“Companions and Betrayers”
Palm/Passion Sunday, April 14, 2019
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this. A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.
Have you even heard the question: “Why should I go to church? The church is full of hypocrites!”
The church’s answer, from its very first days: “Yes, of course that is true,
and there is always room for one more.”
The church, any church, is never to be considered a “sanctuary for the saints”,
but is always to be known as a “hospital for sinners”.
You may have heard me share a quote before about evangelism, sharing the good news,
inviting a friend or neighbor to worship.
“Evangelism”, someone once said, “is nothing more than one beggar telling another
where to find some bread.”
We come to worship in this place not because we deserve the grace and fellowship we find here;
we come to worship precisely because we are those who know that we daily fall short of the glory of God
and we know that we desperately need the grace and fellowship that is discovered
when we gather around this table.
Jesus told his companions on that fateful night so long ago:
“The one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.”
Not to make light of the seriousness of that occasion,
but Jesus’ words remind of the old finger to the nose game.
Do you know the game? Someone at the dinner table says, “So, who’s going to take out the trash?”
The last one to put their finger to their nose loses the “game” and has to take out the trash.
Putting your finger to your nose is another way of saying “not me!”
When Jesus said, “…and his hand is on the table”, imagine how quickly the hands were pulled back
from the table where the disciples were sitting.
This seems at first glance to be an unusual scene.
These disciples, who had been with Jesus for three years now, are told that a betrayer is among them.
In Matthew’s gospel, 26:31, Jesus proclaimed that night that they would all become deserters of him.
But Jesus was often surprising people.
Jesus was often saying things that shocked and confused.
Only hours after sitting at table with him and arguing among themselves
about which of them should be considered the greatest,
every one of them did just as Jesus had predicted – they all fled and hid when the soldiers arrived.
Every one of them betrayed Jesus and denied ever knowing him.
As the scripture says, “No one is righteous, not even one.”
The story of the disciples reminds us that that person sitting next to you on the pew is no more and no
less of a sinner in need of the grace of God than you are.
Those folks in the church on the other side of town,
or those persons in the mosque on the other side of the county,
or those persons sitting at home watching the Masters,
are no worse offenders before God than you or me.
We are just as undeserving of the grace of God as those persons who are very different from ourselves,
and as those persons with whom we may have a broken relationship.
Our seminary interns will tell you that “total depravity” is one of the touchstones of Reformed theology.
That is, the biblical idea that “no one is righteous; no, not even one” took deep root
in the hearts and minds of the Reformers of the 16th century.
The church does not rank people according to their relative sinfulness,
no more than Jesus would have ranked his disciples from worst to first.
Luke reports that soon after the disciples “began to ask one another, which one of them it could be
who would do this…”, Jesus pointed out that Peter would deny Jesus three times.
Peter was their bold leader, the one who would speak from the heart,
the one who would become the Rock upon whom the church was built.
And yes, Peter was also the companion who, when push came to shove,
stood around that fire in the courtyard with the soldiers and servants and became, like Judas, a betrayer.
He denied he even knew Jesus – not once, but three times!
In your bulletin is a letter from Scott Overcarsh.
Scott is one of our elders, a member of our session, chair of the Stewardship Council.
Scott has stewarded his particular gifts in building a new communion table for the sanctuary.
As some of you may know, Scott recently retired from decades of working with Chick-Fil-A.
In his work, Scott has striven for excellence in his field.
If you are familiar with the superior customer service that Chick-fil-A provides
and have been impressed by that service, thank Scott Overcarsh.
For years, he and others have been training new restaurant owners and their employees.
Scott knows a great deal about instilling excellence in every aspect of a retail environment,
and he knows about working with all sorts of different people in order to do so.
Scott has also become a master carpenter.
He also knows a great deal about seeking excellence in crafting a wooden table or desk or bed.
I visited Scott’s woodworking shop on Thursday morning and not only saw where the magic happens,
I also was privileged to see a dozen or so of the many pieces of furniture he has built over the years.
Scott puts his heart and soul into his work, and Scott knows and appreciates varying types of wood.
He has worked with all sorts of wood, including gnarly maple and quarter sawn oak and redwood planks.
He has even subjected his tools to concrete-like cedar trunks.
Scott will tell you that no piece of wood is perfect, nor is any piece of furniture perfect.
Though this table may look perfect to you and me, Scott could quickly point out a flaw or two,
small imperfections in the wood or perhaps even somewhere in the construction.
The imperfections in a piece of wood or in a piece of furniture are like the imperfections of human
The Master Carpenter is able to work with all sorts of different and imperfect wood
and still create something beautiful, useful, and lasting.
Every piece of furniture, because it is made of imperfect materials,
requires a bit of finesse from the master carpenter.
Most people, it seems, do not struggle with the fact that they are sinners, that they are unworthy.
Many people, it seems, do struggle more with whether or not God will accept them as they are,
imperfections and all.
Palm/Passion Sunday leading into Holy Week is one of those stark reminders
that we are all both companion and betrayer.
Those of us who gather at this table today are both companion –
persons who listen to Jesus and seek to follow his ways, who wave branches and sing “Alleluia!”
And we are inevitably betrayer – those who will break covenant with Jesus by what we do and say,
and by what we fail to do and say.
Whether or not we shout “Crucify him” by Friday
or simply run away and hide our companionship with him, we will all eventually break covenant.
Honoring Lent and Holy Week each year helps us recognize our own failings.
Reflecting again upon the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is a powerful reminder
of our dependence upon God’s grace, and a reminder to go easy on our fellow companions.
I learned some years ago that if I was ever upset with another person about something,
if I am ever frustrated or angry or defensive towards another,
I had better take a long look in the mirror.
When I find myself upset with someone, especially someone close to me,
there is very likely something that is bothering me about myself or my own situation,
whether or not I am even aware of it.
Jesus told the crowds, you who are without sin, go ahead, cast the first stone.
You who have not sinned feel free to find fault in your neighbor.
Go ahead, cast that stone at your neighbor, or at your boss, or at some political leader.
However, you who have sinned, you who have fallen short,
you who have denied and betrayed Jesus by your action or inaction, first recognize your own fault.
Recognize your own sin, plead for God’s forgiveness, and then,
when your neighbor or your best friend or your spouse or your pastor falls short,
offer some measure of the grace that God has first been offered to you.
Friends, we come to this table, not because we are worthy, but precisely because we are unworthy.
We come to this table, not because we may, but because we must,
for we find here the grace that we need.
Just as the table is made of imperfect pieces of wood, so we who are imperfect come to this Table
to be crafted together in God’s kingdom.
Friends, let us come together at this beautiful new communion table and, as a body,
be made beautiful and useful once again by our Master Carpenter.
To God be the glory in the church forever and ever. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church