Monday, April 01, 2013

Thy Will Be Done

Thy Will Be Done
Ps. 31:9-16; Lk. 22:42; Lk. 23:46[1]
  Last week we talked about how we are creatures of habit.  We are also incredibly willful creatures.  Even the most mild-mannered of us usually want things our way.  And, once again, life seldom cooperates.  Some of us respond to this crisis by suffering in silence--we bear the burden of our unfulfilled wishes in silence.  Others of us complain loudly when life doesn’t give us what we want--to anyone who will even pretend to listen.  Of course, part of the problem is that we somehow assume that we know what is best for us, and so we focus our will on getting that.  But the reality is that most of us are lousy at determining what is in our own best interest, and worse at planning the course we think our lives should take.  And yet we persist at trying to bend life to our will, no matter what.  As I said mentioned week, trying to live that way can be a prescription for insanity.
  Our Scripture lessons for today present us with a different approach to life.  It’s the approach that we’ve been talking about during the last few weeks.  The whole idea of trusting in God implies, as the Psalmist expresses, that the course of our lives is out of our hands.  Our lives are in God’s hands (Ps. 31:15).[2]  Recognizing this truth is the essence of what it means to trust in God. It means entrusting all that we are, all that we have, all that we are concerned about, all those we love, into God’s care.  And the Scriptures teach us that God’s care is infinite and unfailing. 
  I think this may explain why Jesus could look an excruciating death squarely in the face, and pray “not my will but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).[3]  In spite of the circumstances, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus prayed that prayer.  Seeking God’s will was the whole focus of his entire life.  Ironically, the very first words Jesus utters in Luke’s Gospel, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” (Lk. 2:49), imply that even at a young age Jesus was already focused on seeking God’s will.  It’s no wonder that when his disciples asked him what to pray for, he taught them to pray, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:7).
  When we think about the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us on that Friday so many years ago, I think we have to recognize that what enabled him to go through with it was his trust in God.  In a very real sense, what Jesus did on the cross fulfilled the words of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah: “The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Isa. 50:7).  While it’s hard to imagine that Jesus could face the prospect of a horrific death with unflinching faith, I think we have to assume that what enabled him to see it through to the bitter end was his trust that the God into whose hands he had entrusted his whole life would be with him in his darkest hour.
  It may be hard for us to comprehend the fact that it was Jesus’ commitment to obeying God’s will that led him to his humiliating death.  We tend to think of obedience to God as something that leads to good things coming our way.  It’s hard to imagine that the ultimate obedience could lead to the ultimate sacrifice.  That’s exactly the way St. Paul frames Jesus’ death in our lesson for today: “he became obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8).[4]  And the Apostle tells us to have the same attitude as Christ had.  In other words, he calls us to follow Jesus’ example in seeking God’s will and trusting God with the outcome, no matter what it looks like.
  We even see this amazing trust in God reflected in Jesus’ dying words.  While Matthew and Mark report Jesus’ last words as a cry of anguish, in Luke’s Gospel Jesus dies with an affirmation of faith: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).[5]  In fact, he was quoting from the very Psalm that we started with.  The full text of the verse reads, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Ps. 31:5).  One of the details of this verse is that “spirit” can also be translated “life.”  So in a very real sense, Jesus was entrusting his whole life to God.  The words Jesus uttered as he was dying were essentially “it is up to you, God, what becomes of me, and I am willing to have it so.”[6]  He died the same way that he lived his whole life: seeking God’s will and entrusting the outcome into God’s hands.
  A faith like that seems to me to be the highest  expression of trust.  It’s not easy to look at our lives, at all that we are, all that we have, all those we love, and essentially let go of it all by placing it into God’s hands.  But that was the kind of faith that Jesus modeled for us throughout his life.  It was that kind of faith that enabled him to live out the prayer “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  And it was that kind of faith that enabled him to face the prospect of making the final sacrifice with the prayer, “not my will, but thine be done.”  As we seek to deepen our trust in God, Jesus’ commitment stands for us as the defining example for our own faith.  The kind of trust reflected in the prayer, “Not my will, but thine be done” challenges us all to give up trying to get what we want out of life and instead to seek God’s will and entrust the outcome to him.

[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/24/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 144: “In the mouth of Jesus [this] sentence is surely a profound interpretation of his entire life.”  Cf. H.-J. Kraus, Psalm 1-59, 365, where he talks about the Psalm as a prayer of “trusting self-surrender.”
[3] cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.1:270, where he describes this prayer of Jesus as “a radiant Yes” to the will of God, which he “unreservedly accepts.”
[4] Cf. Fred B. Craddock, Philippians, 42: “Christ acted on our behalf without view of gain. That is precisely what God has exalted and vindicated: self-denying service for others to the point of death with no claim of return, no eye upon a reward.”
[5] Cf. Fred B. Craddock, Luke, 275; R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX:461.
[6] This is Mays’ interpretation of “into your hands I commit my spirit.”  Cf. Mays, Psalms, 144.  Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, “Good Friday: Birth of Hope from the Cross of Christ,” in The Power of the Powerless, 120, where he calls this “believing with one’s whole life.”

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