Our Second Reading this morning comes from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter six, verses 7-10. In this New Year we have begun a series on the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus shares it with his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. Each week we are adding a phrase or a verse to our reading as we move through the prayer together. Especially in the midst of the vision of authentic and alternative Christianity which Jesus presents in the Sermon on the Mount, we discover this is no ordinary prayer. It is a prayer which reminds us about who God is and who we are. It teaches us about the world and the kingdom of God. We learn about faith and reliance; about justice and mercy. Yes, to pray this prayer, this Lord’s Prayer, in the quiet of our rooms and together as the people of God, is to discover what it means to follow Jesus.
Also as a part of this series I will attempt to share at least one word or practical tip with you about prayer before we read the scripture each week. So far I have suggested that you pray the Lord’s Prayer several times a day and you might shoot up arrow prayers to God as prayers emerge in a moment or situation. This morning let me say a word about prayer and distraction.
Perhaps you have had the experience of setting aside time to pray, closing your eyes and folding your hands, and beginning to talk to God. All seems well until your mind begins to wander off onto topics other than what you intended. You pull yourself back, get a few more phrases out and then your mind takes off again. Two thoughts here. First, as we learn to pray do not think that you must immediately spend thirty minutes in prayer. No, start with 30 seconds. You can probably keep your mind focused for that long. Then as you grow comfortable with your prayer, increase the time. As you increase the time you spend in prayer, you will likely also decrease the amount of time your mind is distracted.
And yet, I also want to give you permission to let your mind wander as you pray. Prayer is not just talking to God, it is also listening. And I suspect that God sometimes uses our mental wanderings to teach us what we should actually be praying about. We may think we know what we want to talk to God about, but God knows what is really on our heart, God knows what we need before we ask. So, let your mind wander as you pray. For perhaps your mind is not wandering away from prayer, but wandering to what God knows you really need to pray about.
Now, let us hear this Word of God to us as found in Matthew, chapter 6, verses 7-10.
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
There is a song some of you may remember from childhood. I assume our teachers in the Mothers’ Day Out and Preschool program still help the children sing it from time to time. Please join me if you know how it goes:
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.
I see that some of you even remember the motions for that one. It will probably not surprise you to hear that we learn some of our most basic theology from the songs we sing. How do we know that Jesus Loves Me and the Bible tells me so – not because we have heard sermons or attended bible study. No, we sang those words and they became embedded in our hearts. So, my friends is it is very important that we keep singing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands” and don’t start singing “I’ve got the whole world in my hands.”
Yes, despite the childhood affirmation that God is the one who holds all things, as we grow and mature it seems to me that we begin to hold on tighter ourselves. We begin to try to carry the world, all its problems, all its possibilities, all its chaos in our hands. And I don’t know about you, but carrying the weight of the world makes me tired. It is a heavy, heavy load.
Knowing the burdens we carry, Jesus teaches us to pray. As we pray this Lord’s Prayer we have discovered that it is not our job to save the world; no, world-saving is always the job of our Heavenly Father. We have learned that it is not our job to reach up and drag the kingdom of heaven down to earth; no, it is our job to live with sure and certain hope that Christ’s kingdom is coming soon as we help to prepare the way. And now, as we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we begin to see that it is not our job to carry the weight of the world; no, it is our calling to wait with patience for God’s to do what God is going to do.
I must admit that in study and preparation for this series on the Lord’s Prayer, I realized that for most of my life I have not understood this phrase. Throughout my life and certainly throughout my ministry, I have tried my very best to live and preach and teach and pray in accordance with the will of God. Both in my own life and in the congregations I have served we have prayed diligently to discern what is the will of God for me, for the church, for the world and then I have done my very best to make that happen, to live it out each and every day.
And all of that is good and faithful work with much scriptural guidance and justification. But with the Lord’s Prayer Jesus is teaching us that we need to do something else first. What I realized just this week is that instead of praying Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, I had jumped ahead to pray “God help me figure out your heavenly will so that I can do it here on earth.” The focus of my prayer has been all about me. I want to know the mind of God so that I can do it. Again, knowing the will of God and living it out is good and faithful work. But unless we know the Father first, there is something dangerous about being convinced that we know the will of God. For example, King Charles I of England is alleged to have confessed that he would rather face a thousand charging horsemen than one Calvinist who believed he was doing the will of God. If Charles had Oliver Cromwell in mind, his fear was well grounded.
Yes, as we pray this Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is teaching us something very different than asking that I or you might know the will of God. Listen carefully to the words again: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Just like the first two petitions of this prayer, God, not me, not you, is the subject of the request. Jesus is teaching us to ask that our Heavenly Father might enact God’s will on earth in the same way that God already rules the heavens. Do you see, it’s not about us doing anything at all except asking with faith for God to act.
Professors Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas put it this way:
When we pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it may sound at first as if we are urging you to do something – bend your rebellious will to God’s will, get busy doing here on earth what God is doing in heaven. While that may be implied … that is not the first thing to be said. “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven” is first a declaration of what God is doing before it implies anything that we ought to do.
My friends, remember that only God is big enough to save us. Only God is the ruler of heaven and earth and whose Kingdom is coming soon.
Now, it takes great faith to wait with patience for God to work his will in our lives and in the world. And it would be unbearable if we had no idea what that will might be. But we know the God to whom we pray. We know that the Lord of heaven and earth is Our Father. We know that God so loved the world that he sent his only son that the world might be saved through him. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Yes, we know that God is for us. We know that what God wills, God does. So what God has done demonstrates God’s will for us. And what God did is come to save us in Jesus Christ. If there is one thing for you to remember today, what I want you to know is this: The will of God is Jesus Christ. As we pray Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven we are praying that we might come to know Jesus.
Yes, it is good and faithful work to pray and discern that we might know the will of God so that we can do it. However, it is even more vital that we know the ONE who is the will of God. Jesus Christ himself. In the words of Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber, “The voice that brings us new life is not our own – it is Christ’s.” And Jesus himself teaches us to pray so that we might know him more.
And as we know him, we then begin to find our own wills shaped by him. It is as we begin to embody and imbibe the mind of Christ that we begin to live a life according to the will of God. It is not easy work. There is no simple one size fits all strategy to discover what God has planned. No, perhaps coming to know Christ more fully and having our own wills shaped by that encounter might be something like a conversation between Lucy and the Lion Aslan in CS Lewis’ book Prince Caspian. In this book Lucy and her sister and brothers are summoned to return to the magical land Narnia. The land has fallen into ruin. The great lion Aslan who once saved the land by sacrificing his life and then being raised has disappeared. The children and their guide are on a quest to find the exiled Prince Caspian, but they have lost their way. Then, while the others are sleeping, Lucy sees Aslan. She runs to him and in the midst of their conversation we hear:
“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me – what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”
“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.
“Oh dear, Oh dear,” said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away – like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”
“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”
Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly, she sat up.
“I’m sorry Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”
“Now your are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have not time to lose.”
My friends, we need some lions and lioness in this world today. We have no time to lose. So, we pray Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, that we might come to know the ONE who is God’s will – Jesus Christ our Lord. Then we will be ready.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: