Paul Janssen and God's Will
2009-03-27 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to guest blogger Paul Janssen for his contributions, including his sermon. Scroll down and enjoy.
Full of wisdom is Paul's biblical point that, while "Hosanna" is a legitimate prayer, deserving primacy is "Thy will be done."
As I mentioned, my sermon this Sunday will actually be a monologue from the point of view of Peter. Part Two will be on Passion Sunday, and Part Three will be on Easter. The goal is to help people hear the story anew.
I am interested in what other preachers will be doing these next few weeks. This time of the year can be both exciting and exceptionally difficult for preachers.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2009-03-27 by Paul Janssen
Such as it is, here it is. Peace and power be to all fellow preachers this Sunday!
John 12: 20-33
The Prayer of a Troubled Soul
Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ the Lord,
A funny thing happened on the way to this morning. 99% of the time as we prepare for worship, Wes chooses the choral anthem. I usually preach from a calendar that prescribes the scripture readings are for each Sunday, so Wes’s choices are almost always just right, or close enough to just right that I don’t quibble. But this week, for maybe only the 2nd or 3rd time in our years here together, I woke up Thursday morning with a feeling that what we were going to sing just wouldn’t fit.
We had scheduled “O Savior of the World,” a beautiful old anthem by John Goss whose text reads “O Savior of the world, who by thy cross and precious blood hast redeemed us, save us and help us we humbly beseech thee.” The words are a wee bit archaic, but then so are a lot of the words we use. So why didn’t that anthem fit? It was the way the anthem sings “save us, help us, save us, help us, save us, help us”.
Now that’s not a bad thing to pray. Anne LaMott reminds us that a parent’s most honest daily prayer is “help me help me help me.” Our souls do become troubled, deeply troubled; anxiety casts long shadows over our lives. We are wounded, and when our wounds overtake us, we pray for rescue. “Save me!” What else can we pray? What else is there to pray?
Well, listen to Jesus.
The gospel of John has its own way of telling the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. The way John tells the story, Jesus has already ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey. He has seen the deep green palm branches filling his vision against the deep blue Palestinian sky. He has tasted the grit of the rocky road, smelled the sweat of the pilgrims, and, most importantly, he has heard their cry. “Hosanna!” Save us! Save now! Whether they were crying out for Jesus to overthrow the occupying Roman overlords, or whether they were asking for something more spiritual, we can’t say. But their outcry was as urgent as it was genuine. Nothing wrong with saying “Hosanna!” (We’ll be doing our own share of that when we gather next week; we’ll be asking God to save us, too.)
But Jesus won’t say “hosanna.” Not now. His soul is indeed troubled as he anticipates the days ahead. How could he not be troubled? Still, he will not pray for God to stage a rescue mission. “Shall I pray ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Jesus resists the urge to pray “hosanna,” “save me now.” He has heard the crowd’s prayer, but he will not echo it. “Shall I pray ‘Father, save me?’” No.
So what do we make of what Jesus does pray: “Glorify thy name”?
It’s a curious expression – none of us are likely to say to anyone “glorify your name.” Scholars tell us that it means something like “carry out your plan,” “do your will publicly so that people might praise you,” or, in words that come more readily to our lips, “thy will be done.”
The words come readily to our lips. The meaning? I’m not so sure. How do we juggle “hosanna” – save me – and “thy will be done” inside the same soul, at the same time?
When I’m honest about the prayers I usually pray, the ‘hosannas’ far outweigh the ‘thy-will-be-done’s’. My soul is troubled. I want God to help. I want God to help now. And I want God to help in the way that I want to be helped. Am I the only one who does this? Am I the only one for whom prayer is more like a punch-list of what I want God to do in order to un-trouble my soul than it is about letting God untrouble my soul however and whenever God deems is right?
How presumptuous that is of any of us, to think that we know what we need! Journey with me to a time in your life when your soul was troubled. What was troubling you? What circumstances had conspired to drive you to your knees? Now, what possible solutions did you see? How were you going to get your own soul untroubled? And what did you pray for? What exactly did you tell God you needed? Finally – how did that turn out? Did what you wanted turn out to be what you needed? If it did, how often does that happen? And if your desire did not turn out to coincide with what you really needed, whose plan worked out best? Over the years, I’ve learned that “rescue me” – in other words, “my will be done,” is not exactly the wisest prayer to pray. But I keep going back to it. In fact, I’m so bad at this, I had a fraternity brother in college engrave on a walnut paddle the words of a Brahms motet, “was Gott beschleusst, das ist und heisst das beste.” “What God wills, that is the best.” We could all have such a word written on our hearts.
Let me take it one step further. It is presumptuous for any of us to imagine that we know what the world needs. Am I being overdramatic? What does one little troubled soul have to do with the whole world? More than we usually take into account. Near the end of the book “The Shack,” the Holy Spirit says to Mack, the main character, “If anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes.” (p. 235) Let me add, every time you pray, the world changes. So if I say to God, “Save me, and save me now, and save me the way I want to be saved,” not only might my demand hurt me, it might hurt my spouse, my children, my co-workers. And they all live in their own circles of relationships. If my self-absorbed prayer hurts them, how far does the damage go?
Remember what Jesus said: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” It’s no coincidence that these teachings set the stage for Jesus’ prayer that God’s will be done. Our prayers for rescue bear the seeds of self-interest. They say, “take care of me.” Those are the seeds that need to die. The seeds that presume to know what’s best. The seeds that pretend to be God. The seeds that can barely see what’s really happening today, to say nothing of what’s coming tomorrow. If you really do love your life, you will be willing to lose it, to drop the prayer for immediate rescue, you will be willing to be humble and admit that God knows you better than you do. If you really wish to claim the fruitfulness of the life of the resurrection, you will take up your cross. There is no way around this truth.
So, back to where we started. There’s no harm in praying “hosanna.” Nothing wrong with praying “save me.” “Hosanna” says, “God, take care of me, because I know you can.” But there’s a prayer that needs praying first. Before “rescue me,” “thy will be done.”
And what does that prayer say? It says, “God, be God, because I know you’re good. You are love; demonstrate your love to my troubled soul.” It says, “God, do what you know is best.” “Glorify thy name” says, “God, you were there for me yesterday; you are here for me today; I trust you to walk with me tomorrow.” It says “Your will is better than my will.” “God, be yourself, do your thing; I trust that your will is for my good.”
Next week we will sing and say and pray “hosanna.” This week, let’s get our footing under us, so that we can be ready for the events of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. This week, we pray, “glorify thy name.” “Thy will be done, whatever that will is, wherever it leads, and whenever you deem it best. Thy will be done, in my little corner of the earth as it is in heaven.”
Hurry and Take Time To Be Holy
2009-03-26 by David Howell
After a lengthy sermon and noting that it was past the noon hour, I announced that we should sing the first and last verses of "Take Time To Be Holy".
A (Not So) Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Pulpit
2009-03-26 by Paul Janssen
This blogger is soliciting stories, advice, etc. re: a situation that arose with this week's sermon.
As I developed thoughts about this week's text, I began leaning toward the necessity to pray for God to be God rather than for God to "save me." (I don't imagine Jesus was talking about being saved in the way we talk about being saved. He must have been thinking about rescue)
I don't usually exercise tight coordination with my music director. I figure that people come with a variety of needs, and if where they're aching isn't where I'm rubbing, they're going to walk out with no relief. So a bit of broad spectrum usually suits. Besides, my music director's insights are generally spot-on when it comes to choosing anthems. Only one other time, when I was preaching on "Faith without works is dead" did we have a real clinker -- he chose a solo entitled "Faith, Only Faith."
This week, as I prepare to say that there's a prayer we ought to pray prior to "rescue me," the music director picked an anthem that repeats "save us", over and over again. He has graciously (if not happily) agreed to change the anthem to a tried and true one that fits better.
Have you hit this situation before? Any stories to tell?
Our Guest Blogger and Glorification vs. Salvation
2009-03-25 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Paul for his extensive blog entries. He provides a helpful list of sermonic images and themes from the gospel, as well as stimulating, even a bit unsettling (in a good way), thoughts about one putting aside one's salvation for the sake of glorifying God. Such is the case with Jesus in John; he does not ask the Father to save him from this hour but for that which glorifies God.
I recall that simple but complex petition from the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done."
On another note, I won't be giving a traditional sermon this Sunday. Instead, I will do a two-part monologue in wihch I will pretend to be Peter. I will recall my experiences with Jesus; then, on Passion Sunday, I will focus on Christ's suffering. My hope is that this monologue will help people to hear anew the Passion.
Nevertheless, I savor our guest blogger's thoughts and invite others to contribute, for I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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