Your Will Be Done, on Earth as in Heaven
May the hunger of our souls
and the sacrament of the Word meet
and lead us ever more deeply into the heart of God.
It didn't begin at night in the garden. We are familiar with the events of that night. We remember that he took his disciples into the garden and told them to wait and watch while he went to pray. In a night lit only by a desert moon he asked that the cup would pass from him. We can identify with his deep desire to be freed from doing God's will especially since, in his case, it meant the giving up of his life.
We feel the poignancy of his humanity at that moment as he struggled to determine if obedience, even unto death, was really what God wanted of him. We see the struggle's end when the words escape his lips, "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done." "Yes, yes," we've been taught to believe, "that is the epitome, the full example of what it means to do God's will. Surely that is the most intense witness of the phrase, 'your will be done on earth as in heaven.'"
Perhaps. But that witness did not begin at night in the garden nor was it made real only under the twinkling stars as Jesus waited to be handed over to death. It occurred throughout his life as he freely learned to surrender his will to the will of the Father, as he prayed and waited on the presence of God, as he lived out the reality of perfect love.
To understand the phrase "your will be done on earth as in heaven," we have to answer a prior question. What is the will of God in heaven? I don't know about you, but when I think of doing God's will, I think it might very well mean doing something I don't want to do. I can remember being in seminary, stopping my car at a red light, and looking at the people in the car next to me. I would say, "God why can't you choose them instead of me? They look like fine specimens, perfectly suitable to be the 'servants' of your will!"
That would mean, of course, that I would be free to hold on to my own life and do whatever I wanted to do. When we think of God's will being done on earth as in heaven we wonder if it will be so onerous and overwhelming that it will mean we will have nothing but a miserable life. After all, think what happened to those in Scripture who did God's will.
Abraham called to leave his home,
The prophets left to die.
Jonah was swallowed by a whale,
Peter was crucified.
We can easily understand St. Teresa of Avila's famous phrase, "God, if that's how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few!" Can God really be trusted to act in our best interest? Or will we find ourselves completely helpless and out of control of our own lives?
In reality God does not impose a burdensome 'will' upon us. God's will in heaven is nothing other than an invitation into an embrace of love. Joy in the form of love, healing in the form of love, faith in the form of love. God's will in heaven is love. God's will on earth is Love. Love is God's very nature. Scripture tells us there is no higher gift than love. God took on human flesh for love. God restores all of creation in love.
And the miracle that occurs is that we, ourselves, can become like God, we can become love. Not through arduous effort and strenuous suffering, but simply by opening ourselves to God's will of love every hour—in every encounter—in every circumstance in which we find ourselves. Not just talk, not just theory, not just sentimentality. Becoming—actually becoming—love. And every time we become love, God's will is being done through us on earth as in heaven. If you fall asleep through the rest of the sermon, I want you to get this line! Every time we become love, God's will is done on earth as in heaven. Every time we choose love, God's will is being done on earth as in heaven.
What we find when we begin to drop into the abyss of God's will is that the longing of our souls—that lies often unarticulated and unnoticed within—that longing is filled by love. In my own case, I may have wanted to escape God's will in order to do whatever I wanted with my life, but had I not become a priest I would have continued to be at odds within myself. The inner conflict would have continued to rage simply because I wanted to retain control over my own life. Letting go of that control brought the will of God and the longing of my soul into union and peace became possible. I found the wonder of the paradox:
The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod.
Yet let us pray for but one thing,
The marvelous peace of God.
—William Alexander Percy, from The Hymnal 1982.
©1985 by the Church Pension Fund
Our days can be so filled with demands and expectations that we sometimes feel that we would be truly happy if everyone would just leave us alone. If the work that our boss wanted by tomorrow could be given to someone else, if our mother or father-in-law would not call and complain, if we weren't expected to show up for the meeting on Tuesday night, if we didn't have to undergo surgery, if…if…if…
Yet, it is all of life that is the context for becoming love. The loving response is available and abundant every hour, indeed every moment. It's all around us. It's in us. It's in that project at work, it's in our complaining in-law, it's in the meeting, it's in our sickness—just as much as it's in the sun peeking through the cloud on a winter day, or in the feeling of creative accomplishment, or in seeing our child take their first step. It's now. It's here. It's there. It's then. Every moment—every hour is the most decisive, the most important because it is in that moment that God's love is made real and God's will made known through us.
There is a story of a disciple who went to see a holy rabbi. They asked him, "In the Talmud we read that our Father Abraham kept all the laws. How could this be, since the laws had not yet been given to him?" "All that is needful," said the rabbi, "is to love God. If you are about to do something and you think it might lessen your love, then you will know it is sin. If you are about to do something and think it will increase your love, you will know that your will is in keeping with the will of God. That is what Abraham did." (Tales of the Hasidim)
When I was 9 years old, I experienced this kind of love that was God's will being done on earth as in heaven. I had gone with my mother to Phoenix because of a health problem. We were staying in a downtown hotel near the necessary medical staff. I became acquainted with a young 7 year old Hispanic boy. He was dressed in tattered clothes, his shoes were too big for his feet, and he obviously came from an impoverished family. He came up to me and wanted to know if I knew anyone who needed their shoes shined. I spent some time talking to him and found that he walked around gaining customers all day long, and then he took the money home to his family at the end of the day.
I, at 9 years old, felt very sorry for him. But he didn't seem angry, sad or resentful. I saw him the next day, and the next, and the next. In fact, for the ten days I was there, I saw him asking people if he could shine their shoes. And every day we would talk some. On the evening of my last day there, the little boy showed up again and handed me a box. He was very excited and said that he wanted to give me a present and so he had taken all the money he had earned that day and had gone to a store to get me a gift. I can still see his face beaming, and he could hardly contain himself until I opened the box.
Inside was a little sterling silver roadrunner pin with a red garnet eye. It was absolutely precious. I was only 9 years old, and could not have articulated all that had occurred there. But I kept that pin. I treasured that pin. I had learned that the poor often find it the easiest to give. I had learned that a full day's work and its subsequent pay could be joyfully given away. But, most importantly, I had learned that the will of God in heaven is done on earth when we choose the response that increases rather than lessens our love.
Think of your responses to the previous examples I spoke of. In that project your boss wants finished by tomorrow, can you find the response that will increase your love rather than lessen it? When your complaining mother-in-law calls yet again can you find the response that will increase your love rather than lessen it? If you find out you have a serious health problem, can you find the response that will increase your love rather than lessen it?
And consider other examples—when you deal with those who are different from you, can you find the response that will increase your love rather than lessen it? When you are hurt or betrayed by someone you care about can you find the response that will increase your love rather than lessen it? When you lose money in the stock market can you find the response that will increase your love rather than lessen it? The prayer, "your will be done on earth as in heaven," may be fulfilled in one moment in a garden at night under a desert moon, but only if we have been attending to the practice of God's will in us, and through us in the odd bits and pieces that life offers us every hour of every day.
Consider what it would mean in our lives and in our world if earth were as brilliant with divine love as heaven is. The reality is that when the deepest longing of our soul and the will of God meet that is exactly what happens. It is, in fact, what we are made for. And the great truth is that when that deepest longing of our soul is met, we know interior peace. This may come as a surprise, but it's not really the self-help section at the Barnes and Noble bookstores that can set us free and fill us with peace. It is being at-one with God. It is being aligned with God's will. It is letting go in order to love.
Sometimes that happens quickly, but most often it occurs over time like water wending its way down a river, slowly shaping the stones underneath with fresh silhouettes. When we are aware of every hour of our life being the hour of God's will concerning us—when we see those hours as the decisive, most important, hours of our life, we become like the waiting riverstone. God's presence and love cascades over our soul, until its silhouette becomes a sanctuary of perfect love.
No, it didn't begin in a garden at night under a desert moon. But it was fulfilled there. The breath of heaven had whispered over creation and the will of heaven was done on earth. God's love had claimed the creation and God's love has claimed our hearts. "Your will be done on earth as in heaven"—that is the call that echoes within us, and when we respond to it our souls are set free from every constraint, and we bring heaven to earth and we, ourselves—yes, we ourselves are given the marvelous peace of God. Amen.
Copyright ©2002 Reneé Miller. This series was first presented at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN.