Following God’s Will
Based on 1 Sam 8:4-20, 2 Cor 4:13 – 5:1, Mark 3:20-35
In the mid-1950’s a television show came on called, “Father Knows Best”. In it a stylized white, middle class, nuclear family of father, mother, and three children made their way through life’s ups and downs. Whenever there was a problem dealing with life dilemmas of the teen aged years, dating, college plans, boyhood antics, whatever, father Jim Anderson and his wife Margaret would have the answer. There was never any yelling or general ugliness (even from the teens), no swearing, no use of recreational substances – this was the depiction of what America could be at her best during the Truman and Eisenhower eras. Once that show ended in 1960 – we had another “knowing” father take over in Andy Griffith, small town sheriff in Mayberry, North Carolina. While Andy was a widower, his son Opie and Aunt Bee, provided the same wholesome look at life – this time in the rural south – without a depiction of Jim Crow laws and segregation.
My experience growing up, as I am sure most of yours, was not so idyllic. Life in the 60’s and 70’s was punctuated by the Viet Nam war and an unpopular draft – with nightly T.V. coverage, riots, a loosening of moral codes, Cold War show downs, Space race, assassinations, break-ins, impeachment proceedings, gasoline shortages, rise of drug and alcohol related deaths – especially among rock and roll musicians (including the King himself). Things were out of control and we had gone from the predictable family portrayals of Jim and Andy to Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford. In fact, for much of those twenty years it seemed that not only did fathers not know best – but that nobody in a position of power really had a handle on much of anything.
It was during this time in the Church that attendance numbers peaked and then began their slow decline to where we find ourselves today. With all the changes in society and in people’s daily lives, the Church lost its voice in promoting a “Father” who always does know best. Let us turn to that heavenly parent now in prayer before we proceed…
It appears that the prophet/judge Samuel has not done any better as a father raising his children than his predecessor Eli. The people know of Samuel’s sons’ transgressions and are not willing to follow their leadership when Samuel dies. They come to the prophet to demand that he choose a king to rule over them. Samuel is abhorred that the people would choose to have a monarch rule them instead of the rule of Adonai. Samuel talks with God who is angered because the chosen people want a human king over a heavenly one they have been denying since soon after the Exodus. Yet, God tells Samuel to be straight with the people and let them know how it was that human kings conduct their business. Samuel lays it all out for the people and tells them truly what will happen to them should they decide to be ruled by a human king. They will not be swayed however, and they compel Samuel to choose a king for them “to go before them and fight their battles”. Totally forgetting what Elohim had already done for them in delivering the “Promised Land” – they choose to follow their own will not God’s.
Jesus has a different take on familial life. He has just chosen his twelve disciples to live with him; and he has given them the power to cast out demons and to spread the gospel. Jesus’ human family hears gossip that he is mentally ill and so they come to try to restrain him. Jesus once again attempts to clear up the understanding of the Jerusalem scribes by showing them that their idea of someone possessed by Satan overthrowing Satan could never happen. The family reaches him and calls to him. Those around Jesus let him know that mother, brothers and sisters are outside. Yet, Jesus has chosen to define family in a new and expansive way. He says that, “…Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother….” He has surrounded himself with a new family who is loyal to a heavenly parent and who will be learning how to follow that Father’s will – including all those who will be converted in the future.
The Apostle Paul is continuing his second letter to the people in Corinth, as we pick up our scripture today. Once we have faith in Jesus, the One God will raise us like Jesus was raised so that we might all be in the very presence of God. Paul notes that while our human bodies age and decay, that our immortal selves (i.e., inner nature) is being renewed daily. Thus, no matter what happens to us in this life, we have a place to go that is “eternal in the heavens”. This place has been prepared for all believers by the One whom Jesus called Father. All of us who have been adopted into the body of Jesus now have another family to which we belong – like the Disciples of Jesus, we are one through the Holy Spirit’s action in our baptisms.
Jesus defined family as anyone who does the will of God. That brings up the issue, of course, of what is the will of God and am I following it? Leslie Weatherhead, a preacher back in the middle of the last century in England, wrote a series of 5 sermons on that topic. These were collected in a book published in 1944 titled, “The Will of God”. In this small book, some 48 pages, Rev. Weatherhead discusses the will of God and how to discern if one is following it. First off, he notes that to his mind there are really three different aspects of the will of God. These are (1) the intentional will of God, (2) the circumstantial will of God, and (3) the ultimate will of God. The scriptural basis for his reflection comes from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 18, verse 14 which states that the will of God is that none of God’s sheep should ever be lost.
Thus, the intentional will of God is that all of creation would follow God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven” as the Lord’s Prayer so aptly puts it. God wants nothing bad to happen to us, yet sometimes these things do happen. It is not God’s will that cancer or dementia or floods or trauma or death occur to us or those we love. No, those are just the things that can happen because we are made the way we are – or because of the things that humans have done to the world (i.e., built on a flood plain because there was no where else to build due to human sin, or smoking cigarettes which leads often to lung cancer). Because of free will and human sin, there are circumstances that can occur that get in the way of the intentional will of God; thus we need to consider the circumstantial will of God.
Think of God’s circumstantial will in this way…the intentional will of God was that all of creation would follow Jesus. Due to evil and sin, Jesus was falsely accused and crucified. The circumstances around following Jesus changed, and God’s will needed to adjust so that Jesus accepted his fate (not my will but thine) and the Cross became the symbol of ultimate freedom and the redemption of humankind; rather than terrorism and subjugation. God’s creative will continue to work to meet God’s intentional will which leads to God’s ultimate will.
What is the ultimate will of God? It is that all of creation should be returned to right relationship with God through Jesus. For this we know from scripture to be the case as in the end, God’s ultimate will and great love win out over evil and sin.
We belong to the family of God when we follow God’s intentional will for us that we do the work of his Son here on earth. When we are following this will of God, there we find peace in the storm, energy for change, lightness of being and a love of ourselves and the rest of creation that is not known at any other time. Each generation has found out that their earthly fathers did not always know what was best for them. Each generation of fathers tried their best to get the necessary information and decision-making tools to their progeny. Yet, because of sin and evil and human fallibility, humans often did not know best. Our heavenly Father’s will for us is perfect, however. When we spend time in discernment on what it is that God wants for each of us – God’s intentional will, then we will find the true direction in our lives; both individually and institutionally. Following God’s intentional will, no matter what the circumstances will lead us to God’s ultimate will…the redemption of all creation. Amen!