Monday, February 28, 2011

Will of God (6): Jesus' Last Will and Testament

Psalm 19 (call to worship)
Matthew 21:28-31 (children)
Luke 22:21-54
Luke 23:33-46

Prayer of Ignatius of Loyola, UMH #570
Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labor and not to ask for any reward,
except that of knowing that we do your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I know that I need to do something – but I don’t want to do it. I’m not talking about preparing my records for income tax season. I’m not talking about things I just don’t like doing, but about things that I really don’t want to do, things that I dread. Making apologies is okay, but I really don’t like to reveal a total failure, whether mine or someone else’s. Sometimes I’m frustrated with someone and I don’t want to approach them, I’m not ready to repair the relationship because I just want to be mad. Or, conversely, I want to approach them and give them an uppercut to the jaw. Sometimes I feel forced into an awkward situation, I don’t see a good way out, and I’d rather ignore it than solve it. I know what I should do, but I don’t want to do it. Know what I mean?

Occasionally, I reflect upon the words spoken over me at my ordination: “Take thou authority to preach the gospel, administer the holy sacraments, and order the life of the church.” And, yes, I know we’re not all ordained, but we’ve all got some authority in life, even some God-given authority as human beings created in God’s image. So, you too, “take authority.” I give myself a pep talk, physically reach out and grab that authority, and pray, “O Lord Jesus, help me.”

Occasionally, when appropriate, I’ll bring up my ethical quandary with Robin to get her input. Now, remember, I already know what I should do. That’s not the issue. I just don’t want to do it. So, it’s a test. If Robin agrees with what I should do, then there’s no way for me to get off the hook. But, if not, then maybe I’ve got some hope! So far, in 20 years of experience, she’s never let me off the hook. And, since I don’t let her know in advance of the test I’m performing (that would spoil it), I usually get a little sermon to go along with it. Admittedly, I ask for it, I deserve it. And, I love my lady.

Most of the time, it’s not knowing God’s will that’s the problem, it’s doing it. “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Six weeks ago, we began this series of messages focused on the Will of God with a conversation on knowing God’s will: Delight in God, Discern, Do. Today, after discussing God’s will in abundance, success, pleasure, and evil, we come back around to this original theme as we look at two dimensions of Jesus’ “last will and testament”. The first dimension is this incredible prayer, “Not my will, but yours be done.” My old pastor, Dick Woodward, says that this is the true “Lord’s Prayer”, that the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” is a prayer Jesus taught us to pray. But the prayer Jesus prayed, our Lord’s Prayer, is “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Last week, we looked at the problem of evil and how evil entered the world with the original sin by the original man and woman. That first man and woman, tempted in that first garden, declared, “My will, not yours, be done.” They decreed, “I know better” “You don’t trust me” and a hundred other excuses we’ve made and heard a hundred times over.

Jesus, whom Christian tradition (following the language and logic of Paul) names “the second Adam”, faced temptation in that Gethsemane garden. In some mysterious way understood only to God, at that moment the will of Jesus and the will of the Father were not the same. So Jesus prayed – and Jesus chose – “not my will but yours be done”.

Most of the time, it’s not knowing God’s will that’s the problem, it’s doing it. “Not my will, but yours be done.” John Calvin, the great Reformation leader and father of the Presbyterian tradition, wrote, “All right knowledge of God is born of obedience” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, McNeil/Battles, vol 1, chapt 6, section 2; cited by Eugene Peterson, 2006, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p 69).

You want to know God’s will? Then start obeying what you know.

That first week in this series, we read from Romans 12:1-2, a foundational Scripture on the will of God to which we have frequently returned: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will (NIV).

Dick Woodward used to say, “The problem with living sacrifices is that the keep crawling off the altar.” Most of the time, it’s not knowing God’s will that’s the problem, it’s doing it. “Not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus gave over his last will to his Father. Blaise Pascal, in his stream-of-consciousness poetic conversion account, includes the line, “sweet and total renunciation” (“Memorial”, in Pensees). That’s what this prayer is about, sweet and total renunciation.

But did you hear what was going on around all that? Jesus’ disciples are tired – I’ve been there – and they are falling asleep on their watch, sleeping through not only their watch but Jesus’ agony. And, at the end of the supper, they are arguing about “who’s the greatest”, puffing their chests out and parading about like so many peacocks in season. How much more out of place can you get? And, when Jesus is arrested – by one of his own disciples, mind you – another one attacks, defending Jesus from . . . what? His last will and testament, given over to the Father? His determination to save us?

I told you that we were looking at two dimensions of Jesus’ last will and testament. The first dimension is that incredible Lord’s Prayer, “Not my will, but yours be done.” To us, in relation to pursuing the will of God in our lives, we are reminded that knowing God’s will requires obedience, requires giving up our own will. This is a scary thing for those of us who crave control, or for those of us who have been abused or manipulated by those we should have been able to trust. But we’re talking about trusting the God who loves us, we’re talking about the Jesus who loves us so much that he is willing to abandon not only his will but also his life for us, we’re talking about the Spirit who will never leave us and never abandon us.

The second dimension is for us in all our disobedience, all our parading pride, all our sleepy ignorance, all our well-intentioned violence . . . all of this stuff that made the cross necessary. As Pascal wrote, “I crucified him” (“Memorial”). And this second dimension of Jesus’ last will and testament is crystallized in another prayer: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

I’d want to argue with Jesus on that one. Well, maybe sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing. But most of the time I really do know, don’t I? Most of the time, at some point, I am conscious of a choice . . . that “My Will, not yours be done” choice of the first Adam. What I don’t know about what I am doing? I don’t know, as we mentioned last week, how deeply sin infects everything, the system of human relationships, the ecosystem itself. Even more, though, I don’t know what my sin does to Jesus. I don’t know the bitter agony of that lonely night of prayer – I’m sleeping through it. I don’t know the ache of his betrayal and denial and abandonment – I’m the one doing that. I don’t know the deadly pain of the cross as execution – I’m the one driving in the nails.

I don’t get it. I still don’t get it. I’ve got to tell you: I’ve sinned a couple times this week and didn’t think once of what it cost Jesus. “They do not know what they are doing. . . . Father, forgive them.” Thank God!

Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer mine, but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will.
Put me to doing,
put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for you
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you
or brought low for you.
Let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing.
I freely and with a willing heart
give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

Christ will be the Savior of his servants.
Christ will have no servants except by consent;
Christ will not accept anything except full consent to all he requires.
Christ will be all in all, or he will be nothing.

God requires that you shall put away all your idols.

From the bottom of my heart, I renounce them all,
covenanting with you that no known sin shall be allowed in my life.

Through Christ, God offers to be your God again.

Before all heaven and earth,
I choose you as my Lord and my God.
I take you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for my portion,
and vow to give up myself, body and soul, as your child,
to follow you in love and faithfulness all the days of my life.

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