Friday, April 24, 2015

Love, God's Will, and the Velveteen Rabbit

I preached this past week on the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says “thy will be done” and connected it with the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane in which Jesus is agonizing over what lies ahead and prays “not my will but yours” (Matthew 26:36-46)[1].  I called Sunday’s sermon “the prayer that never fails” because this is what Father Tim calls this prayer in the books about Mitford written by Jan Karon.[2]  It is the prayer that never fails because it is the ultimate prayer of trust in God to handle things.
In the sermon I talked about hearing Joan Gray[3] speak this past week about letting the Holy Spirit guide us.  Her analogy is that trusting God is like sailing, and not trusting God is like rowing in which we do all the work ourselves. 

What I left out, though, is love.
Looking over the papers I brought home from hearing Joan speak, I came across a note I wrote during the first part of Joan’s talk: 
“Thy will be done” is like saying to God “I love you enough to want to do what you want me to.”
So, in other words, praying “thy will be done” is obeying the first commandment to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.[4]  Loving and trusting God go hand in hand. 

As cliché as it may sound, love is key.
God loves us so much that he sacrificed his only son for us.  His love draws us.  His love is huge.  His love gives us life, kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit.

Do you know this story?  The Velveteen Rabbit is about a stuffed animal who is given to a little boy for Christmas.  The rabbit has a wonderful conversation with one of the other toys one day about what it means to be real:
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."[5]

In the world of the Velveteen Rabbit, being loved is what makes you real.  We are love by God beyond our comprehension, so we are quite real!  In the world of the story, it seems it takes being loved very nearly to death!  And yet it is that willingness to die that is the mark of true love.  Jesus was willing to die for us because of his great love for us.  It is this same willingness to die that makes “thy will be done” the prayer that never fails.  What dies is our hanging on to our vision of how life has to be, or of what we think needs to happen.  When we let that die, then we can begin to see God’s vision for life and how God is at work.
In death we find life.

C.S. Lewis describes this love-makes-us-real kind of life quite nicely:
What man, in his natural condition, has not got, is Spiritual life—the higher and different sort of life that exists in God. We use the same word life for both: but if you thought that both must therefore be the same sort of thing, that would be like thinking that the ‘greatness’ of space and the ‘greatness’ of God were the same sort of greatness. In reality, the difference between Biological life and Spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names. The Biological sort which comes to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc., is Bios. The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe, is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.
And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.[6]
This “rumour” that Lewis speaks of reminds me of the Presbyterian sort-of joke that we are the “frozen chosen.”  I think some Presbyterians like that label, but I do not understand why, because to me it seems to relish the idea of being lifeless statues, and I’m pretty sure we are not called to be statues.  We are certainly not called to be lifeless.  The great hope for the future that Ezekiel describes is that we would change from lifeless stone to life-filled flesh:  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my spirit within you.”[7]
God’s will is that we know the life that comes from letting his love guide us.
Back in the days when I was asking God about how to know his will and quite troubled over this question, I came across the Westminster Catechism.  I had never seen it before, and I felt like it answered my question in a most profound way.

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.[8]

What are we supposed to do?  Worship God, basically.   This wasn't the complete to-do list for life that I was hoping for, but somehow I knew this was something better, and ever since I have been growing in my understanding of how to live this out--how to live a life of worship.  In the midst of doubts, fears, pain, and whatever else we are encountering in life, we are to worship.  Be thankfully, prayerfully, joyfully worshipping the one who made us and knows what we need more than we know ourselves. 
And this is why I really enjoy the music of the band Big Daddy Weave.  Their songs remind me to give my all to God in worship, to be overwhelmed by his constant love, and to know that it is real as I love him back by seeking to do his will. 

Thy will be done in me and in all I say and do and in who I am.

[1] Watch Mel Gibson’s version of this scene here
[2] Jan Karon, ”Out to Canaan” (Penguin Books, 1997) is the one in which Father Tim explains the meaning of “the prayer that never fails.”
[3] Joan Gray is a former moderator of the PC(USA) and pastor and spiritual director who wrote the book “Sailboat Church”
[4] Matthew 22:36-40, et al.
[6] C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity.
[7] Ezekiel 36:26-27

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