Needy People Need to Be Acted on Not Act
We are nouns who all our lives struggle to be verbs. We seek to act not be acted on. The prayer of needy people, "Thy will be done," repents of this and invites big changes. And thanks be to God, for look where all our acting has gotten us. Marred with ashes, admitting that we are dust, and that to dust we shall certainly return.
Our will being done has only taken us down into a ring of fire. We would do well to heed the warning given to lawyers who've just passed the bar abyssus abyssum invocat. That's loosely translated, "One misstep leads to another." What I will only leads farther from God's will. Colloquial wisdom is right. When you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging, stop acting. But like the captain in Pete Seeger's 1967 song, I find myself "waist deep in the Big Muddy" and this fool says to push on.
Judas surely does. He's warned that the jigs up. Jesus knows. He's told rather than have his will done it would be better for him not to have been born. He's warned that if he takes the piece of bread from Jesus' hand he's the betrayer, he's the son of perdition, he's going to hell, and the big fool pushes on. Peter is no different as we'll hear next week. Jesus tells him he will deny him 3 times before the rooster crows. Yet Peter can go through 2 crows of the rooster and still try harder. And the big fool said to push on.
Us Lutherans ought to know better. We've been catechized that our will does not want us to hallow God's name or let His kingdom come. In fact, our will is in lockstep with the world and the devil himself! Luther said that this petition teaches us "that we have no greater enemy than ourself" (LW, 42, 48). He also said, "It is really frightening to hear ourselves say, Thy will be done." Because "What can be more terrible than our own frank admission in this petition that God's will is not being done" (Ibid., 42).
Since our will only pushes us ever deeper into mud, sin, slime, and what the devil and the world want, we pray in this petition to be acted on. In all the Thy petitions' we confess that God acts and He is not frustrated. "God's name is certainly holy in itself." "The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer." "The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer." God's proper name is "I am". God's proper name is a verb. So, we pray for Him to act, and this is scary.
This is scary because when we pray this we are seeking frustration, discipline, the cross. So, said Luther, "Thus we seek in that petition nothing other than the cross, torture, repulsiveness, and all sorts of suffering, that thus serve the destruction of our will'" (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 49). And that hurts because "'nothing is dearer to us than our individual will'" (Ibid., 45). But our will must be broken, or God's name cannot be hallowed in us or His kingdom come to us (Luther, Ibid., 50).
What's going to happen in next week's Passion Reading? Jesus will surrender His will to not drink the cup filled with God's wrath against our willfulness. Luther concludes from this, "If Christ had to surrender His will, which after all was good, yes, undoubtedly and always the best, in order that God's will be carried out, why should we poor little worms make such a fuss about our will, which is never free of evil and always deserves to be thwarted" (LW, 42, 45).
Luther goes farther than this; scary far. He says, "In the breaking of our will, God's will is done; for He wants to see our will hindered and broken." We should in fact thank God for enemies who frustrate our will (Ibid.). Deeper still Luther goes not into mud but water that will surely drown our Old Adam along with our will. He says stop doing what we all do. We are to stop crediting the devil or wicked people if something goes against our will. We are to credit only God's will. Luther says, "' In all suffering and temptation the person should first of all run to God and to recognize and accept it as if it were sent from God whether it come from the devil or from people'" (Peters, 49-50).
Had enough? I warn you; Luther's praying gets even scarier, goes into water so deep you can't even bounce off the bottom and make it to the top. He says we pray to God in this petition: "Yes, even though it pains us, continue[s] to punish and stab us, to eat and burn us. Do as You will with us, as long as Your will, and not ours is done. Yours alone is good, though it does not seem to be; ours is evil, though it glitters" (LW, 42, 79).
You come up sputtering. You thought all that would be wrung out of you tonight is the confession that you deserve ashes, dust, and death. But you can admit that while treasuring, while preserving, while protecting your will. That's the treasured ring that must be preserved. That's the ring that bewitches everyone who possesses it. That's the thing that your sinful nature will sacrifice everything else for. When an 1,800-pound bull is servicing a herd of 25 cows, he will waste away as he goes without food, drink, rest in pursuit of mating. In humanity it's not our sexuality that we'll preserve at all costs but our will.
That's why Luther's words in his commentary on Romans all but drive us mad. "It is not an evil sign, but indeed the very best, if upon our petitions the very opposite happens to us. Conversely, it is not a good sign if everything is granted to us for which we pray" (Romans, 126). Why? Because when our will isn't being done God is breaking and hindering not only our will but every evil plan and purpose of the devil and the world too.
I told you; for Lutherans prayer is warfare, and that's why for all but the Litany, times of great need, or penitence we stand not sit or kneel for prayer. But now you see that we have met the enemy and it is us. Prayer is not a comfortable break from the trials of life, but the very place where we do battle against the devil, the world, our flesh (Senkbeil, Sanctification, 145), and above all our will. We pray in this petition not to act but to be acted on, and God in Christ does.
Despite the howling of the Devil and the world; despite the shrieking of our flesh, God Almighty hallows His name, brings His kingdom, and does His will. Our sin is that we think God no longer parts the Red Seas, or shows His name is holy by destroying the idols men trust in. Our sin is that we think the Jericho's we face will only fall down if we do something to make that happen. We go forth to face the Goliaths in our life unlike David did. We put our trust in the armor of our will, our strength, our purpose which are ill-fitting and useless.
God's will will be done. What we read in the Passion Reading is God's will being done. He wills to give up His holy, beloved Son to the suffering, damning, and dying of the cross. He wills that Jesus who never did one thing wrong, said one thing wrong, thought one thing wrong, go to unendurable torture. He wills that the best Son ever go in place of you and I who never do, say, think, or will one thing right.
And that's not all; before He goes, the Son leaves you a promise, a testament, something in His will that will strengthen and preserve you in the true faith until life everlasting. It's His Body and Blood. It's the same Body He will give on the cross and the same Blood He will shed there. God' will is that you remain firmly in this faith until you die. The will of the unholy 3, the devil, the world, and our flesh is that you don't.
There you have it. That's what's on the line when we're talking our will versus God's will; our being verbs instead of nouns; our forging ahead into the big muddy. Nothing less is on the line than our eternal salvation. Our sinful will can only lead us straight to hell. Do not pass go; do not collect 200 dollars. Instead collect every sin, debt, trespass and guilt you owe. Each and every time the Lord frustrates our will and does His instead, He's making sure that doesn't happen. Then, "Thy will be done," says faith.
We're nouns. Jesus is the verb. But it's not only His active keeping the Laws of God in our place that saves us; it's also His passive accepting of the punishments sinners, law-breakers, and self-willed people like us deserve. He doesn't run after Judas to stop him from setting in motion the unimaginable pains He will endure. In Gethsemane, though He can call legions of angels and flatten his enemies with just two words, Jesus gives Himself up to the will of God. And God's will is your everlasting salvation, a new heaven and a new earth for you. Victory over sin, over death, over the power of the devil. A guilt-free conscience today and forever.
The great saints in the Bible had to learn to be nouns. Abraham thought he had to fulfill God's promise of the Woman's Seed who would save the world, so he lied, he fornicated, and he failed. When he was old and helpless and could do no more, God's will was done. Moses thought he was to deliver Israel by his power and might. He failed, and for 40 years in the desert keeping sheep married to a scornful woman, the Lord beat down his will till He could do His through him. Paul willed to go to Rome many times. It wasn't till he gave up to God's will that in every town he face chains and afflictions that Paul finally went to Rome - - in chains.
Needy people realize that they're nouns not verbs. We mortals should not do God's will, but should desire that God Himself would do it (Peters, 96). As we say in the Large Catechism, we pray "that what must be done anyway without us, may be done in us" (LC, III, 68). A child gets a splinter in his finger, and bounces all over the place screaming, "Get it out" all the while driving it deeper in by the way he wills to get it out. Get it out is exactly what you will to do, but you can't till you subdue him. Every frustration, stopping, or stepping on our will is our heavenly Father taking us up on His lap, pinning our flapping arms, and answering our great need for His will to be done. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ash Wednesday (20180214); Lord's Prayer 3rd Petition, Passion Reading 1