Near the Cross: Prayer and Discipleship

Each week Pastor Sarah blogs on the Scripture for Sunday's upcoming sermon. Use this entry as a way to prepare your heart and mind for worship. See you Sunday!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:17-4:6.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Submission

Discipline Scripture ~ Matthew 26:36-46.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

Truth be told – I struggle with the concept of submission. To me it is a word that carries with it a whole lot of baggage…and a whole lot of harm. And so when I place it in contact with and context of my faith – I cringe. I repel. I bristle.

Many years ago now Andrew and I were honored to stand as attendants at the marriage celebration of two friends from college. The wedding homily was preached, and the text that reads “wives submit to your husbands” was not only included but expounded – extoled even! Hackles just starting to relax, Andrew and I began our walk during the recessional march. He leaned close to my ear and said, “Guess you’ll have to submit to me now…”

I said without missing a step – literally – “Fat chance!”

I am grateful for the wisdom and vocabulary of Richard Foster. With his help the concept of submission becomes more palatable. It is no longer a repulsion, but an opportunity.

When Jesus first prays in the garden, it is a prayer of petition. He asks that the cup prepared for him would pass. When Jesus prays in the garden a second time, it is not a prayer of petition, but rather a prayer of acceptance. His words, “your will be done” ring loudest (Mt 26:42). Here, in shadow-filled Gethsemane Jesus shines a light on the corresponding freedom to submission. Writes Foster, “It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way.”*

Initially, Jesus wanted his own way. The accountability of mortality is real. Jesus wanted that cup to pass. But through submitting his will to God’s will, he started to see something more than his own face in his mind’s eye and in his heart. Jesus saw our faces. And so Jesus chose our hearts. Jesus chose us and in so doing said an eternal NO to sin and its consequence, death.

In biblical teaching, submission refers to the spirit with which we view other people; because of submission, we do not have to be right all the time. Losing the desire to be right all the time releases us to the freedom that gives way for others.

Our Jesus is the ultimate example of giving way for others. Foster describes Jesus as living a cross-life:

“The way of the cross, the way of a suffering servant was essential to his ministry. Jesus lived the cross-life in submission to all human beings. He was the servant of all. He flatly rejected the cultural givens of position. Jesus shattered the customs of his day when he lived out the cross-life by taking women seriously and by being willing to meet with children. He lived the cross-life when he took a towel and washed the feet of his disciples. This Jesus who easily could have called down a legion of angels to his aid chose instead the cross-death of Calvary. Jesus’ life was the cross-life of submission and service. Jesus’ death was the cross-death of conquest by suffering.”**

Jesus called his followers to submit to this kind of life. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” and “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 8:34 and 9:35). Foster reflects, “The cross-life is the life of voluntary submission. The cross-life is the life of freely accepted servanthood.”***

Jesus calls us to a tall order, which begins on bended knee.

Look for an opportunity this week to make way for another person. There are more important things in this world than being right – like being kind, being generous, and especially being kind and generous with forgiveness. Meet with God in prayer and discuss your relationship with submission.

I will be praying for the strength to take on the mind of Christ, so that my “fat chance” will some day become Jesus’ “your will be done.”

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 110-125.

Prayer: “Abide with us, that so, this life of suffering over past, an Easter of unending joy we may attain at last.”**** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 111.

**Celebration of Discipline 115-116.

***Celebration of Discipline 116.

****“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.

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