So we heard from the puppets about keeping promises, and trying to keep promises. It may be that of all the things you hear or say or sing this morning, that sticks most in your mind!
So what about us, do we find promises hard to keep?
How about this morning when you were getting ready to come to Church, did you promise, “I’ll be right there” but knew as the words come out of our mouths that before we will be “right there” we have to check the back door is locked, make sure the table has had at least a quick wipe after breakfast, find the door key, put on your lipstick, go and fetch a clean hanky – any one or several of the above, and a whole host of other choices besides! A promise not kept! But quite a trivial one.
How about the “You promised we could talk about this after tea,” but our phone rings, or we just want to see how the tv program finishes before talking, or we remember that we wanted to get in touch with a friend so we’re distracted, and we don’t commit properly to the time and space we promised to. Our puppets in the sketch wiped out on their promises to do jobs for their Mum.
Let’s see what happens in our Bible passage, the issues there are deeper. I love this passage. The setting is ominous, there have been lots of people around as it’s the Passover in Jerusalem, lots of hassle for Jesus and the disciples from the chief priests and elders. Jesus has celebrated the Passover supper with his disciples, but said some pretty unexpected and disturbing things. Then they go out to pray, and Jesus is so strong, the disciples are so wanting to be the same but their humanity gets in the way, it’s so poignant, promises made, promises broken, Jesus’ promise to his father kept, all mixed up together.
To go back a bit, the passage begins with Jesus telling the disciples that they will all fall away, as he quotes from the prophecy in the Old Testament book of Zechariah. And Peter, headstrong but with his heart in the right place, promises Jesus that even if everyone else fails, he won’t , he’ll stay loyal, he’ll be at Jesus’ side. But Jesus warns him that on the very night of their conversation he will deny Jesus. Peter is emphatic in his promise. Now, we aren’t hearing this story for the first time. We know what happens, we know Peter breaks his promise and denies Jesus.
Then, in the central part of the passage we have Jesus and the disciples going out into the garden, where Jesus needs to spend time alone, in prayer to his Father, but he knows the chief priests and elders are out to get him, so he asks the disciples to come along and stand watch for him.
Now it’s very easy for us to hear this story, or read it for ourselves, but because we are very familiar with the words, it can just wash over us, but not necessarily hit home. So I’ve turned the Bible passage into a script for us all to join in with, half reading the words of Jesus, half reading the words of the disciples. There’s nothing like having to say “I” instead of “he” because of course “he” is that person “someone else”, it’s when it’s “I” that we actually are in the situation ourselves, and identify much more strongly with the situation and the mind of the person “he”.
It is slightly embellished for dramatic effect, and there are some pictures, and a pause part way through as a time to reflect, and there are a couple of stage directions in brackets. Are you up for this? (The congregation divides into two groups, and reads.)
… Reading …
So we’ve heard Peter wants to keep his promise but doesn’t, Jesus knew the horror involved in keeping his promise, but keeps it just the same, and the disciples are just so human and can’t stay awake in spite of their intentions.
But at the heart of this passage is Jesus, sharing with his Father how he feels, pouring out his heart, and yet so obedient. And after prayers, saddened that his disciples have let him down, saddened that his Father hasn’t taken the cup of suffering from him, draws a line under this time of promising and prayer. “Enough!” he exclaims, “The hour has come … Rise! Let us go” and they are off down the road of the agony of salvation, as Jesus’ betrayer comes to meet them.
Now I don’t know about you, but sadly I find myself promising things that I don’t keep to. You could say mostly they are trivial, and don’t matter much. But I feel like I’ve let myself down when I don’t keep to them.
And reading this passage again to prepare for today, I feel just like the disciples, I let Jesus down, but Jesus continues on and keeps his promise that my sins, small but still irritating as they are, are forgiven because he kept his promise to walk totally in his Father’s way and to give up his life for the sins of the whole world – that includes terrible things that have happened in places like Syria, the toll of life from natural disasters, but include my sins too. Not that our concerns are on anything like the same scale, but in our lives and for the people who share our lives with, they do matter.
And I am so thankful that Jesus does forgive, because that means I can get myself up, dust myself off and start all over again. I might remember the dumb stuff I’ve done, and hopefully I’ll learn from it for the next time, but I don’t have to carry the burden of it.
And the same thing applies to each one of us here. It’s amazing, it’s miraculous really, why should Jesus have done that? He did it because he loves us, and he wants us to walk in his way, and in his ways. Because he has come, as it says in our daily prayer sheet, to give us life to the full.
That’s his offer, it’s up to us to take it up. He’s there for us, all we have to do is ask, he won’t force himself on us.
What about you, will you make a promise to walk with Jesus today? If you have been doing so for a while, will you promise to walk closer to him? We can all walk closer to him. And he promises to help us as we do so, we’re not alone.
But now, as Jesus said, “Enough! Rise let us go!” and let us walk on in our lives, it is my prayer that it is with him.
While we’ve been reading our parts, the children have been working on something which is another aspect of our theme for today. Let’s have a look.