31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 14, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Your will be done. Three times, Jesus prays this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane “your will be done”. (Matthew 26:42) “not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39)
And what Jesus wants isn’t something small like what to have for dinner or even something bigger like where to live. Jesus is praying for his life. Jesus understands what the journey before him looks like, that he is to be branded as a criminal and killed in a painful and humiliating manner. Jesus’ very life is on the line, and so no wonder, in the darkness of the garden, in those hours between midnight and dawn, Jesus throws himself on the ground and prays his heart out. Prays for God to change his path, to let this cup pass from him.
Have you ever prayed that kind of fervent prayer? Please, Lord, let it not be cancer. Please, Lord, let them live. Please, Lord, let this cup of hardship pass from me. I’ve prayed that prayer. I’ve prayed for God to let my plan, my will be done.
That’s not what Jesus does though. Even as we see this fully human side of Jesus, this side that is agitated, that grieves, some translations says Jesus is troubled and plunged into deep sorrow, even as we see that Jesus is human just like us, wanting his will to be done, wanting to be delivered from pain, hardship and death, even as we hear Jesus desperately pray three times in the garden, we also hear Jesus say “not what I want but what you want” God (Matthew 26:39), not my will but “your will be done”, God. (Matthew 26:42)
These are extraordinary words. It seems almost inhuman to be able to pray these words, and yet, the Christian Church says them every week, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Thy will be done. Not my will, Lord. Your will.
These extraordinary words are words of faith. They are words of trust. Each week, as we pray the Lord’s prayer, saying “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.” we are saying we trust God. We trust God we will have enough to eat. We trust that God’s way is better than our own.
It’s fairly easy to pray these words. It’s just a little bit harder to live them out. Garth Brooks, of country music fame, wrote a song about trusting God’s will and not our own. The song is called “Unanswered Prayers”, and it is based on his real life experience of running into his high school girlfriend and remembering how much he wanted and prayed to marry her. Garth Brooks realized that God’s plan was much better than Garth’s plan; however trusting that God’s plan is better, believing that God’s plan is better, realizing that God’s plan is better, is not easy.
It is really, really hard to want something, to desperately want something, and still pray “not what I want but what you want” God (Matthew 26:39). Even Jesus had a hard time praying it. Even Jesus was anguished and sorrowful, troubled and agitated as he faithfully prayed for God’s will to be done. These are not easy words to pray.
And there will be times in our lives when we feel like we just cannot pray them. This is the 53rd Sunday, a full year, that we have been worshipping in this strange new way. Are you tired? Are you troubled? Are you agitated and sorrowful? Are you human?
This year has been exhausting. To get through these past 52 weeks has taken about every ounce of faith and hope that I have. It is a struggle to trust and pray God’s will be done when I want my vaccine right now, when I want people in this worship space with me, when I want to travel and feel safe going to the store with my family.
It is hard to trust and pray God’s will be done like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. What is even harder though is to know what God’s will is. How do we know it is God directing our next step and not something else? The voice of the world is loud; the voice of fear is louder. How do we know it is God directing our next step and not something else?
The Church has a word for that – discernment. We listen and seek understanding as to what decision, what path, what next step God wants us to take. When someone feels called to ordained ministry, our tradition invites them to become a Member in Discernment, walking this journey of listening with people from their local church and from the wider church.
The simpler way to say this is “we pray”. How do we know what God’s will is for our lives and the world? We pray. We spent lots of quality time in prayer because to figure out God’s voice in the midst of all of the other voices, we need to know what God’s voice sounds like.
We need to make God familiar, know God, really know God because there are big decisions in front of us as individuals, as a church community, and as a society. Will we get the COVID vaccine or not? Is it right for us to go back to the grocery store, the dentist, Church? And if we decide to go to in-person worship, how do we stay connected with the rest of our community that is worshipping digitally? How do we embody God’s welcome in this technological world and truly be a united body of Christ?
And lest we become too self-focused, we need to remember that our state legislatures and our national government are making decisions that will affect us and our world. As people of faith, we need to listen to God’s voice and be involved in these decisions. Here in Connecticut, our legislature is discussing legalizing recreational marijuana and whether someone has the right to be assisted in dying. Already, there is an agreement in place that might lead to legalized online gambling. Where is God’s voice in these conversations for you? As you pray and listen to God, where is God leading your heart and your actions?
In this moment, in every moment, we face decisions, small decisions, important decisions, life-changing decisions. As followers of Jesus Christ, as God’s people, we choose every day over and over again to turn ourselves and those decisions over to God, trusting God and seeking God’s will for our lives, for our church community, and our world.
Which goes back to our message from last week –If we are going to faithfully pray “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.”, if we are going to live lives of faith and trust, we also need to live lives of unceasing prayer – which means making God familiar, making time, lots of time for God.
There are three weeks left to Lent. There are three weeks to make a commitment to a spiritual practice of prayer. To connecting with God so you can know God’s voice, be blessed with God’s guidance as we all wrestle with the decisions of life.
If you are new to a life of prayer or overwhelmed at the thought, start small. Two minutes one day this week. Two minutes set aside to be quiet, to talk a walk, to breath deeply. Two minutes one day this week.
For those in a different place on their journey, add to your spiritual practice of prayer. Add days; add minutes; add prayer beads, a prayer shawl, a doodle prayer, a prayer prompt. Nurture and grow your life of prayer, your relationship with God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Because even as we choose this journey of following Jesus, even as we seek to pray daily as Jesus did, “Your will be done, O God”, we know how challenging it is to seek God’s way and trust God’s plan. And yet, when we do, we discover time and again what Jesus knew in the Garden, that God’s will, God’s way always leads to the hope of resurrection and the joy of new life.