“Thy will be done.” These words are probably as familiar to us as our own names. For most of us, we began reciting these four simple words almost as soon as we learned to talk. The problem with familiarity however, is that over time, as the words roll off our tongues by rote, we lose sight of what they really mean.
“Thy will be done,” speaks to our own need to surrender our will, to surrender our desires to the will of God. This is a hard concept to grasp, because we are hard wired to do just the opposite. Our American culture celebrates the independent spirit. We are the product of the nineteenth century doctrine of Manifest Destiny, a philosophy that powered the expansion of America “from sea to shining sea.” We believe we can accomplish just about anything if we set a virtuous goal, and, in unwavering determination, work hard to reach that goal. In the language of current motivational speakers, we simply need “grit” to see us through.
While being strong willed and fiercely independent are traits which may serve us well in this world, they do not serve us well with God. In this morning’s reading from Philippians, St. Paul tells the Philippians, ”Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” As I read these words from Paul, in the back of my mind I hear the sports coach reminding his players “There is no I in team.” This is not far from what Paul is trying to convey to his readers. He is telling us there is no I in God. Later in his Letter, Paul reaffirms this when he writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”
In essence, Paul calls us to live our lives as imitators of Christ, as if we like Christ share one mind with God. Although the church teaches Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, I believe what made Jesus fully divine was his choice to sublimate his will to that of God’s. Despite having the free will to choose between total obedience to God’s will or satisfying his own will, Jesus chose the path congruent with “Thy will be done.” He accomplished this despite his own internal struggle even when it brought him to death itself. This was not the easy path to take. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, Matthew gives us glimpse into Jesus’ struggle when he records Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.”
This is what we mean when we pray, ”thy will be done.” It is as if we are willing to join Jesus in the garden and fully offer ourselves, our souls and bodies to God’s will.
What is asked of us is the impossible. To live in full obedience to God requires us to be fully perfect as Jesus was. Luckily, Paul gives us an out. He does not call us to BE Christ, but to IMITATE the love of Christ. He asks us to let go of our selfish desires; to leave behind our pride; to approach everyone we meet as somehow better than we are; to realize that all that we have been given comes from God’s grace.
It takes a lifetime to become a good imitator of Christ. This is the process of what Lamartine Luther calls sanctification. Often, the only way to get there is to literally, “fake it, until we make it.” For it is only through trial and error, by pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone with God, that we find greater trust in God. As our trust in God deepens, we are better able to surrender more of our will to God and to serve as better imitators of Christ to the world.
While no individual has been able to live in full surrender to God. Throughout history we have seen glimpses of individuals whose lives have come close to full surrender. These are the Saints of God. Saint Paul, by surrendering himself to God, finds peace in his jail cell as he awaits his execution. To Timothy he writes, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
This morning we celebrate another such Saint, Francis of Assisi. We pay homage to this lover of nature and animals when we bring our pets to be blessed by the church each year. But this ritual of remembrance does not give St. Francis his full due. He did so much more than love nature. He willingly gave up his life and his family to answer God’s call to restore the church of his day by living humbly, and by preaching the Word of God. He showed the way to Holy surrender came through actions and not words. He lived a life of Holy Surrender by being the love of Christ to all he encountered. Like St Paul, and all the Saints he too, lived in the spirit of “Thy will be done.” May we choose to celebrate St Francis’ life and the example of all the saints by living as best we can into the words Christ taught, “thy will be done.”