Pastor Tony's Sermon August 20, 2017

Matthew 26: 36-46     8-20-17     Rev. Tony Clark     ACCUCC

Matthew 26:36-46The Message (MSG)

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Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”

When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

He then left them a second time. Again he prayed, “My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.”

When he came back, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open. This time he let them sleep on, and went back a third time to pray, going over the same ground one last time.

When he came back the next time, he said, “Are you going to sleep on and make a night of it? My time is up, the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s get going! My betrayer is here.”


This is the third in a series on the Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer that Jesus taught us to pray together, and this week I’m paying attention to the line “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Temptation makes me think of the apple, the apple that Adam and Eve ate after being tempted by the serpent. That apple of temptation that made its way into the fairy tale of Snow White. The apple in those stories is a symbol of temptation, and it is a symbol of doubt, distrust, disbelief.

Apples aren’t that tempting to me because I have chocolate and sugar both of which taste way better than an apple; however, in places where chocolate was unheard of and sugar was rare, what was the sweetest thing a sweet tooth would have been tempted by? Honey, berries, and fruit like apples.

In the stories of Adam and Eve and the legend of Snow White the apple is a symbol of temptation, and that all of the characters in the stories are mythic archetypes on one side or the other of temptation. There is the sweet purity of innocence in Adam, Eve and Snow White; they have not been tainted by the doubt, distrust, and disbelief one gains in facing the world’s temptations. Then there is the archetype of the one out to sow doubt, disbelief, and distrust. The serpent in the Garden of Eden and the Wicked Queen who offered Snow White the poisoned apple have been jaded by the world’s temptations, and they seek to sow doubt, distrust, and disbelief.

Temptation living into the doubt, distrust, and disbelief that questions the presence of God and God’s will, which means losing the innocence of trust in God.

When Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer, he used the word we know as temptation, and he used the same word when he spoke to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before he was captured by the Roman army and put on trial for treason. We heard that story today. After their Passover holiday meal, Jesus asked the three leaders of the disciples, Peter and James and John, to accompany him into the garden to pray, but the three leaders fell asleep. When Jesus found them asleep, he woke them up, and told them to stay alert so they didn’t wander into temptation without knowing it. Jesus, who seemed clear about the outcome, needed to pray, and be assured by God that his was the right path, and in that vulnerable moment as he immersed himself in the heart of God, he needed his compatriots to hold him in prayer and be alert to their surroundings. And he needed them to pay attention to what was going on and follow their promises to follow God over the next few days. Their temptation was more similar to ours today than to eating an apple in a Garden; the disciples’ sin of apathy and a not staying aware is the sin of today.

The sin we face is to be lulled into false sense of security that the doubt, distrust, disbelief are the reality, when they are simply the thoughts in your brain and your fight or flight response taking hold. The sin was neither eating the apple nor falling sleep; the sin was hiding from and denying relationship with God and God’s human voice. And for this we cry, Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us!!

When Jesus told us to pray to God, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, he is telling us that the human temptation is to doubt God’s providence of peace, and to fight or to run away, to protect ourselves. Perhaps we might pray, “We are anxious, God; give us strength to stay with the anxiety, to neither fight, nor flee, but to step into the anxiety and live as we promised we would doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with you. Lead us not into the evil of violence or apathy, but into nonviolent presence.

We live in anxious times. Destruction of our democracy and Nuclear threat from North Korea have been overrun in our news this week by the white supremacists who are rallying with the sole purpose of inciting violence toward the people they know are against them. For some of the groups, violence is part of a hazing ritual that leads to full membership in what they are calling a fraternity. They have organized themselves through the internet. Many of them are armed with assault guns, shields, and other weapons of war. We are learning new words to go with them, “Paleo-conservative,” and “Identitarians.” They call themselves the Proud Boys, and the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, and people are no longer calling them Neo-Nazis, but just Nazis. We are also hearing about opposing groups called, SURJ or Standing up for Racial Justice, and Anti-Fa, or Anti-fascists, who intend to stand up against the violent Nazis, with violence if necessary. All of this is expected to hit the streets of Berkeley next week, and it is expected to be violent.

At an interfaith meeting on how to respond as people of faith, we heard from someone just back from Charlottesville, Virginia, and we heard from another person who gave us the history of those white supremacist groups. I think many of us in the room were feeling an assault on not just on our government or democracy, but on the morality of our country, and we are coming face-to-face with the principals, values, and actions we deem appropriate in both the physical world we live, work and pray in, and the virtual world on the internet. Many of us are feeling compelled to respond in some way.

 As an interfaith body at the meeting on response, we decided to do two things, to offer a space of respite and sanctuary, and to peacefully march and stand as witness to the rally at City Hall.

My anxiety is high. I have been anxious for some time as I have watched the #BlackLivesMatter movement take hold against police brutality, and as I watched white supremacists gain voice and confidence. I have started taking anti-depressants to help my feeling of helplessness. I have until now had no idea to how to respond, and I have felt frozen in my anxiety, and it is fed by the temptation to protect myself. Now, even though my anxiety is rising, I can no longer stand on the sidelines, frozen, stuck, helpless, tempted to ignore and deny what is happening. Neither can I run and hide from this, and I am not good at fighting. And yet my temptation this week has been to avoid the conflict, and go about my comfortable life as if nothing is happening 3 miles away in downtown Berkeley.

This is our modern temptation, to ignore homelessness because the problem is too big, to ignore racism because we have nothing more to offer than our love, to avoid the oncoming revolution because there will be violence.   

In spite of my desire to crawl back into bed and pull the sheets over my head until all of this blows over, I am stepping into the anxiety. I have volunteered to be at the respite and sanctuary site, offering medical and spiritual first aid to anyone who needs it. I pray that I am not led into the temptation of doubt, distrust and disbelief that this is the right thing to do, and that I can step into the center of God’s heart and know what it means to trust God.

Although we expect this to take place in the afternoon next Sunday, I may not be in worship next week. I encourage you to meet, to pray, and to name the anxiety in our region, our nation and our world. This week I will be praying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us with evil,” over and over again, and I hope you pray, too. Pray to not be tempted by doubt, distrust and disbelief, nor tempted by the evil to fight back or the evil to ignore the problem. Pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is heaven, in response to this evil.

In these weeks to come, may Peace be with you. may Peace be with us all. God bless us everyone., and may we realize God’s kingdom of justice here on our earth.