top of page
  • Epworth

Risking Temptation: The Three Paradoxes of the Garden - Message from March 28, 2021

Sixth Sunday of Lent - Palm/Passion Sunday

Scripture: Mark 14:32-42

Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Message: Risking Temptation: The Three Paradoxes of the Garden


When you think of the twentieth century artist Andy Warhol, what do you think of? Chances are colorful Campbell’s soup labels might come to mind, or repeated images of Marilyn Monroe. Warhol has become synonymous with pop art and postmodernism, the pinnacle of secular culture, but in the last decade of his life, he was at work on a series of depictions of the Last Supper. Warhol’s more well-known art, with its focus on pop culture and the implication of a rejection of the sacred would seem to be at odds with this deeply meaningful scene. But perhaps the paradox was exactly the point. A few months after Andy Warhol’s death on February 27, 1987, the magazine Vanity Fair published an article by Warhol’s friend, the art historian John Richardson. He stated, “You never understand Andy Warhol unless you know that he came from a very religious, Ukrainian Byzantine background and that he remained a church goer and a religious person through his whole life.”

Some of Warhol’s Last Supper’s resembled his earlier work with advertising logos superimposed over Da Vinci’s Last Supper or blocks of translucent color over the famous scene. And some his Last Supper pieces were sketches of Jesus, the disciples, and the table. In one of these original sketches, the disciple sketched between two images of Jesus seems to resemble Warhol himself. It seems like Warhol was picturing himself in the story. It might seem like a paradox for this icon of secular culture to place himself at the table with Jesus, but actually it gets to the heart of the story and what it means to be human in relationship to God. It’s where we meet Jesus in his passion today.

Throughout the season of Lent, we, too, have been picturing ourselves in the story of Jesus. We’ve been pondering what it is he is asking us to risk, what we are being asked to stay awake for, and what to do. In today’s scripture, we come to the scene in what is known as the Garden of Gethsemane. The Last Supper has just taken place and Jesus and the disciples leave the room, heading to the garden. On the way, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial of him. Peter denies that he would ever deny Jesus, but we know what happens later.

Once in Gethsemane, Jesus says to the disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” Then taking Peter, James and John, he walks farther into the garden saying “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” Then Jesus goes deeper into the garden, to what we may imagine is the heart of the garden. Then he falls to his knees and prays, saying, “Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not my will but thy will be done.”

What a scene of incredible pathos! Jesus knows that without an intervention of some sort he will die. He knows that actions have been taken, by Judas, by chief priests, by the Romans, that will lead to his immanent death. But he also knows that God, in God’s almighty power, can prevent his death if God so chooses. And here we are presented with the first paradox of the scene: Jesus, as fully God, has the power to prevent his own death, too.

But instead of emphasizing his own power, his own divinity, Jesus occupies the fully human dimension of his nature and says he doesn’t want to die. This is not a death after a long life well-lived. This would be an untimely death of a man in his early thirties, with much more he could have done on this earth. It would be an unjust murder. There were many good and compelling reasons to prevent it. Why doesn’t Jesus, as fully God, act to prevent his own death, his own murder?

Well, if Jesus acted to prevent his own death, he would not have been fully human. None of us, as humans, can control the moment of our own death, no can we control the actions of others, no can we take away their free will. The idea that we can control things, that we as humans are as powerful as God is what keeps us trapped, and in fact dead while we are alive on this earth.

Though Jesus came so that we might live, and live fully, and know that God accompanies us in all facets of life, the second paradox is that he also showed us that to truly live we need to die to self. What does “dying to self” mean? It’s a phrase you’ve probably heard. It’s used in the Christian tradition and also in the Buddhist tradition. To die to self is to let go of attempts to control, and to let God be fully God. It is to recognize as the first and second steps of the 12 steps states, that we are powerless over temptation and that only a Power greater than ourselves can restore us. It is to pray and act with faithful abandon, trusting that God is always influencing us all for good, in spite of our own actions and abuse of the good gift of free will. God is always working out God’s purpose through history and through us.

It is no coincidence that this scene takes place in a garden. The Garden of Gethsemane is a mirror of the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden, self-consciousness was born, when Adam and Eve acted in ways in which they attempted to affirm that they were more powerful or all-knowing than God. The power of ego is seen then charging through history, wreaking havoc, destruction and suffering, from Cain who slew his brother, to King David who struggled to figure out what was his own desire and what was God’s, to even Peter who is in the garden with Jesus, unable to put his own self-interest aside when it mattered the most.

But in the Garden of Gethsemane, the fully human Jesus shows us what it means to put our whole trust and selves in God, and in so doing, to ultimately be released to live. How does dying lead to living? It is a paradox that has been lifted up through the ages not just by Jesus, but also Buddhist teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, maybe even by Warhol as his repetition of images and colorful overlays lifted up the immateriality of things and scenes, the idea that finally these things and selves are all part of a conventional reality that is ephemeral and fleeting and nothing compared to the ultimate reality of God, that has been, and is, and will be forevermore.

Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “I don’t think that the self has to die because there IS no self to die. The self is an illusion. It is not reality.” In Buddhism, when someone is in a state of enlightenment, they are said to have “woken up.” In this state, there is a consciousness that has released the controlling power of self and ego. It is a state of being that stops grasping, stops trying to protect and control. It’s interesting to me that Jesus repeatedly asks the disciples to stay awake, to be present, and so what Jesus is really asking them to do is to put the controlling aspect of their egos, their selves, aside. But the story tells us they fall asleep. Jesus says to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The third paradox of the Garden of Gethsemane is the nature of this temptation. The temptation is to hold so tightly to what we think life should be that it makes us less than human, and ultimately does not allow us to live fully. This is an important teaching for us as we prepare to come out of pandemic mode of lockdowns and crisis and return to more freedom of movement, to having some plans, to interacting. But if we grasp on to what was before the pandemic and insist that post pandemic life must look exactly like pre pandemic life, we are in danger of putting ourselves in a second lockdown, looking for something that can never be fully the same again. As we come out of this pandemic, we will be confronted with paradox and pain. The temptation will be to run away from these things, but Jesus, in the Garden, shows us this is actually the marrow of real life. The world has changed in the last twelve months, and so have we.

What is the same, and what will always be the same is God: God’s presence and God’s goodness, God’s accompaniment and God’s promises. In the weeks and months to come, will we risk facing this temptation of self and ego and control? Or will we stay awake with Jesus? May we open ourselves to what is, dying to self, letting go, and being present with Jesus in the Garden saying to God, “Not my will but thy will be done.” Amen.


Order of Service (Bulletin) - March 28, 2021


Gathering Music: “Ride On, King Jesus" - Albert Sammons, Jr.

Entering the Story - Rev. Kristin Stoneking, Carol Baumbauer, Annette Cayot

Opening Hymn: "Siyahamba” The Faith We Sing #2235 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Margot Hanson


Listening for the Story: Mark 14:32-42 - Susan Jardin

Anthem: “At the Table" by Josh Garrels - Judy Kriege

Dwelling in the Story: "Gethsemane" - Carrie Portis

Message: “Risking Temptation: The Three Paradoxes of the Garden" - Rev. Kristin Stoneking


Hymn of Response: "Go to Dark Gethsemane" UM Hymnal #290 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Margot Hanson

Call for Prayer - Orion Lacey

Special Music: “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" UM Hymnal #349 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno

The Prayer Jesus Taught (Lord's Prayer) - Carol Baumbauer

Offerings and Opportunities - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Offertory Music: “Nobody Knows How to Say Goodbye" - Erin Adachi-Kriege & Judy Kriege


Prayer of Dedication - Max Sisk-Hilton

Closing Hymn: “Were You There" UM Hymnal #288 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Chris Poston

Benediction - Rev. Kristin Stoneking


Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Contributors: Erin Adachi-Kriege, Rev. Jerry Asheim, Carol Baumbauer, Cathryn Bruno, Annette Cayot, Margot Hanson, Susan Jardin, Judy Kriege, Orion Lacey, Carrie Portis, Chris Poston, Albert Sammons Jr., Max Sisk-Hilton

Video producer: Tai Jokela

Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey

Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt


Liturgy and Design © 2019, adapted by permission.

Prayer of Dedication © 2021 enfleshed

Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.

Art in "Entering the Story"

  • Swanson, John August. Entry into the City, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 26, 2021]. Original source: - copyright 1990 by John August Swanson.

  • Aertsen, Pieter. Cleansing of the Temple, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved February 24, 2021]. Original source:

  • Tissot, James Jacques Joseph, 1836-1902. The Tribute Money, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original source:ésar)_-_James_Tissot.jpg.

  • "Anointed" ©2018 Lauren Wright Pittman. Used with permission.

  • The Last Supper Project photograph by LeRoy Howard.

  • Koenig, Peter. Garden of Gethsemane, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 23, 2021]. Original source:

  • Le Breton, Jacques ; Gaudin, Jean. Christ on Gethsemane with Three Apostles Sleeping, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 24, 2021].

  • JESUS MAFA. Gethsemane, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 16, 2021]. Original source: (contact page:

​Art in "Dwelling in the Story"

  • JESUS MAFA. Gethsemane, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 16, 2021]. Original source:

Art in the Message

  • Andy Warhol. The Last Supper (1986). © 2021 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

  • Andy Warhol. Marilyn Monroe (1967). © 2021 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

  • Warhol’s studio at his death in 1987, photo by Evelyn Hofer. Original source:

  • Adam and Eve, catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter. Original source:

  • Andy Warhol. The Last Supper (1986). © The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburg

  • Andy Warhol. Campbell’s soup cans. Original source: Google Image Search.

  • JESUS MAFA. Gethsemane, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 16, 2021]. Original source: (contact page:


bottom of page