Let me begin with a Dr. King quote (shorn, of course, of its context): “Human progress never rolls in the on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of people willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally in the forces of social stagnation.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”)
Several years ago, I was a part of a healing service, that was with a group that included a bunch of veterans who had been through war, and some civilians too, who knew what it’s like when your home becomes a warzone. This was a service of prayers for the healing of wounds, soul wounds, due to war. It was quite a powerful experience – it went deep and the Spirit was clearly at work – and it was important for a lot of people there. Now, in this service there was a time for prayer that ended up being a deep time, where people were praying freely out loud, and holding each other’s prayers in these long moments of silence.
And I remember someone just crying out to God: “God, why do you keep letting this happen? Why do you keep letting humans wage war on each other? It’s so horrific. Generation after generation – horror. It’s against your will for us. We know you don’t want your children to keep doing this to each other, and to ourselves. Why do you keep letting it happen? Why?” I remember feeling the heart-break and the outrage that this person was crying out from. I certainly feel that myself. And I remember also being impressed by the strength of this person’s faith to be praying like this – to be so honest and raw before God is a great act of faith.
But I also remember as I was praying, and holding all this, hearing within myself what felt like a very clear answer: “That’s not how God works in human affairs. We have freedom, God help us. God can make wars cease and justice roll down only when enough of us are still and know that God is God. We are given a choice, every moment – everyone is. The choice is ours – whether to align our wills with God’s will or to obey the forces that deny God and deny our own humanity.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This must be our daily prayer. In little ways and in big ways we have responsibility to be aligned with the holy way, as imperfect and humble as we always will be.
“Human progress,” Dr. King preached, “never rolls in the on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of people willing to be coworkers with God…”
Almighty God usually doesn’t just act out of the blue to intervene in human history – the Bible is full of stories about God’s activity in history comes through people saying “yes” to being co-workers with the Almighty, the Holy One, our God. When people say “Yes, thy will be done” – God will provide, the blessings will come, even as there is sure to be struggle that requires strong commitment… Because there are plenty of people not saying “Yes” to God’s call, and too many people actively saying “No” and fighting against it. The consequences of this on the whole are catastrophe, especially for those whom the prophets of God are always most concerned about, those who are at the mercy of the powerful and mighty.
But even if we’re reaping the whirlwind of catastrophe, whether it’s of our own making or not, whether it’s on a small personal scale or whether it’s large, the testimonies of our faith are clear: God is always faithfully offering that call to us, that invitation to be fellow-workers with the Will of our Creator.
That is why Jesus taught his disciples to make it their regular prayer: “They kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The testimonies of our faith – the testimonies of the Hebrew prophets and testimonies about Jesus and the Apostles – they are all about the struggle and the blessing of choosing to align our human will with divine will …
Look at our first reading, from Exodus: God heard the cry of the Hebrew people. The Hebrew people, suffering and enslaved at the hands of the great and mighty Egyptian, cried out to God, And God’s will was that those lowly and suffering people would be liberated. But God hearing and God heeding the cry for liberation would not have had effect on history unless Moses had heard and had heeded the voice of God upon that holy mountain. Moses had to choose to surrender his will to the divine will. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Moses was reluctant. He was humble. (False prophets are not reluctant nor humble.) Moses didn’t want to say “Yes” to being God’s agent of liberation. But God told him, “Do my will and I will be with you.” “Do my will and I will be with you. Just keep returning to this holy mountain, returning to this holy message, and I will be with you.”
Now, these are all big dramatic examples: war, slavery, injustice. But the truth is that each of us and all of us together are called to do our part of the work, however small or big that part may be, wherever we are in our lives and situations. Humble and imperfect as we are.
We can each reflect and reflect together about the ways we have said “Yes, God, I will be your fellow worker.” And what experience has been like – the blessings and the struggle and the goodness of it. And we can reflect on the ways that we have yet to wake up and have the courage to say “Yes,” trusting that when we do say “Thy will be done,” God will be with us.
For that I give thanks to God.
Exodus 3:4-7,10-12 God called to Moses out of the burning bush, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” God said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Holy One Beyond Name said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings … So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
Jeremiah 5:26-28 For among my people there are wicked men, … their houses are full of fraud, as a cage is full of birds. They grow rich and grand, bloated and rancorous. Their thoughts are all of evil, and they refuse to do justice, the claims of the orphan they do not but right nor do they grant justice to the poor.”
Isaiah 1:16-17 Put away the evil of your deeds – away out of my sight. Cease to do evil and learn to do right. Pursue justice and champion the oppressed. Give the orphan his rights, plead the widow’s cause….
Isaiah 33:22 For the Holy One our judge, the Holy One our law-giver, the Holy One is our sovereign who will save us.
Micah 6:8 God has told you what is good. And what is it the Holy One asks of you, but to act justly, to love loyally, to walk wisely before your God.”
Luke 11:1-3 “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, like John taught his disciples.’ Jesus said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Abba in heaven, hallowed be your name. They kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is on heaven …’”