Perhaps some of you are familiar with this little prayer by John T. Baker that periodically makes the rounds on the interned:
I’m proud to say, so far today, I’ve got along all right;
I have not gossiped, whined or bragged, or had a single fight.
I haven’t lost my temper once, nor criticized my mate,
I have not lied, not cried, nor loudly cursed my fate!
So far today I’ve not one time been grumpy nor morose,
I’ve not been spiteful, cold nor vain, self-centered nor verbose.
But Lord, I’m going to need Your help throughout the hours ahead,
so give me strength, Dear Lord, for now I’m getting out of bed.
How easy it is to have good intentions as we wake to each new day. Intentions to live as the writer to the letter of Ephesians puts it “not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of the time.” Then come the words from this lesson that make me pause: “So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” How are we to understand the will of the Lord? And what does that mean for the way we live our life once our feet hit the floor each morning? What does it mean to live with wisdom and make the most of our time? Does God have a plan for our life that we must somehow discern and follow?
A few years ago now, Martin Smith SSJE wrote this about his understanding of God’s will:
“A lot of conventional religious talk about obeying ‘God’s will’ implies what I sometimes call the ‘filing cabinet theory’. It is as if God had already fixed a vast master plan for the future- an interlocking series of decisions about how we are all to act, within which each of us has a file of instructions…
Prayer and the work of discernment is then represented virtually as the means of downloading our instructions or getting a glimpse of the next page of our orders from our file.
The very phrase ‘the will of God’ is so smothered by associating with these notions of a vast master plan and sets of instructions that it is important to shake them off. I want another word of phrase, apart from ‘the will of God’ to suggest the wanting-to-be of God in our lives.
It would be good to have such a word and perhaps the nearest would be God’s desiring. God’s desiring. God’s Eros is at the heart of classic Christian spirituality of the early church. God’s desire is not to control us but to indwell us, arouse us and welcome us into a dynamic relationship and action which is co-creative and not merely passive…
Why should we think that God has always done all the choosing and deciding in advance of us, when God’s actual desire may rather be to awaken within us wisdom, initiative, imagination and risk, and to draw us into a relationship of dynamic cooperation – synergy – not unthinking military obedience? God ‘commands’ us, but that command may be less a matter of giving orders and more one of rousing us to the challenge of using our talents and being creative.”
(Martin Smith, SSJE, in Episcopal Life, February 2000)
Could that possible be true in your life and in mine? Can we understand God’s will for us not as something that is already determined, but rather as an invitation to create our lives in partnership with God? If so, then we begin to understand that the wisdom we need to live in that co-creative way with God is not something we can manufacture and possess. It is not something we can use to figure out all the right answers to life’s questions. Rather the wisdom needed for this journey with God is free gift. Our first lesson today from the book of Proverbs points to this. There we read:
Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
This seems to say that true wisdom is not something that can be downloaded.
Rather, true wisdom longs to feed us a the table of her bounty, like a parent providing for beloved children, And if we turn in and take nourishment at that table, we will meet there the One who is the very bread of that board- our true and living bread – Christ Jesus. And there he will feed us on his very self and surprise us once again with the depth of his love and self -giving. There he reminds us time and again that sharing his feast is our way to share in the eternal life of the realm of God – not just in the age to come but here and now also. Paradoxical wisdom that seems like foolishness to many – wisdom that if we are honest can sometimes seem like foolishness to us. Yet, all the wisdom we need for our journey with God.
Which is a journey of living that has nothing to do with getting a high grade on some sort of moral litmus test. A journey of living that has no prepackaged outcome. A journey rather that each day requires us to make responsible choices to the best of our abilities and with God’s help. A journey that teaches us to live gracefully with our limitations and those of others. A journey that takes us into the heart of an imperfect and broken world and provides us with all we need to thrive there and share God’s abundance with others. A journey on which we will be set at tasks that will demand our best efforts – sometimes leading us to accomplishments and will satisfy and delight us and at other times leading us through disappointments and failures that will lead us to acknowledge our depended on God alone. An unpredictable journey that can only be lived one day at a time.
But how does this vision of God’s will- not as master plan but as journey in which we co-create with God – how can this vision fit with our traditional view that God knows all and sees all? How does this fit with the conventional view that God knows about everything even before it happens? The best sense I can make of it is that those notions are time bound notions. They are the way we see things form the human dimension, stranded in time as we are, living only in the here and now. God on the other hand is not time bound. In the traditional language of the church, God is the alpha and the omega – alpha being the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and omega being the last. So, God is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. God is the page on which all time is written, so God is already present at all points in time, even though we humans are only present one moment at a time. So, this idea that God already knows what will happen even before it does makes sense, but does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that God makes everything happen the way it does.
So often at times of tragedy, in the midst of confusion and in the face of events that grieve our hearts, for which we can find no explanation, we utter the words, “This must be God’s will”. I have said it myself. But now as I stand back from those times, I wonder what I really meant. For what I believe is that God never intentionally grieves our hearts. And I do not believe that God causes tragedy to punish or to teach a lesson, What I know is that there is evil in the world and hat human beings have free will, and that there will always be both good and bad things that happen that we cannot explain. Yet what I believe most deeply is that no matter what happens, God is with us, joining us in our tears and in our laughter, longing for us to seek a divine partnership of wills. Challenging us to take up the cause of love in this world. God help me to remember these deep down convictions each morning as my feet hit the floor!
Well this sermon has been far from a conclusive dissertation on the will of God or the desire of God, or of our journey to and with God in Christ, but may these thoughts spark further thoughts in your minds and hearts. I want to end now with a prayer that speaks to these matters in a profound way. It comes from the spiritual giant Thomas Merton. Merton prayed this:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I belief that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may see to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
(From Thoughts in Solitude, p. 103)
In the name of Christ Jesus, our bread for the journey. Amen+