Sunday, September 27, 2020
Have you ever thought about what God’s will is, and when we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done,” what we are actually praying for? A number of years ago, when a good friend was planning on starting a family, she and her husband were told by their doctors that they couldn’t have children. They started working on an adoption process when miraculously, she became pregnant. Then devastatingly, she miscarried at thirteen weeks. Now, her story has a happy ending – she and her husband are the proud parents of adoptive children, but her story shook me. My friend, who is usually a strong person of faith, said, “I don’t know if I can ever pray that part of the Lord’s prayer again, ‘Thy will be done.’” In her grief, she understandably had a lot of questions for God about why she would be taken on such a roller coaster of a life journey. What WAS God’s will in all of this, and are we open to accepting God’s will when it doesn’t align with our own, or not?
It is hard to understand why bad things happen that are outside of our control. That is a sermon for another Sunday. Today, Jesus encourages us to think about what we can control in terms of doing God’s will as Christians. The interesting thing about this short parable Jesus tells in Matthew 21 is that God’s will is not just about things that happen to us that God only God can control, but that God actually calls us to do our heavenly Father’s will. We are to be open to what God’s will is for our lives not only as passive receivers, but as active participants. God does not just want us to pay him lip service. God doesn’t want us to just say “God loves you” to our neighbors, but to show God’s love through our actions. God doesn’t want us to just say, “I love you, God,” but to show how we love God through our dedicated time for worship, prayer, financial giving, service, and so on.
The parable is easily relatable to any parent who has asked her kids to clean up their room, or do their homework or any other task. I definitely have children who SAY they will do things but then the room never gets picked up. I’m with Jesus on this one, I’d much rather have the verbally resistant child who actually picks up her toys than an agreeable one who doesn’t! And lest we get into the easy habit of pointing fingers at others, let’s turn the finger first on ourselves. How many times have we promised God we’d try to do better, get to church a little more often, pray a little more regularly, give more generously, the list can go on and then neglect to do what we promised? Or here’s a silly little example, just this week I was driving back from bringing communion to one of our homebound members when a guy cut me off right here on Jackson Ave! I forgot I was wearing my clerical collar and starting shouting out the window and honking my horn. You probably don’t believe me but I was saying some not very nice words. And then I grew red as a beet because this guy was indeed in the wrong, but I certainly wasn’t behaving in a Christianly manner, especially with my collar on right here by the church. It’s much easier to say we want to do God’s will than to do it, and we all mess up and are lacking sometimes. We fail to be the positive witnesses Christ needs to invite others to follow in his way and work in God’s kingdom.
So here’s the good news: first, praying for God’s will to be done is remembering that Christ’s main message is calling us to loving service because of what Christ first does for us. This chapter comes in the midst of Jesus’ journey to the cross during Holy Week. He has just overturned the money changers’ tables in the temple as an example of “doing God’s will.” And Jesus doesn’t just pay lip service to us promising to do good things for us, Jesus follows through by doing the will of his heavenly Father, going to the cross to die and be raised FOR US. God’s primary will for us is to save us, not to condemn. Like a good parent, even when we don’t follow through, God patiently gives us a second chance and invites us into a deeper journey of following Christ. God offers this loving second chance to those whom society would describe as the furthest from doing God’s will, Jesus tells us, the prostitutes and tax collectors, after all! And again, God doesn’t just tell us he loves us, God sends his only son Jesus to die and be raised for us because actions speak louder than words. Jesus dies so we don’t have to, so we can be freed to love and serve the Lord and our neighbor. That is what we are praying for when we pray, “Thy will be done.”
We may not always understand what God’s will is, especially why bad things happen to us that are out of our control. We do have to remember that God’s primary will for us is GOOD, not bad, and that we have a part to play in living out God’s will in the world. May we not only seek to do God’s will with our lips, but follow Christ faithfully with our hands, feet, and hearts. Amen.