Called to Exile

14 Mar Called to Exile

Called to Exile
Matthew 26:36-46
March 15, 202
Michelle Fincher 
Calvary Presbyterian Church

Click here for the bulletin: Mar_15_20Bulletin

Scripture for Today: Matthew 26:36-46

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, 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.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[a] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

Last Sunday we began our Lenten series on exile by looking first, at what exile is, how we end up in exile when life throws us a curve and we land in a hard place we weren’t expecting to be.  We examined how prevalent exile is in both scripture and in our lives, and finally we named some of the causes of exile. Exile can be the result of unbelief, of sin and rebellion, of bad decisions, or it can be caused by circumstances over which we have no control.  Regardless of the cause, the common thread is that exile is painful. It is full of questions and doubt. We can wonder where God is and why God has allowed these difficult times to come to us. Some people refer to exile as “the dark night of the soul”.  

There is a fifth cause of exile that we named which we called self-imposed exile, and that is the one we’re going to focus on today.  Another way to think of self-imposed exile is that it is a time of exile that God calls you to live. Contrary to what some people think or want to believe is true, God’s call doesn’t always lead to fun and happiness.  Sometimes it leads to a season of sacrifice and suffering. That is certainly we picture we have of Jesus when he went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Gethsemane was an orchard of olive trees, and in Jesus’ time, every olive grove had an olive press for making olive oil.  In fact, the name “Gethsemane” in Hebrew means “oil press”. When the ripened crop was harvested, the olives were put in a basin, and then a large stone would be slowly rolled over them to crush the olives and release their oil.  It’s no coincidence that Jesus chose this place to pray. Think about the symbolism of Gethsemane and what it says about what Jesus was feeling. As he made his inevitable march towards the cross, the weight of the world was pressing down on him.  Matthew observes that he began to be “grieved and agitated.” One verse later Jesus himself says, “My soul is deeply grieved even to the point of death” (26:38).

The word “grieved” which some translations have as “troubled” means to be severely depressed.  Jesus is not just sad; he is overwhelmed with concern and sorrow at what he is facing. The Gospel of Luke records that Jesus asked to be spared from this pending suffering:  “Jesus withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond the disciples, knelt down and prayed,Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’” (22:42-43).  Here in the garden, Jesus is in exile, facing his own “dark night of the soul.”

Jesus was fully God, but he was also fully human.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds us that Jesus emptied himself of his godlikeness in order to fully embrace his humanity.  Which means he felt the same crushing weight that you and I do when we face impossible situations. He was not immune to loss and grief and sorrow.  In the pain of exile, as is sometimes true for us, he wanted to give up, but he wanted to please God even more. So, he commits himself to do God’s will:  not my will but yours, he prays. And Luke says that when he made that commitment, an angel appeared to him and strengthened him (Luke 22:43).

Jesus was strengthened but the problem didn’t go away.  God didn’t remove the suffering Jesus was experiencing, but God did give him what he needed to keep going.  “And being in anguish, [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

When olives come under pressure, they drip oil.  When Jesus came under pressure, he dripped blood.  That is how intense his exile was: the pain, the separation, the feelings of isolation, loss and grief—all because Jesus chose obedience, committing himself to following God’s will.  That obedience sometimes results in personal anguish is a truth that begs for deep reflection and simultaneously offers us a new perspective through which to understand our own suffering and exile in at least three ways.  

First, Jesus’ suffering validates our suffering.  Sometimes even people of strong faith wonder why we experience the suffering we do.  Is there something wrong with me? Is this normal? For some people, there can be a sense of shame or guilt for feeling overwhelmed or wanting to give up.  It helps to know that Jesus understands the pressure you are under and that it okay to feel whatever you feel and express your full humanity. In Jesus, you have a Savior and friend who is in solidarity with you when suffering sends you into exile.

Second, Jesus’ suffering had a purpose and that purpose was to restore us to God.  The New Testament letter to the Hebrews makes this amazing statement about the suffering and death of Jesus:  “By one sacrifice Jesus made us perfect forever” (10:14). The word perfect in this context means “complete, lacking nothing”.  Now, your spouse might not think you are lacking nothing, or you might not think that about your teenager. But this is what God thinks about you, not because of anything you have done or could ever do, but because of what Jesus has done for you.  Jesus makes you perfect, so that when God looks at you, you lack nothing. There is nothing to prove, nothing to earn. You are perfect in God’s eyes because Jesus sets you right with God. That is deeply reassuring during times of exile. God has not and will not abandon you.  God loves you and is with you every step of the way. 

The third thing Jesus’ suffering shows us is that good things can come from exile.  If the salvation of the world came through the horror and shame of the cross, then good things can come from whatever exile you are walking through.  You won’t see it—and you certainly won’t feel it—when your suffering is at its most intense. But eventually, you will be able to see things you can’t see when it is the darkest. 

These first three weeks of Lent have offered us a beautiful, vivid picture of our lives in Christ.  On Ash Wednesday, as we do each year, the congregation came forward at the end of the service to have the sign of the cross made in ash on their foreheads.  We participate in this liturgical ritual as a reminder that we are human, created from the dust of the earth to which we will all someday return. As Andy and Katie came forward that night, with Andy holding Serafina in his arms, one of my clergy colleagues leaned over to me and asked, “what do you think he’ll do about the baby?”  A moment later, Andy did indeed have Serafina signed with ashes. It was a poignant, powerful symbol that from our first breath, suffering and exile will be part of lives.

This weekend we were scheduled to baptize Serafina, marking her with water instead of ashes.  We all live our lives under these two marks, water and ashes, life and death. Both realities are true.  Both speak profoundly to who and what we are: children of God, born of God’s Spirit, loved eternally by God from the foundation of the world.  We are people who, along with that love, also know pain, loss, suffering and exile. We Presbyterians have something of a “shorthand” way to proclaim both halves of our true identity when we say, “in life and in death, we belong to God.” At many funerals you will also hear a Presbyterian minister say that “in death, our baptism is made complete.”  In death, we return to the God from whom we have come. We go home where there will never be exile again—no crying, no pain, no separation, no death.   

The season of Lent invites us to remember that the only way we get from here to there is through Jesus’ voluntary exile, when in obedience to the will of his father, he went to the cross.  First in the Garden of Gethsemane and then on the cross, he felt cut off from both God and humanity. He experienced suffering, exile, and death, and because he did, there is nothing we can do, nothing we may experience, no failure we have that Jesus does not and cannot redeem.  Or, to put it in the words of the Apostle Paul, there is no exile so deep, no darkness so black that it can ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let us pray

Merciful, suffering Savior, thank you for showing us how to live under both the mark of ashes and the mark of water.  Thank you for the assurance that nothing we face in our lives is beyond your redemption, because nothing can ever separate us from your love.  Until our own baptisms are completed in death, Lord, grant us faith and courage when we are called into exile, that we might identify with you in your suffering just as we will one day fully identify with you in your resurrection.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

Hymn for Today: Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley

Click Here for an Online Version of this Song

Jesus walked this lonesome valley.

He had to walk it by Himself;

O, nobody else could walk it for Him,

He had to walk it by Himself.

We must walk this lonesome valley,

We have to walk it by ourselves;

O, nobody else can walk it for us,

We have to walk it by ourselves.

You must go and stand your trial,

You have to stand it by yourself,

O, nobody else can stand it for you,

You have to stand it by yourself.

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