March 14, 2018
“A Sermon Dialog with John”
Rev. John Larson & Michael Zehnder
Ascension Lutheran Church, Littleton, Colorado
The Sermon Dialog with John is delivered by Pastor Larson (P) and Michael Zehnder (R) in the role of John:
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (Matthew 12:50). By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. (1 John 5:2)
Crossroads. They are there for all of us. We may move along from day to day easily, walking in the sunshine, enjoying the view, feeling at peace. And then it comes. A crossroad. A choice point. There we stand, frozen to the spot. Which way now? Right? Left? Straight? What waits down each of those choices? Which way does our heart call us to go? Which makes sense? Which is God’s way?
The answers aren’t easy. A crossroad can bring daunting spiritual pain. And it can bring us to our knees. It can even bring us to destruction.
Tonight we have an expert on the crossroad of obedience. He was there in the Garden when Jesus faced that crossroad—when he confronted his part in God’s the plan of salvation. We welcome the disciple John, called “the disciple Jesus loved.”
(John enters. He is dressed well or in biblical costume. He walks humbly.)
P John, welcome. Can you tell us something about that night in the Garden, what you saw and what you learned about Jesus?
R I’m almost embarrassed to be here. Yes, I was in the Garden with Jesus, but I certainly didn’t understand what was going on and I certainly was no help to him there.
P Did you see him praying?
R Yes, he went away to pray. And he asked us to pray with him. I could tell he was struggling, but after the meal, after the cups of wine we drank with the Passover meal, after the walk to the Garden in the dark, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I admit I fell asleep.
P Didn’t you understand the terror Jesus was facing?
R Not really. Not then. It was not unusual for us to go off as a group and join Jesus in prayer. It happened often. Jesus was busy at prayer many times as we traveled with him. I just didn’t know what was going on there in the Garden.
P Do you understand now?
R Now. Certainly. I wish I could go back to the garden and do it over. I wish I could join Jesus in his prayer, in his struggle. I know that it would be different now. Jesus was facing the most difficult crossroad in his life. He was staring at the reality of the suffering he would have to endure, facing the cross and most terribly, facing it alone.
P Was it really different from the other times he had to choose between his own way and God’s way? Was his choice to obey in spite of the pain so unusual?
R Not really. We know that Jesus was often tempted in his life to step away from God’s plan for him, God’s plan for us. Satan harassed him like he had done in the wilderness with a way out, a way to avoid the suffering. “Just bow down and worship me,” Satan said. “And I will give all this to you.” He was offering a shortcut that avoided the cross, but Jesus sent him away and clung to the path that God had set for him.
P What does Jesus’ choice to obey, in spite of the terror that faced him, mean to you now?
R It inspires me and convicts me. It must do the same for you.
P How do you mean?
R I’m certainly not unique. I faced a crossroad like Jesus’ many times in my life. Oh, not with the weight of the world on my shoulders, but with my own heart in conflict over which way to go. I faced that crossroad every time I came to the place where I heard the voice in me say: “Look, you know what will happen if you choose to obey God’s claim on your life, you will be hurt, you will be excluded, you will be scorned, you will be persecuted. Every time I stood at the crossroad, I remembered Jesus in the garden and asked him to stay awake with me and watch with me and pray for me.
P Did that happen often?
R In those years after Jesus ascended, all of us who followed him were faced with the choice to follow or deny him. If we denied him we could escape the threats, the persecution, even the death that faced us. We were outcast, rejected by many of our brothers, and threatened often with suffering or death. I asked God’s help to remain faithful and encouraged others to do the same in my book called Revelation. I wrote: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10).
P But we aren’t persecuted. We don’t face that kind of crossroad.
R You face the crossroad of obedience every time you confront a choice that asks will you follow your own way, the way of the world, the way that others push you to, the way you think will be easiest or most pleasant for you. Or will you follow the way Jesus would lead you – the way of obedience.
P But those kinds of choices happen every day.
R And that is why you need the power and presence of God’s Spirit every day. That’s what Jesus was doing there in the Garden and on the cross. He was bringing forgiveness and new life to you there. By God’s power and the sacrifice of Jesus you begin each day new and forgiven, new and able to make the choice of obedience.
P And how can we make those right choices?
R Here’s another thing I wrote in the my Gospel, Jesus said: “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). The same Jesus who struggled there in the Garden, the one who went to the cross, the one who rose is there in our hearts, with us at our crossroads and in our choices.
P Thank you, John, for those words of encouragement. We will remember with you and rejoice with you for what Jesus as done and what he will do in us and through us.