THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
Friday, April 14, 2017
Who Are You Looking For?
After last night’s meal with the disciples, Jesus went to the Gethsemane garden to pray. A posse of the temple guard arrived, led by the disciple Judas, called Iscariot. Judas had turned on Jesus. Jesus said that he knew he would.
Jesus spoke to them and asked, “Who are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am.”
Who were they looking for? A common rebel, a terrorist, a fomenter of insurrection? That’s probably what the troops expected to find. They came armed. But they found a quiet, unassuming man. When Jesus said, “I am,” they all shrank back and fell to the ground. Jesus didn’t act like the thug they were told to expect. He didn’t deny who he was. He offered no resistance to his arrest.
As Jesus was shuttled back and forth between the headquarters of the various authorities, different crowds kept coming in contact with him.Who were these crowds looking for?
The religious leaders were looking for someone who assaulted the status quo which they kept and benefitted from. The interrogators were trying to put words into his mouth and force a confession from Jesus. To which Jesus said, “Those are your words.”
Then he was brought before Pilate, the Roman military administrator for the region. Apparently he expected to see a rival. He asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus in turn asked him, “Do you ask this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?” Pilate responded that he was no Jew. Jesus was not what Pilate was told to expect.
A crowd milled in the courtyard outside the military headquarters. Whom did they expect? Some were ready to give a battle cry, others were merely curious Was the thought of a political revolutionary something that caught their imagination? Or did the Pax Romana have greater appeal? Did they even know much about the man who stood on the governor’s balcony?
Another crowd stood around Golgoth. The soldiers jeered at him. They enjoyed their work, grisly as it was. Bludgeon first, ask questions later.
Standing at a distance were those who knew Jesus, afraid to hope for a good outcome. They didn’t want to be seen to be too interested, lest they be arrested for being sympathizers.
The religious leaders looked on from above the fray, pleased with themselves. This thorny problem had been gotten out of the way quite nicely.
And there were the women. Without social standing they could be as close as they felt comfortable with. Their interest was genuine. They had supported his ministry and looked for the Jesus who was not like anyone else. Maybe even in death that still would be so.
As we stand at the foot of the cross, who are we looking for?
Are we looking for a squeaky clean super-hero who will conquer all the enemies and bring justice to reign?
Are we looking for an earthy Rambo kind of character who comes in with guns blazing, someone who mows down all the evil doers?
Are we looking for someone who says everything we want to hear, who never makes waves, who holds our hand and rubs our shoulders?
Are we looking for someone who will always get us out of the jams we get into, who makes things right when we make them wrong?
Are we looking for someone who doesn’t expect much of us?
Are we looking for someone who speaks with authority, who speaks in parables, who doesn’t care whom he irritates as he pokes fun at the overly religious?
Who are we looking for?
Rev. Mark English tells the story (I don’t know if it is original with him) of a professor of religion who taught the required survey course in Christianity at a small college.
One year, Dr. Christianson had a student named Steve, who was planning to go into the ministry. He was the starting center on the school football team and was the best student in the professor’s class.
After class one day, Dr. Christianson asked Steve, “How many push-ups can you do?”
Steve said, “I do about 200 every night.”
“200? That’s pretty good, Steve. Do you think you could do 300?”
Steve replied, “I don’t know…. I’ve never done 300 at a time. I could try.”
“Can you do 300 in sets of 10? I have a class project in mind and I need you to do about
300 push-ups in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it?”
Steve agreed to help with the project.
Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room. When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of fancy donuts with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was excited because it was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend with a party in Dr. Christianson’s class.
Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?” Cynthia said, “Yes.” Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?” “Sure.” Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.
Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?” Joe said, “Yes.” Dr. Christianson asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups; Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the row, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.
Dr. Christianson came to Scott who was on the basketball team, and in as good condition as Steve. When the professor asked if he wanted a donut, Scott replied, “Can I do my own pushups?” Dr. Christianson said, “No, Steve has to do them.” Then Scott said, “I don’t want one then.” Dr. Christianson shrugged, turned to Steve, and asked, “Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups. Scott said, “HEY! I said I didn’t want one!” Dr. Christianson said, “Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.
Steve was beginning to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow. Dr. Christianson started down the third row.
Now the students were beginning to get a little angry. Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a donut?” Sternly, Jenny said, “No.” Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, “Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten; Jenny got a donut.
The class was getting uneasy. More students were saying “No”, and there were a lot of uneaten donuts on the desks. Steve had to put extra effort into each set of pushups done for each donut. A pool of sweat formed on the floor beneath his face and he was getting red because of the workout.
Dr. Christianson asked Robert, the most vocal unbeliever in the class, to watch Steve do each push-up to make sure he did the full ten pushups in a set.
Some students from other classes wandered in and sat at the sides of the room. The professor did a quick count and saw that now there were 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it through the project.
Dr. Christianson went on from person to person. Near the end of the fourth, Steve was having a really rough time. East set took more time to complete. Steve asked, “Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?” Dr. Christianson thought for a moment, “They’re your pushups. You can do them any way that you want.”
A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came to the room and was about to come in when all the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!” Jason didn’t know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said, “No, let him come.” The professor said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him?” Steve said, “Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut.” Dr. Christianson said, “Jason, do you want a donut?” Jason, didn’t know what was going on. “Yes,” he said, “give me a donut.” “Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.
Dr. Christianson finished the last row, then started on those visitors seated at the sides of the room. Steve’s arms were now shaking with each push-up in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. He was sweating profusely and was breathing heavily. There was not a dry eye in the room.
Dr. Christianson turned to the last visitor, Susan. “Susan, do you want a donut?” Susan asked with tears flowing down her face,“Dr. Christianson, why can’t I help him?” Dr. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, “No, Steve has to do it alone. I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not.
“When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push-ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes. Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very slowly finished his last pushup, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 pushups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
Dr. Christianson turned to the room and said. “And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, said, ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my life’ (Luke 23:46closeAn error occurred.). With the understanding that he had done everything that was required of him, Jesus yielded up his life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.”
Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat. He was physically exhausted but wearing a thin smile.
“Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor. “Not all sermons are preached in words.” Turning to his class he said, “My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God spared not his only begotten Son, but gave him up for us all, for the whole Church, now and forever. Whether or not we choose to accept his gift to us, the price has been paid. Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it laying on the desk?”
Is this the one whom you are looking for, the Christ who gave himself for us. It would be foolish to walk away from it. Let us look for this Jesus, and finding him, introduce the world to him. With words, with hugs, with prayers, with cups of water, and , if need be, one donut at a time.