choir sang a great anthem you broke out in applause. Some of you grew up in churches where applause was of the devil because church is NOT a performance for your enjoyment. Church is the place for silence. And suffering.

I wrestle with it, too. And not just because of my African-American heritage. But because sometimes, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, it's hard, really hard, to do nothing.

The disciples fell asleep because they couldn't do nothing. People applaud because we want to do something, and we frankly, there are very few other options for a large group that wants to show its appreciation. We just don't know what to do when we're not doing something.


This is the Second Sunday in Lent. Lent is the season of 40 days and 40 nights before Easter. It's a time when Christians devote themselves to quiet things. To prayer. To abstaining from certain foods. To giving something up. Giving something up. Lent's a time when Christians devote themselves to doing nothing, in the place of always doing something.

In those places of always doing something, Lent is the time to choose - to be wide awake and consciously choose - to do nothing. And to do it well. At least, to do it better than the disciples. At least to try.

Lent's not about giving up chocolate and then telling everybody about it like it's something that's helping children in the Sudan. Lent's about silencing yourself. Silencing yourself so you can hear the still, small voice - the sound of sheer silence.

Can you bear it? Can you handle it? Can you even imagine how to do nothing? It's so foreign. Kind of like those Zen masters, who do nothing and they're so good at it. My good friend, Tony The Buddhist Barber, used to tell me all the time that we Christians are so busy that we miss the great commandment from our own Psalm 46: "Be still, and know that I am God."

Or, to turn it around the other way, "Be still, and know that you are not."


In a couple of weeks, we're going to celebrate our Maundy Thursday service of worship. It's the service where we share Communion and remember the Last Supper. For many of us it's our favorite church service of the year, right after Christmas Eve. For many of us, Maundy Thursday is so special because it's so quiet.

When we serve Communion, there's no music. People walk up to share the bread and the cup at the table. You can hear so much. You can hear the sounds of the choir loft. Not the voices of the choir. This time, you hear the creaking of the wood, the clipping sounds of shoes. You hear people clearing their throats. You hear kids asking, "What's going on? This is so weird." You notice... silence. You notice the bold, spirit-filled sounds, of nothing. The bold, spirit-filled sounds of nothing being done, about as well as Presbyterians can. And it's a very holy time.

This season of Lent, I want to invite you to choose - to truly choose - to do nothing better than the disciples. I want to invite you to choose to consciously, wakefully, be present in your moments. Appreciate their holy silence. Which, when you really pay attention, you discover isn't silent at all. Because these are the places, the spaces you make, when you hear the sheer silence of God.

Let's pray.