June 14, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Isaiah 58: 9 – 14 & Romans 12: 1 – 8
It was one of those attention-grabbing headlines that make us stop and read the article. The headline read: “Plane With A Mind Of Its Own Crashes.” The story that followed was not only very funny, but illustrated a great truth. Here is the story:
Paul Sirks owned a Vintage single-engine plane, a 1946 Aeronca Champ. He had landed the plane at Grimes Field Airport in Urbana, Ohio, because of mechanical problems. The plane’s engine had stalled on the runway and Sirks got out to restart it by hand-turning the propeller. That is when the fun began.
Once the engine started, he could only watch helplessly as the plane, on its own, taxied away from him and took off by itself. The plane was also trimmed for landing, which means the nose was trimmed up, so it just started climbing.
For two hours that plane flew itself. It climbed to about two thousand feet, circled the area for about five minutes, and then finally headed Northeast. Another pilot and the State Highway Patrol tracked the plane, which reached about twelve thousand feet near the end of its flight.
It finally crashed ninety miles away from where it took off, and was totally destroyed….no one was hurt. The obvious truth of that story is without a pilot a plane will inevitably crash.
Since I am telling that story in the context of a sermon, it inspires a question “ Who or what pilots our life? Are we in crash and burn mode or is there a divine pilot in charge?”
As you may recall, I invited sermon ideas….put an insert in the bulletin for two weeks running. Only got two responses….and this is one of them!
“ I would love to hear a sermon on “Turning your life over to the will of God.” What have theologians, literary people and philosophers said about this? How do we do it? What does it mean? Most of all…. please give your thoughts on the subject.”
Whew…a challenging request. I should have told you all to bring a pillow and a lunch ! I do enjoy challenges. When I asked Yahoo for answers to What is the Will of God ? , I received a host of answers and had to reject all of them…. or at least question them. Many of them were presented as pat answers…. simplistic…. humanity daring to define God and the influence of the Divine Power in our lives.
Here’s one of them, presented by Jack Wellman, pastor and author:
“ We can see that finding God’s will for our lives is found in the Bible. The will of God are in the words of God – in Scripture.
In order to discover and apply the Will of God, here is a list, not an exhaustive list, but we can sum up some of the ways you can know will of God for your life:
- Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world.
- Be transformed by the renewing of your mind by the Holy Spirit.
- Suffer for doing good.
- Seek a multitude of godly counselors.
- Trust in God’s sovereignty.
- Abstain from sexual immorality.
- Live a holy, sanctified life.
- Being thankful to God for everything.
- Read His Word, the Holy Bible.
This is the will of God for you and for every Christian’s life.
There it is in a nutshell! And in spite of the exclusive language, I think Pastor Jack provides some good advice….offering the Bible as a guide…..which surely is full of stories of those who misunderstood the will of God with violent, greedy, selfish acts….. and stories of those whose lives were transformed, enabling them to enrich and bless the lives of other seekers.
I will elaborate a bit more on Pastor Jack’s list in a few moments.
Much, much, much is attributed to the “will of God”…. natural disasters, death…. God has called him/her home…. promotions, ie God has opened a door for me…..or closed a door. Birth…. God has given us the gift of a child. It appears to be fairly common to attribute what we cannot understand to God…. good or evil. God’s will! Are we as human beings even capable of knowing the will of the Divine? There is a church in Scarborough which has a billboard out in front which says: “ Don’t condone what God condemns.” That could be a whole other sermon topic. What does God condemn?…. assuming we wish to presume we know! I can venture a guess or two.
Many of us struggle to discover the will of God for our life journeys…. a blueprint or road map assuring us that we are on the right path….. or perhaps that we missed a turn! We watch for signs and pray for guidance from a Divine Counselor.
Dr. David Livingston, one of the greatest missionaries in the history of humankind, spent his life on the mission field. Toward the end of his life he said, “I would rather be in the heart of Africa in the will of God, than on the throne of England outside the will of God.”
Huge question: Does God have a specific plan or will for my life? Am I operating within or outside of the will of God?
I have to go back a step or two now, and suggest that the process of discovering the will of God begins, I believe, with our concept of God. Who is the Divine for us? What is the nature of our relationship with this Higher Power?
I turned first to the exhaustive …and exhausting….work of Karen Armstrong, The History of God in which she attempts, quite successfully, I think to discuss the history of humanity’s perception of God, recognizing humanity’s inability to define the divine Deity. She writes:
“Some of the prophets of Israel experienced their God as a physical pain that wrenched their every limb and filled them with both rage and elation….. The God of Jews, Christians and Muslims is a God who ….in some sense….. speaks. God’s Word is crucial in all three faiths. The Word of God has shaped the history of our culture. How much meaning does it have today?” How differently it is interpreted…. and who is right!?
Therefore, for generations before us, believing in a Deity who “speaks” in some way, humanity has attempted to listen and find meaning in the words…. in the will of this mysterious presence. In the Bible, according to the stories, God speaks through visions, dreams, mysterious encounters, healings and miracles. Many today claim to have experienced divine encounters…. mystical experiences which have altered their lives. Can we question the authenticity of these encounters?
Let’s gather some thoughts about the nature of God from a few of the world’s greatest thinkers. I have tried to choose those illustrations which suggest their thoughts about an intervening Deity who designs a life course for us.
Devout Atheist, Sigmund Freud regarded belief in God as Illusions that mature men and women should lay aside. “A personal God was nothing more than an exalted parent figure….usually a father figure…springing from infantile yearnings for a powerful, protective father, for justice and fairness and for life to go on forever.”
As a parent guides the growth and nourishment of its children, so God directs and guides us by creating a plan for our lives….and we find this comforting…..nurturing. Freud could not embrace this thinking.
Psychologist Alfred Adler allowed that God was a human projection but believed that this concept had been helpful to humanity … a brilliant and effective symbol of excellence.; a goal and guide for humans, to inspire right action…. moral behavior.
Paul Tillich, highly acclaimed and influential theologian taught: “ The concept of a “ Personal God” interfering with natural events, or being an independent cause of natural events, makes God an object beside others, an object among others. God is not an object…but is the very Ground of our being. …Source of all there is. A God who kept tinkering with the universe was absurd; a God who interfered with human freedom and creativity was a tyrant.
Theologian Martin Buber, a contemporary of Tillich wrote;
“ Life is an endless dialogue with God, which does not endanger our freedom or creativity, since God never tells us what God is asking of us. We experience God simply as a presence and an imperative and have to work out the meaning for ourselves. According to Buber, God is not a lawgiver!”
Marcus Borg, in what I believe was his last book Convictions, writes about how his relationship with the Divine matured and he was blessed with mystical experiences that confirmed his convictions. He wrote:
“ Mystical experiences change the question of whether God exists. A theology that takes mystical experiences seriously leads to a very different understanding of God. The word no longer refers to a being separate from the universe, but to a reality, a “more”, an Is-ness , a radiant, luminous presence that permeates everything that is.”
In his book The Good Life, the Great Virtues, Peter Gomes writes of his experiences as Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University. He wrote: Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing if these young men and women could realize that the spiritual potential for good is already in them, waiting for the spark of the divine to cause them to burst into flame, and give power and light to a dark and needy world.”
He recalls a sermon he heard the great preacher Philip Brooks preach called “The Candle of the Lord” which he preached to male graduate students at their graduation….looking out at the young men rich in attainments, well educated, well behaved, well trained. He said: “ You are the spirit of humankind, elaborated, cultivated, finished to the very finest, but lacking the least touch of God. So dark in this world is a long row of cultivated men ….to whom there has come no fire of devotion, who stand in awe and reverence before no greater wisdom than their own. You are unlighted candles.”
What I have heard Borg and Gomes and Brooks saying is that created in the image of God….with an indwelling divine spark, we have the necessary resources within us, part of our DNA to be partners with God in the ongoing work of creation. We are already grounded in the divine presence.
The last book I turned to was The Question of God, a debate between two of the world’s greatest thinkers C.S. Lewis, the atheist turned believer and Sigmund Freud, the devout atheist. Sadly, the two men never debated face to face but Dr. Armand Nicholi has presented their views on God, Love, Sex and The Meaning of Life. Great book!
Freud writes: “ How we who have little belief envy those who are convinced of the existence of a Supreme Power…. How comprehensive, exhaustive, and final are the doctrines of the believers compared with the labored, poor, and patchy attempts at explanation which are the best that we can produce.” He notes that believers claim to possess an awareness of how they ought to behave.
“ The Divine Spirit has implanted within the soul of men and women the knowledge of this ideal and at the same time the urge to strive toward it.” Freud says that “ their emotional life is measured by how well they live up to this ideal and how distanced they are from it.”
C.S. Lewis asserts that the primary purpose of our lives —the reason for our existence on this planet – is to establish a relationship with the One who placed us here. Until that relationship is established, all our attempts for happiness will fall short.” He believed in the importance of free will, so that we can freely choose to establish this relationship. Freedom is a critical part of the Divine wisdom.
Now returning for a moment to Pastor Jack’s list, some of which supports what I believe about the will of God.
- Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. …. Words taken from the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans that Jeannine read this morning.
We read here that God’s will is “good”…. and if that is true we should never be afraid of the will of God. …it is always good, as well as pleasing and perfect. God does not “will” acts of violence, death or disaster. It is a result of free will on our part.
What do I believe about the will of God? I believe in the UNIVERSAL WILL OF GOD, THE CREATOR for all of creation….. a universe of love and peace, justice and kindness. ..a universe that is filled with the positive energy of good… and wholesomeness. God’s vision of Shalom….of peace and harmony, I believe is God’s will for each and all of us… human, animal, plant and mineral…earth, sea and sky.
Michelangelo said: “ Every beauty which is seen here below by persons of perception, resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all come….”….and to which we are all connected. Choices on our part… words and actions that are offered in love and peace, I belive are the will of God for us and everyone we encounter.
I do not believe that God has a specific plan for each life….a direct, individualized will that we must discover or fail! However, I do believe in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit…and as the passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans suggests …. we have all been created with gifts to use for the benefit of the whole. I do believe that we are inspired to create music and art, to teach, to preach, to minister, to write, to dance, to lead, to build, to serve …. empowered to bring light into the universe through our insights and specific gifts. I believe that this union of spirits and cooperative effort is part of the Divine Will for all creation….and is supported and nourished by the Holy Spirit.
Back to Jack one more time: Trust in God and be thankful! In order for us to have a sense of the will of God for creation, we have to be in relationship with God’s Spirit. We have to make time for the mystical kind of experience of which Marcus Borg and so many other prophets and mystics have spoken….We have to do as Jesus taught….to seek first the kingdom of God….the presence of God and everything else will fall into place.
Jesus’ intimate relationship with God…. his understanding of God’s will for creation is a wonderful guide for us. Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself. It could not be more clear.
The prophet Micah cuts to the quick and again provides a clear mandate for those of us who want to live according to the will of God: Micah 6:8
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humblywith your God.
And then, my favorite from the book of Isaiah:
It’s speaks to the availability of a Divine Presence….a faithful Source of help and strength…and offers us images of nourishment and peace. And, it calls for our participation in the process.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
This, I believe is doing the will of God. If we do these things, we will be a source of nourishment for all life and fulfilling God’s will for creation.
I read recently about a young ensign who had made his first trip on a destroyer across the ocean. He had state of the art training, he had brilliant credentials, and it was his assignment to take the destroyer out of the harbor and bring it back to the United States. It was his first assigned task as a young officer, and he wanted to do it perfectly.
He was extremely bright, very forceful, a strong leader, and in a moment the deck was buzzing with action. He was barking commands here and there like a veteran, and everything was moving with the harmony of a Swiss clock. The destroyer made its way out of the harbor flawlessly even though it is a very meticulous and treacherous maneuver.
They were on their way in record time when someone came to that young ensign and said, “You have a message from the captain.” Well, he thought that was strange because it was a radio message. But he read it, and this is what the captain said: “Young man, you have done an excellent job. You have done it with great speed and with dispatch according to the book. But there is an unwritten rule that you have overlooked. The next time you leave harbor, make certain the captain is on board.”
We don’t want to be unlit candles….. planes without a pilot, ships without a captain! If through a smile, an act of kindness, an expression of love and compassion, a generous gift of presence, we have brightened the life of another, added light to the darkness, ….. then we are connected to the Source…to the Ground of our Being… we are doing the will of God. That is my take on it! Amen!