The Garden

Sermon Series: 24 Hours That Changed the World
Sermon Title: The Garden
Psalm 118: John 18:1; Matthew 26:36-45
Rev. Dr. Sue Shorb-Sterling
Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church
February 25, 2018

Congratulations, Pleasant Grove, for being a continuous worshipping and serving
congregation for 150 years! This is no small thing and certainly something to be
celebrated and recognized. 150 years in which lives were changed by the love of God, the
grace of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. How many people have come through
these doors to worship our Lord and Savior? How many committed their lives to Christ at
this altar rail as they received baptism and affirmed their faith? How many have received
Holy Communion? How many have exchanged marriage vows? How many have we
celebrated their death and resurrection in the Lord? We cannot begin to count the number
of lives that have been changed through this congregation.

And I am one whose life was changed by being here as a student pastor for four of
these 150 years, 1998-2002. This was a great learning environment. Even though there
was some hesitation about having a woman as a pastor, once I was here, I received so
much support. This congregation was an answer to my prayers. I knew God called me
into the ministry, but I had no idea how financially it was going to happen. Pleasant
Grove provided our family housing with the utilities and medical, paid for books and
mileage to and from Wesley Theological Seminary, as well as part of the tuition
expenses. Not only did Pleasant Grove play an important role in changing my life, but
also the lives of our family. I hope in some small way God worked through me during
those four years to change lives here, too. Thank you, Pleasant Grove, for all you have
given to me and my family, and I give thanks for the 150 years that God has been
changing lives at Pleasant Grove.

The Lenten series is “24 Hours that Changed the World.” This week we are
looking at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane which is really an olive orchard.
Gethsemane means oil press so olives may have been pressed there into cooking oil and
fuel for lamps. In our part of the world gardens aren’t orchards. We have flower gardens
that offer a rainbow of color and an array of fragrance and beauty. We can have vegetable
gardens that give us fresh vegetables for nutritious and flavorful dishes. When our family
lived here in the parsonage, we would often find boxes of garden vegetables on the deck.
The gardeners of Pleasant Grove were generous with their tomatoes, squash, cucumbers,
and zucchini. And we very much appreciated them since this pastor didn’t seem to have
enough hours in the day to add gardening to the list of things to do.

Before I entered the ministry our family had a vegetable garden. It was one of the
few places I could find some space to be alone. No one would come out to be with Mom
pulling weeds, because she might just make you pulling weeds with her. Pulling weeds
became my quiet time, my prayer time in the garden. I would be reminded of the song my
grandmother would sing, “I Come to the Garden Alone.” This was a time in which Jesus
was walking and talking with me. But this song is not about a vegetable garden or the
Garden of Gethsemane, but it’s about Mary encountering the Risen Christ on that first
Easter morning.

Before we can get to Easter Sunday morning, we must walk through these twentyfour
hours that changed the world which begins on Thursday night in the Upper Room.
Jesus and his disciples have just celebrated the Passover meal together. He was preparing
them for what is about to happen in the next twenty-four hours. He knows what Judas
must do and tells him to go and do it. Then he transforms the Seder meal of the Old
Covenant into our Holy Communion of the New Covenant. At the end of this meal they
would have sung the Hallel psalms which are Psalm 113-118. Hallel is Hebrew for
praise. Jesus and his disciples would have sung these psalms of praise. Psalm 118 was
our Call to Worship. As Jesus walked from the Upper Room through the Kidron Valley
to the Garden of Gethsemane did the words of the Psalm echo in his mind?

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?
Jesus went to the Garden, but he did not go alone. He took his cadre or his inner
circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John. These were the same three who saw his
divinity, who experienced his glory with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop. But this
evening they would witness the humanity of Jesus. This evening they would witness
Jesus being “sorrowful and troubled.” Jesus said that he was “overwhelmed with sorrow
to the point of death.” Jesus is a dead man walking. His friends will abandon him. He will
be arrested and tortured. And he will be executed in the most brutal, painful way- a
crucifixion. Jesus needed someone to be with him. So he asked the three who saw him
divinely illuminated, the three in whom he would entrust to continue his mission. He
asked them to watch and pray while he went off a little farther to pray. But what did they
do? They fell asleep. Well, traditionally there are several glasses of wine consumed
during the Seder meals. Perhaps the wine had relaxed them. It was a long day and it was
after midnight. “The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.” If Peter, James, and John
had known this was their last night with Jesus, they wouldn’t have slept. Three times
Jesus returns to them and three times they are sleeping. Jesus needed his close friends to
be praying with him.

When we are going through troubling times, times of grief, times of anguish, times
of uncertainty, anxious times, don’t we need someone to just be with us and pray for us?
They don’t need to say anything. They don’t need to give advice or encouragement. We
just want someone with us and offer prayers on our behalf. So did Jesus. The Emmanuel,
God with us, needed someone to be with him and pray for him. His spirit was willing to
face what he was about to face, but his flesh was trying to find another way and he
prayed. “Father, take this cup from me, please!”

The divine Jesus had the power to stop his execution. He had the power to wipe the
entire Roman Empire and all the religious leaders off the face of the earth. Jesus could
have started a whole new religious government and placed himself as the extreme ruler,
but he didn’t. Remember he passed this test of the use of his divine power before, when
he spent 40 days in the wilderness. This wasn’t the type of savior he was to be. So he
cries out, “Father, isn’t there another way? I’m not ready. There is more that needs to be
done here. These three sleepy followers aren’t ready to carry this mission forward. Isn’t
there a plan B?”

I can relate to this human part of Jesus, can you? When we are faced with decisions
we don’t want to make, when tragedy happens to us, when we get that phone call that we
know will change our lives, when someone we love is hurting, when the world seems to
be caving in, when we receive a medical diagnosis that will change our lives, when we
realize that we are facing the end of our lives, we call out to God, “Take this cup from

At the church where I serve, our Lenten series is called, “Journeying Inward,
Journeying Outward: Being and Doing.” The inward journey is the “being” or spending
time with God in prayer, meditation, reading scriptures for the purpose of not only
developing a closer relationship with God in Christ, but also understanding who we are in
relationship with God-the vertical part of the cross. The outward journey is the “doing” or
the serving and reaching others or the horizontal part of the cross. The inward journey
leads us to the outward journey and back again. As I read through the Gospels, I have
become aware that Jesus developed a pattern of journeying inward, spending time with
his Father, and journeying outward, preaching and healing the people.

When I read this scripture, I witnessed Jesus journeying inward, wrestling with
God and himself. After the Seder meal, he could have hung out with the rest of the
disciples in the Upper Room, napping until Judas returned. Instead, he chose to go off to
be with God, to plead with God, and to face his fears. When we face those devastating,
painful times, how do we handle them? Do we find a quiet place to be with God? Do we
ask friends to pray with us and for us? Or do we handle these times with a bottle or with
pills or with anger or with a gun? Our nation is going through a time when it seems
young men who are hurting can only get relief from their pain by picking up a gun and
killing many. Jesus took the inward journey to prepare his self for the outward journey to
the cross. He sat in that olive garden looking at the hill where he would hang the next day
and prayed to his Father. Jesus prayed what he taught us to pray, “not my will, but
yours.” We pray this every Sunday, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
God did not answer Jesus’ prayer the way he wanted it answered. God did not take
this cup from Jesus. Instead God helped him accept the cup and drink from it. When
Judas brought the soldiers to arrest Jesus, he was ready to face what he knew he had to
face to save us and this world. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only
Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Amen.