The Greatest Prayer – Your Will Be Done
February 27, 2013 – Lenten Sermon 3 of 6
Pastor Monte Stevens – North Riverdale Lutheran Church – Dayton, Ohio
During this season of Lent we have been considering the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and what it means for us today. Tonight our topic is “God’s Will.” So I hope you don’t have anything to do for the next several hours. We could be here a while.
“Your Will Be Done.” Jesus is, of course, referring to his father’s will – his Abba – his Daddy. This is sometimes called the “Abba Prayer.” “Your Will be Done, Daddy” It’s what every parent wants to hear from their children…especially in those teenage years.
In this prayer that Jesus teaches to his disciples he brings up the importance of God’s will in this mystery that we call life and living.
How many times in these last 20 years have I counseled someone in that most basic of questions: What is God’s will, right now, for my life? What is God’s will in this situation?
Honestly, it leaves a pastor a little scared offering such particular counsel. Any pastor should travel down the road of offering God’s specific will with some trepidation. When speaking of God’s will, one only needs to look at history to know how one can get it wrong. Both on the large scale, and also in the particular minutia of one’s life.
Here is a large scale example. Since the Pope will officially be out of a job tomorrow … the Cardinals will be looking for a new pope to fill his place. Popes matter. They matter, for in some sense, they speak for God and talk about God’s will for God’s people.
Let’s go back to the year 1095, almost 1000 years ago. In 1095 the Pope was Urban II. In November of that year, at the Council of Clermont in south-central France, the pope gave a lurid description of what Muslims were doing to Christians in Jerusalem and offered a plan. Speaking to the crowd he said, “Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre, and wrest that land form the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves.”
The result was that all cried out in miraculous unison, “It is the will of God! It is the will of God!” What followed is what historians call the First Crusade. It started with the persecution of Western Jews and ended with the slaughter of Eastern Muslims. Jerusalem fell in the middle of July 1099, and Pope Urban II died about two weeks later. He died believing that violent crusading was God’s will.
I don’t know about you, but I do not believe that this was God’s will. What I do know is that this is just but one example of many that could be told of people saying they are doing God’s will when, in fact, they are not, or they should not be so confident.
I think it’s easy to get God’s will wrong. From time to time I have an image of God in heaven shaking his (let me change genders here)…I can see God in heaven shaking her head like my mother used to do when I was growing up and had got it all wrong! She got a lots of practice.
With several centuries of hindsight it’s a whole lot easier to look back and say, “Yeah, that was not God’s will.” But when one is caught up in the midst of day to day living and the pressure of making a decision, it sure can be a much more difficult task.
That’s why I, as a pastor, have some trepidation when talking about God’s will. So violent crusades are not in the column where we place things that are God’s will.
But what do we place in the column labeled God’s will? I will tell you that I am much more comfortable way up here at 30,000 foot level, talking about God’s will, than I am deep in the weeds of particulars.
But being comfortable did not seem to be on Jesus’ priority list; either for himself or his followers. So let’s, with some trepidation, make some statements about God’s will.
Remember last week, I suggested that the best way to understand God’s Kingdom was by thinking about how God might rule, if God was ruling, rather than the current kings? What would God’s ruling style be like? What kind of ruling decisions would God make? And what would the contents of this Kingdom be? What would God’s will be for God’s people?
When you work your way through scripture, there is, I believe, one characteristic that most describes God will and that is the biblical concept of “Justice.” God is a God of justice and righteousness. Justice and righteousness are often paired together. They are paired that way to express that God does what is right by doing what is just. And God does was is just by doing what is right.
God is a God of justice and righteousness. Over and over again from the Psalms through the prophetic tradition you hear that God is concerned about Justice. It is God’s will that justice is upheld.
Here are just a few samplings from Scripture.
Deuteronomy 16:20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
2 Samuel 8:15 So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and equity to all his people.
1 Kings 10:9 Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel for ever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness.’
Psalm 33:5 He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
Psalm 82:3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Isaiah 59:15 The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
Jeremiah 22:13 Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages;
Amos 5:24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
This is just a sampling of the 194 direct references to Justice.
If we are going to begin to know God’s Will, I believe we must start with the biblical concept of Justice. So what does Justice mean? When we use this word today we usually use it to talk about retributive justice.
Here is an example of retributive justice. Someone has been wronged – murdered perhaps. The family will usually talk about making sure that justice is served. Meaning they want to make sure that that person pays a price for the awful deed they have done.
The 6:00 O’clock news and the afternoon “Judge Judy” shows are full of this type of justice. And retributive justice has its place in all societies. One type of retributive justice is expressed, in the phrase, an “eye for an eye.” Jesus had something to say about this type of justice, something about loving ones enemies, but that is another sermon.
When you hear the word justice, in our sacred scripture, most often it is not about retributive justice. That is not the type of justice that God and the prophets are talking about. What they are talking about is Distributive Justice. What’s that? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Distributive justice, in its simplest definition, is when everybody has enough. Enough of the basics to live.
The prophets railed against those that cheated the poor, showing that they didn’t care if the poor had enough food or not. Their concern was their own growing wealth.
God’s Will was concerned about the widow and the orphan and the resident alien. All those that were most vulnerable to the slings and arrows of life’s difficult economy. God’s Will was that everyone had enough, especially the “least of these,” and everyone had a responsibility to make sure that everyone had enough.
Remember in the first sermon in this series I quoted a text from Leviticus. It was a law that dealt with not harvesting to the edges of your field; nor striping the vineyard bear or picking up the grapes that had fallen to the ground.
This law was to make sure that everybody could have food that everybody would have enough. If you did this, your actions, hallowed God’s name. One thing God’s name stands for is distributive justice.
The Kings of Israel were responsible to make sure that justice was executed throughout the land to make sure the unfair economic systems were corrected and to make sure that everyone had enough. Good kings made sure that God’s will for justice was always upheld. Bad kings got caught up with the temptations of wealth and power and lost concern for God’s justice in the world. Unfortunately, in the Bible, there is a long list of bad kings and a very short list of good kings.
So Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “Your Will be done. As in heaven, so on earth.” If God’s Will is to be done in the dusty villages around the sea of Galilee that means that first and foremost it would be about making sure that everyone had enough that God’s Will for distributive justice would be manifested in their ministry.
Remember that Jesus, in this prayer, is casting a vision for how the world should be. That vision includes everyone having enough! Jesus is also teaching us that God works collaboratively. That means that we have lots of work to do to work out God’s Will in the world, so that the earth can start looking a whole lot more like heaven.
Let’s go back to that line that I told you we were going to remember each week. Heaven is in great shape, earth is where the problems are. The prophets would say many of the problems of earth are related to not boldly and clearly living out God’s Will for justice; that all might have enough.
What would constitute enough in our day? Almost one billion people live on just a $1 a day. Is that God’s Will? Three billion lives on just $2.50 a day. Is that God’s Will? And what might God or God’s prophets say to us that inhabit the wealthiest country in the world?
Notice what the next three phrases in the prayer have to do with daily bread …with financial debt … and temptation. We will turn those in time, but they all deal with God’s Will for justice in God’s Kingdom and our responsibility to execute God’s justice in the world for all of God’s children.
Let me end with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. He said this on August 16th, 1967, at the Tenth Anniversary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
I also believe that the arc of human history bends toward justice. I believe it’s so, because it’s Gods Will that justice work its way into our world. We can keep that arc from bending, or we work to bend that arc until the Will of God is one day finally realized…on earth…as it is in heaven.
Let us pray, “Your Will Be done.” Amen!