March 24, 2024

Luke 19:29-40
Luke 22:39-46
Luke 23:44-49

“Your Will Be Done”

For those joining us in worship today from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Grenfell, and for others who may not have been with us for worship through the Season of Lent, I want to begin by mentioning that our worship themes during Lent have been guided by a devotional study written by the Rev. Konnie Vissers called “Practicing Jesus’ Seven Last Words.”

Each service has focused on one of the phrases spoken by Jesus from the cross, according to the various Gospel accounts of the passion story. Along the way, we’ve reflected on forgiveness, heaven, the bonds of family and community, suffering, need, and fulfillment. If you’re interested, you could feel free to watch any of the YouTube videos of our worship to explore those themes yourself.

But today’s theme, inspired by Jesus’ last words according to the Gospel of Luke, is “surrender.” And that’s a difficult word.

I mean, the study suggests that “surrender” is something that Jesus chose to do at the end of his life, and it invites us to consider what we may be called to “surrender” as well.

But when I think about “surrender” I think of an embattled army waving a white flag, giving up their fight, and surrendering to their enemy. I think of being in an argument with someone about something important to me, but out of frustration or exhaustion, deciding sadly to give in. I think of working hard and long to accomplish a goal, but realizing that I won’t be able to do it and giving up.

“Surrender” doesn’t feel good to me at all. It feels like failure. It feels like a whole bunch of wasted time, effort, and resources, with nothing to show for it.

I wonder if that’s how many of Jesus’ first disciples felt about what was happening to him during the final days of his ministry in the world. Jesus had worked so hard to spread the good news about God. He had taught and healed and called people to follow his Way in the world. But it was all soon going to be over.

Remember the disciples on the Road to Emmaus after Jesus’ death? They said, “We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel…” but they assumed that he had failed. He had surrendered – not even fighting against his arrest, not even speaking up for himself at his trial. And he was killed, and it was over.

I expect that many of the people observing the end of Jesus’ life in the world might have described what they saw as a man with a mission surrendering to the power and will of the religious and secular authorities who felt threatened by his message. But our Lenten Study proposes a different understanding of surrender.

Jesus is not surrendering to the people who wanted to put him to death, or to the powers of evil in the world. Jesus is surrendering to God, and to God’s will and God’s plan for his mission in the world. Jesus’ surrender is not a giving up, or a giving in, or a failure to accomplish his mission.

Jesus’ surrender is a decision to go forward through the difficult journey that lay ahead of him. It was a decision to accept the pain, suffering, and trauma of his life ending so that God could demonstrate his ultimate power over hatred, violence, evil, and even death itself… So that the good news of God’s love, grace, and power would go out to everyone, and draw us all back into God’s loving embrace.

It was the final words that Jesus spoke from the cross that inspired Rev. Konnie to choose the word “surrender” for today’s theme. After three hours of darkness, and Jesus hanging there in pain and anguish, he finally cries out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And having said this, he breathes his last.

I don’t know what Jesus was thinking about during those three hours. Had he fully accepted his coming death, or was he still struggling to breathe and to hang on a little longer? But in that moment, he surrenders to death. And his words indicate that he does so with a sense of trust in God. He doesn’t say, “I give up! I just can’t endure this pain any longer!” But he says, “Into your hands, O God, I commend my spirit,” with an amazing sense of hope and trust that God’s got him.

In our study groups this week, we decided to go back and read some of the earlier parts of the passion story from Luke’s Gospel. And when we did so, we noticed that Jesus’ surrender to God’s plan did not just happen in a single moment before he died, but it had been a long process with many decisions along the way.

When Jesus chose to parade into Jerusalem riding on a young donkey, he was surrendering to God’s plan. If he wanted to avoid getting arrested and killed by the authorities, that would have been a good time to decide to leave and go somewhere else.

Later, when Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, he surrendered once again to the only way that he would be able to complete his mission in the world. And in that prayer, we can hear and feel how difficult it was for him to accept what was going to happen. Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

We hear that Jesus was in anguish, sweating, and in distress. An angel is needed to appear from heaven and give him strength. The thing is that Jesus knows what he needs to do. He knows what is required of him, but he also knows how awful and difficult it will be. And again, he surrenders to God’s plan, saying, “not my will but yours be done.”

One of our study group members pointed out that Jesus taught us to pray something similar, and we pray it in the Lord’s Prayer every week in our worship: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Now, most of us would probably say that we often don’t know what God’s will is for us. Whether we are trying to make decisions as congregations, as families, or as individuals, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get a very firm answer from God about what to do in each situation?

But I think that very often we DO know what God wants us to do. The problem is less often that we don’t know God’s will, and more often that we know, but we don’t want to do it. Because it’s hard.

God wants us to love and serve one another. God wants us to forgive one another and make peace with our enemies. God wants us to give of ourselves for the well-being of those who are vulnerable or in need. God wants us to share our faith in humility and care. God wants us to follow the Way of Jesus, giving our lives for his ongoing mission in the world.

God does not want us to surrender to the powers of evil, selfishness, vanity, and greed. But God does want us to surrender to God’s good will and purposes for us, encouraged by the hope and trust that we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.

I wonder if God has a plan for your life that you are avoiding right now. It could be something big and life-changing like a call to ministry, or marriage, or another vocation that will use your God-given gifts for the good of the world. Or it could be something smaller, but difficult… A confession you need to make, a relationship you need to reconcile, a project you need to embrace, a change in priorities you need to commit to.

If so, I invite you to pray about it, as Jesus did, and to place your trust in God who will strengthen you to accomplish more than you can imagine.

At the same time, we know that God has plans for us as congregations and ministries of the church as well. Both in Grenfell and here in Regina, we’re thinking about the future of our ministries, our buildings, our programs, the people who are active members of our churches, and our neighbours in the communities where we live and serve.

I wish I knew exactly what God wants us to do in each of our contexts. But I do believe that God has good plans for us. As we pray, and listen, and look for the path forward in these days, let’s trust that God’s plans will be revealed to us, and that God can give us the strength and courage to surrender to those plans. Let’s commit our lives, ministries, and futures into God’s faithful and steady hands.

May God’s will be done on earth.