SERMON from 3-17-13: “I Thirst”

Photo Mar 11, 3 16 26 PM

This is the fifth of a seven-part series for the Lenten and Easter season. I got the idea from my father-in-law, who serves as Senior Pastor at Mesa First United Methodist Church, downtown Mesa, Arizona.

Luke 23.28-29 (CEB)

28 After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  29 A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips.

Last Words From The Cross: I Thirst

For better or worse – and I’m gonna go ahead and say worse – we all employ our own understandings when it comes to Jesus, right?  We see what we want to see.

Some of us prefer the “gentle Jesus; meek and mild,” long-haired hippie messiah who takes no lip from “the man.”  Others of us prefer to characterize Jesus as the table-flipping, pharisee slappin’ revolutionary.  Then, there are those of us who create our own version of Jesus – like the über-masculine pastor I once heard claim that Jesus wore pants, “‘cause my Jesus would never wear one of those dress thingys.”

It can even get crazier than that.  I was trying to think of a way to illustrate that for you, then I remembered that I could just show you:

“I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party, too.”

Now, I don’t want us to get sidetracked by all the things wrong with that clip.  I could probably build an entire sermon series around that one, three minute clip.  But I digress…

We take this passage, that parable and that one story to make and mold Jesus into a messiah who is more palatable for us.

That’s just not quite the way it works.  You already know that.  We all know it, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it.

The downside to endeavoring not to morph Jesus into whomever it is we wish Jesus to be is that we are, then, limited in our understanding of Jesus.  We are limited by what we can read in the New Testament.  Even then, that Jesus can be a tough person around which to wrap our heads, because there are so many facets to the life of Jesus presented to us in the gospels – and remembered by the apostle Paul.

That doesn’t mean we can’t learn something amazing.

For example, the passage we are studying from Luke gives us a window into Jesus, the man.

Why is that important?

When it gets to be this time of year, pretty much everything we do in the church is pointing us to the cross.  And we get that, don’t we?  God sent Jesus to die for our sins.  He shows us how to do communion.  He prays in the garden.  Judas betrays him.  Peter denies him.  He’s beaten, passed over, nailed to the cross, and he even forgives the people who are doing it to him – as they are doing it to him.  We get that.

However, that is only part of the story – and it makes the crucifixion of Christ difficult for us to imagine on a personal level.  I would imagine we have all attempted to put ourselves in Jesus’ place at one time or another.  This is merely speculation, but I imagine that those of us who grew up hearing the stories of Jesus tried to imagine what it might have felt like to be beaten so severely – or nailed to and hung from a large wooden structure.

How does the human handle something like that?

What we have in the gospels is an account of how Jesus would handle it, right?  He gives himself over to the process, as it were.  By that, I mean that – according to scripture – there were certain benchmarks Jesus needed to hit before the prophecy of the crucified messiah could be considered complete.  Isaiah.  Psalms.  Daniel.  All these books contain different nuggets of information that are referenced throughout the process of his slow death.

The marks on his back.  The soldiers gambling for his cloths.  The destruction of the temple.  These are all things that the messiah – the one God chose and sent to earth – was foretold to have to do before he could die.

Luke’s gospel informs us that all that needed to be done was done.  “Knowing that everything was already completed…,” Luke says.  That’s important.

It’s as if the gospel writer intended there to be a break in our understanding of Jesus’ actions.  The things he said.  The things he did.  The things that were done to him.  It’s as if Luke’s gospel points out that the duties of Jesus as God incarnate were done.

Imagine what it must have been like.  The scorching midday sun was overhead.  The noises from the crowd began to die down.  You feel the wounds from the lash rubbing up against the unfinished wood of the cross.  The entire time you were in “messiah mode,” you were calling upon God for strength and ensuring you didn’t miss a step.  You did it.  It is the hardest thing anyone has ever done or will ever have to do, again.

Your duties are done.  All that’s left is to wait for death.  That has yet to come.  What do you do then?  Is your mind swirling?  Is it a blank?  Are you trying to will yourself to death?

In that time, it’s the very human thing to do to consider the very basic things one needs or desires.  After suffering under the lash of a Roman soldier and carrying your own cross all the way up a desolate hill – all under a sweltering sun – I’d want a drink.

Jesus says, “I thirst.”

What must he have been feeling in that time?  Our understanding of Jesus as God incarnate – which he was – may very well be whitewashing the very humanity of the man.  We should remember that the idea behind Jesus is that he is 100% God, AND 100% man.

Jesus’ experience with Satan in the desert was so crucial to our understanding of being called to resist temptation in our lives because Jesus went through that ordeal as a human.  If he goes through it as God, it’s not amazing.  Not even a little bit.  God can beat Satan.  Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, might have a more difficult time.

Jesus was human.  Unfortunately, so often, we don’t allow ourselves to be.

Is this a ploy by me to allow you to excuse yourself from the habits and sins that you want to hold on to?  Not al all, actually.  It’s an invitation to you to imagine that we can embrace our humanity in it’s many forms.

Specifically, I’m talking about our emotions.

I started a book this week called, The Passionate Jesus: What We Can Learn From Jesus About Love, Fear, Grief, Joy and Living Authentically.  It’s written by a man called Peter Wallace, and he talks about how we Christians learn to suppress our emotional side in the interest of all kinds of things – while ignoring that Jesus showed his human and emotional sides all the time.

He says, “…emotional authenticity is so vital for us: we draw not only our human identity from it but also our spiritual capacity. Our relationship with God is ultimately emotional, and so in order to experience that relationship to the utmost we must wrestle with our emotions, how we experience them and express them.”

If this is true, think about all the ways we try and succeed in hiding and tamping down our emotions.  How many of us come into the church on a Sunday morning, having gone through a horrible week or are in the middle of going through a very difficult time in our lives, and answer the question “How are you?” with the reply, “I’m fine.”

Sometimes, we just aren’t fine.

However, in the interest of making everyone else feel as safe and comfortable as possible, we hide who we are or what we’re going through.  Shielding others from discomfort, but shielding ourselves from the comfort we so desperately need.

It’s partly a cultural thing.  We don’t like to bother others with our problems, because they’ve also got busy and trial-ridden lives to lead – why should we weigh them down with our stuff?

We’ve let this particular cultural trend infect us – to the detriment of the example and life of Jesus.  We’ve let ourselves believe that the general comfort of the many, outweigh the emotional needs of the few.

Peter Wallace continues in his book, “Furthermore, Jesus responds to the emotions of those around him with understanding, acceptance, and compassion. He doesn’t let emotional outbursts of grief or anger rattle him or lure him into meaningless conflict. Rather, through his transformative ministry he lifts the emotions of those around him. He makes friendships, even deeply close relationships with certain others like Mary and Martha, Lazarus, and one described as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved.’”

Other than our relationship with and to God, Wallace points to the second most important part of living the Christian life.  Our relationships with those around us.  We cannot truly experience the deepness of these types of things without understanding that our emotions are a very real thing.

Our emotional needs are part of our humanity.  Jesus not only didn’t deny his emotions and needs, but understood them.  And in the end, needed to quench them.

Let us endeavor to emulate Jesus in all we do – even if we get a bit emotional.

Thanks be to God for his son, Jesus, whose thirst shows us our need to experience our lives and faith more deeply.

AMEN.

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