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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Midweek Lent 2011 + Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Week 2)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011
“Willing Will” Second and Third Petitions, the Lord’s Prayer
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Deuteronomy 6:1-6; Mark 12:28-34

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

God’s will gets blamed for a lot of hard stuff these days. Either someone’s using the excuse of the will of God to do something horrible to someone else, or someone’s using the idea of God’s will to deal with unexpected and painful suffering. While it may be true that God wills some things that are painful or difficult, there’s no way ever to be certain that we know when suffering is God’s will or not. And there’s certainly no valid reason for us ever to invoke God’s will as a rationale for punishing or harming others.

The kingdom of God also has difficulties as a concept. When Christians do think about it, they usually assume it means heaven, life with God after we die. But that sort of reduction to the sweet by-and-by has the awkward problem of completely ignoring most of Jesus’ teaching about his rule and reign, his kingdom. Including the idea in the Lord’s Prayer that we are to ask for God’s kingdom and will to be done here, not just in heaven.

Maybe Jesus knew that we, his followers, would have difficulties with these two concepts; maybe that’s why he included them when he taught the disciples to pray. Whatever we understand about God’s kingdom and God’s will, Jesus invites us to pray for them to come, to be done, to be lived here as they are already lived in heaven.

This prayer Jesus taught us is a guide for our prayer, a way to invite us to deeper and more meaningful conversation with almighty God. If we are to know how to pray for God’s will and kingdom, we need to know what Jesus means by these terms.

We can begin by saying this: Living in God’s reign is living by God’s will.

They’re not just part of the same sentence of the prayer – they’re inextricably linked. When a ruler rules, that means the nation’s subjects follow his or her will. In a democratic society, we follow our own rules that we agree upon – so in the rule or reign of democracy, it presumably is the people’s will that is done. But in monarchy, the kingdom is found where the monarch’s will is obeyed, and certainly in God’s case, the kingdom, the rule of God exists when God’s will is done.

The deep mystery about God is that God chooses to rule without the use of power. Every earthly ruler who is absolute has always kept his or her reign by use of force, power. God rules by becoming one of us and willingly accepting death at our hands.

This means that when we pray to do God’s will, to live in God’s kingdom, it’s the only way we will do so, as God will not force us into obedience. But it also reminds us that God’s will is that we act in the world as God acts.

So God’s will is that we not use power to accomplish what we need, but rather use love, as God did. God will not rule by force or violence – only by inviting us to follow, to willingly offer ourselves as subjects. And in that offering, we have only two jobs: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

When the scribe agrees with Jesus on this in our reading today, Jesus says something very telling: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Living in love of God and love of neighbor – that is God’s will for those who follow God’s reign. That is God’s will for those in God’s kingdom. When we live that way, we live in God’s kingdom, and it is just as it is in heaven for us.

So we know this to be God’s will – for us to live in love of God and love of neighbor. But what is God’s part of this?

This we heard last Sunday: God’s will, God’s part, is also love. Jesus said to Nicodemus in last Sunday’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

God’s part of God’s reign is absolute, complete love – love that wills all the world to be saved in Jesus. As Jesus says in Matthew 18 – it is not the will of our heavenly Father that one person, one, be lost. It is this context of God’s amazing love for us – love that died and rose to give us life – that we live our lives of love of God and neighbor.

And we know this about God’s love: Since it is God’s will for the world, it will happen. It will bring about God’s reign, God’s kingdom. We just want to be a part of that.

That’s Luther’s great gift to us. He says God’s will and kingdom will come – but we ask in this prayer that they come in and among us. So, God will love the world, and does. God will save the world, and is doing it.

But we learn from Jesus to ask God to make us a part of that. And this is not asking God to love us – God already does that, and we will ask for forgiveness later. This is asking that God help us be a part of God’s loving action for the world.

What Jesus is saying is that we can only love God and neighbor with God’s gracious help and strength. He invites us to pray regularly for this, to ask God to shape our lives with Christly love and so change our hearts and the world.

So let us pray for God’s rule and God’s will.

Because God’s vision of this world, God’s rule and reign, is a world where all God’s creatures live together in love for each other and love for God. This is no utopia, no wishful thinking – it will happen. All God’s intent, all God’s will for the world is summed up in this vision.

And when we pray this prayer Jesus taught, we sign on to the vision ourselves, we agree that love of God and neighbor is God’s way, and the way we claim for our own. But even more, we put our lives into the hands of God who loves us and who will make this vision happen in us, and so continue to change the world.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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