Thy Will be done

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March 18 2018

I Peter 2

We have been working our way through the Lord’s Prayer over the past few months.    This is the most familiar and most universal prayer in all of Christendom.  In this prayer we find the model for all our  praying.  In the Lord’s prayer, we learn what God is like–a caring Father–and we learn why we are put on earth–to work for God’s kingdom and to seek God’s will.

The theologian Karl Barth once said that, “To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  According to Barth, when we pray, we unleash the forces of God’s power upon the world.  That is why we pray for an end of the enmity between Israelis and Palestinians, for the alleviation of suffering in Syria, , for healing from cancer, for the redemption of a disintegrating marriage.  That is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So today I want to talk about this third petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy will be done.   I want to lift up two words which describe God’s will, and they both begin with the letter “P.”  God’s will is persuasive.  Second, God’s will is purposeful.   So I have crossed you up, and instead of having the usual three points a preacher makes, I am making only two, thus to guarantee that you will be out of church early and beat the crowds to Brother’s restaurant.    God’s will, persuasive, God’s will purposeful.  


To launch out into our subject, I want to say that God works his will in ways that unfailingly persuasive and non coercive.  There are only two kinds of power in the arena of human relations.  One is coercion; the other persuasive. One is compulsion from without.  The other is devotion from within.  One is power over people, the other is power with people.  Go back into history as far as you like and you will find these two concepts struggling for the mastery of the human mind.  Dostoevski said that this was the acid test for any civilization–that a nation could be properly called civilized when it began to put more emphasis on the forces that persuade than on the cruder forces that compel.

I heard about a company over in Glendale and they were introducing a new insurance plan for the employees.  To be able to be eligible for this insurance plan all of the employees had to sign up and pay a participating share.  Well, there were over 60 employees in this small company and everybody signed up except for one man.  No matter how much is fellow employees and the boss tried to persuade him, he just couldn’t see the benefits.  Finally, one day the boss called him in and said to him, “George, you’ve been a good employee but your refusal to sign up for the plan is undermining the company morale.  Either you sign it or you’re fired.”

George, with a big smile on his face, took a pen off the boss’s desk and grandly signed his name to the contract.  And the boss, exasperated, looked at him and said, “Why did you do it so willingly–and why didn’t you do it long before?”  And George replied, “Well, nobody ever explained it to me so clearly up until now.”

Well, God is not like this.  God’s will is shown in non-coercive love.  And this love is most seriously and remarkable demonstrated in the cross.  The accruals of sin are always bitter and negative.  We know that hate begets hate, jealousy begets jealousy, suspicion begets suspicion.  Our only hope is for someone to absorb an indignity or an injury and not return it in kind, The cross is God’s way of saying, “The hate stops here.”  Or as Peter puts it in speaking of Jesus, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return.  When he suffered, he did not threaten.  He himself bore our sins in his body of the tree.  By his wounds, we have been healed.”  God will never coerce us, only draw us to his side in love.


And a second facet of God’s will  is that God’s will is purposeful.    God has a plan in mind for us and for our world, whether we can see it or not.   And it’s here that we begin to identify with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.  But nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

Jesus sensed that he was on a collision course with the Jewish and Roman authorities, and that the outcome would not be pleasant.  I love this story in the Garden of Gethsemane so much, because it shows how human Jesus is,  just like you and me.  Part of himself wanted to opt out, to avoid the horrible days ahead.  He must have considered leaving Jerusalem, going back to Galilee, and continuing his ministry there.  But in the end, he was willing to lay aside his own ego, his own desires, to be obedient to his Father’s will.

I think I most identify with Jesus here.  First, trying to be obedient to God’s will instead of following my own will is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Trying to put God’s priorities first instead of my own priorities.  Trying to dance to God’s tune, instead of two-stepping to my own.

Before I came to Arizona  I was  in Mississippi, the hardest two years of my life, serving a declining church in an alien culture, with many people who just thought I was the worst thing to happen to Mississippi since Sherman came through and burned Jackson.  I had to ask myself, “Oh, my God, why did you send me here?”  And then I wondered, “Maybe God didn’t send me.  Maybe it was just a bad decision on my part.  A bad choice.  We all make them.”  But to know that doesn’t help, at least in the midst of the pain of a difficult situation.

We’ve all been in Mississippi haven’t we?  In a marriage that didn’t work out.  With a child acting up    With a job that is just soul-numbing.  With an illness that lays us low.

And we’re not sure in these situations how much of it is our fault or our fate or the will of God.

I can only tell you what I have learned.  I never believe that God sends us hardship, but I do believe with Helmut Thielicke that all evil which befalls us must pass through the hands of God before it reaches us.  God doesn’t send us Mississippis but God can bring us through Mississippis,  still erect, still proud, still standing on our feet.  Two things can happen from Mississippis.  We can become bitter or become better.   And if we are  extraordinarily blessed, God can bring us from a Mississippi to the First Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Arizona.      

In the eighth chapter of Romans we read, “In everything God works for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”  God has an unquenchable will to redeem.  What more is the cross that the world’s minus turned into God’s plus?

There was a woman diagnosed with a terminal illness.  As she was getting her affairs in order, she contacted her minister to come to her house to discuss her memorial service what Scriptures she wanted read, what hymns sung.  They laid out the whole service, then the woman

said, “Oh, there’s one thing more, and this is very important.”

     “What is it?” the pastor asked.

     “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”  He stood looking at her dumbfounded, not at all sure what to say.

     “Does that surprise you?”

     “Well, yes it does, to be honest.”

     The woman explained.  “In all my years of attending church socials and potlucks, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork’.  It was my favorite moment, because I knew something

better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie.  Something wonderful and delicious.   

     “So when people see me there in my casket with a fork in my hand, and they ask, “What’s with the fork? I want you to tell them, ‘Keep your fork…the best is yet to come’.”

If we allow God to work his will in us, even the worst things can become part of God’s will.  If we surrender ourselves to God, as did Jesus in the garden, we may know suffering and reversal,  but ultimately, we will know resurrection.  And because of that, in life or in death, the  the best is yet to come.    

Categories: Weekly Sermon

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