Midweek 2 – 2019 LSB #436
Text – Matthew 26:39
And going a little farther He fell on His face & prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
GOD’S WILL, NOT MY WILL
“Nevertheless, Thy will be done,” is a beautifully awful prayer. “Thy will be done” is the most freeing & enslaving, constricting & liberating prayer we can pray. “Thy will be done,” brings both anxiety & peace.
On the one hand, it’s incredibly freeing to be released of the burden of running the world. On the other, it can be terribly frightening when you realize you’re not the one running the world. “Nevertheless, thy will be done,” all depends on the one to whom you’re saying it. It’s scary to entrust ourselves to someone else’s will, because they might not have our good in mind.
What if you are Rapunzel up in her tower? Have you’ve seen Tangled – the Disney movie? Maybe you’ve actually read the fairy tale in a book. The infant Rapunzel ends up in the possession of the evil witch Gothel. As the infant grows, the witch claims to be Rapunzel’s mother. She claims to be protecting her & providing for her.
The reality is that Rapunzel is being kept a prisoner for Gothel’s own selfish purposes. Poor Rapunzel doesn’t know any better: she is deceived & kept in the dark. When she asks about leaving her tower, she gets a lesson from her “mother” in the form of a song: “Trust me, pet, Mother knows best. Mother knows best; listen to your mother. It’s a scary world out there.”
You can hear Gothel using fear of exaggerated dangers to manipulate Rapunzel & maintain control. “Mother knows best. One way or another something will go wrong, I swear! Ruffians, thugs, Poison ivy, quicksand, Cannibals & snakes, the plague… Mother’s right here. Mother will protect you Darling. Here’s what I suggest: Skip the drama, stay with mama; Mama knows best!” In principle, it’s easy to agree with the premise. Children should trust their mother, & their father, but Gothel is not her real mother. Gothel is not to be trusted. She’s selfish. She’s deceptive. Her desire, her plan, her purposes, her will are not for Rapunzel’s good. And Rapunzel has no way of knowing it.
At the end of the song it takes an even more chilling turn. Gothel began by manipulating through imaginary fear. She finishes by manipulating with imaginary love: “Mother’s here to help you,” she sings sweetly, “All I have is one request… Don’t ever ask to leave this tower again.” Gothel ends the song with a treacherous kiss, & a veiled threat:
“I love you very much, dear… Don’t forget it. You’ll regret it. Mother knows best.” It’s creepy to think of such a wicked woman pretending to love & protect – pretending to be a mother – when she is keeping an innocent (& somewhat naïve) girl captive! That repulsive feeling that makes you want to rescue Rapunzel is exactly how some people see God & religion.
Here’s an anonymous quote: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, & by rulers as useful.” It’s similar to Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the people.” To them, any talk of God or religion is simply the strong deceiving the weak to keep them in line. It’s Gothel & Rapunzel all over again.
People in power stay in power by manipulating fear & faking love. Like we want to see Rapunzel rescued from the manipulating Gothel, the atheist who thinks their naïve friend is being “duped” by religion wants to see them “set free.” It’s why someone like Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller can say: “Love & respect all people. Hate & destroy all faith.”
Penn isn’t necessarily an evil person. It could be he’s simply afraid that weak people are manipulated & controlled by religion. We reject the basic premise of the atheistic quotes, but the problem is, people in power do sometimes use God & religion, even the name of Jesus, to stay in power, to manipulate fears, to feign love: the man who quotes Scripture as grounds for demeaning his wife; the cleric who inspires hate & fear of outsiders & foreigners; the mother who manipulates her children with threats of an angry god. The naïve can be manipulated. Faith can be used as a weapon.
To our deep grief, religion is sometimes warped to legitimize evil people doing evil things. And when you start to see God a lot like Gothel, then it makes perfect sense to say with atheist Richard Dawkins: “Faith can be very dangerous, & deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong.”
If God is like Gothel, then Dawkins is right: you should not raise your children in the faith, because if God is like Gothel, you are left with no God you can trust => no God at all.
Placing your life in someone else’s hands is unnerving, because it might not be for your good. When we do trust someone else’s will, it’s more about trusting the person than about knowing the particular details of their plan. Here’s an example.
Two young children are fighting in the other room. By the time you get there, the toy is broken, both children are crying, neither one claims any fault, the other is entirely in the wrong, & both want you to deliver swift justice against the other. And they are all too eager to offer recommendations about the appropriate sentencing.
You separate them. You talk to them one on one, but it’s the same conversation. You ask what happened. You hear a one-sided story full of partial truths & blatant exaggerations. Then you offer resolution. Without getting into all the details, you simply say, “I’ll take care of it.” Then the debate begins…
“Are you going to make them pay for it?” “I’ll take care of it.” “But it was their fault, they should be punished.” “You don’t have to worry. I’ll take care of it.” “Okay, but what are you going to do?” “You don’t need to worry, I’ll care of it.” “I’m not worried, I just want to know.” “Do you trust me?” “Yeah, but…” “Then you can trust me; I’ll take care of it.”
In that moment, you don’t need to convince your child that your planned punishment is the most logical, or that the steps you’ll take to rectify the situation are based on the soundest reasoning. You don’t need to convince them to buy into your plan; you don’t need to share a single detail about what you intend to do.
In that moment, it’s not about the particulars of your plan. It’s about a relationship in which a child can trust their parent. When we are able to say to someone else, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” it’s more about trusting the person than their particular plan.
What if we looked at God’s will as if we were a child trusting a parent? There are situations where I don’t have all the information. I’m like one of those kids with a broken toy. When someone else offends me, I don’t see the big picture. I see injustice; things don’t always go my way; & I want to scream, it’s not fair! What is God going to do about this?
But if God is a loving parent who can be trusted, then I don’t have to demand that things go my way. Maybe trust isn’t naïve if it is placed in a trustworthy person. If God knows me & loves me, & knows the whole story in a way I cannot, maybe I don’t need to have the details of the plan as long as I know my Savior will take care of it.
Those are two very different ways of seeing God: it could be that God is actually like Gothel, Rapunzel’s evil captor. Maybe our prayers fall on deaf ears, & the selfish people who pretend to speak for a pretend god are manipulating our naïve trust.
But maybe there is a God who is loving, & His will for us is good, even when we do not understand it. And maybe this good God deserves all the naïve trust we can muster. Nothing in the world is as important as deciding between those two radically different views of God. So how do you decide? If you look to spiritual leaders, you run the risk of being taken in or disappointed when they turn out to be self-centered & sinful, like the rest of us.
If you look to your circumstances, your view can change drastically based on whether you are getting what you define as a good life or a life of suffering. Looking at other people or at your experience can always leave you questioning, am I being taken in? Is this all a hoax? For tonight, we’ll look at the Son of God in the Garden & hear the Gethsemane prayer.
Jesus was betrayed by the religious leaders. The suffering He faces next would make anyone question the reality of a good God. Yet, Jesus prays a prayer of faithfulness, a prayer that helps you & me enter into His decision to see God not as a distant, selfish, manipulative deity, but rather as a Father to be trusted even in the face of things we don’t understand.
Jesus takes a deep breath, exhales with a sigh, looks up to heaven, & with a confident nod He whispers, “Nevertheless.” He had just made His bold request to the Father, “Let this cup pass from me.” Father, you’ve prepared a table before me. You’ve filled this cup. You’ve poured your wrath into it & the scent of it makes me ill. The cup is filled to the brim.
It’s nauseating. The sight of it is awful. The smell turns my stomach. Let this cup pass from me. It reeks of idolatry. I can smell the ugliness of unfaithfulness. My nose burns with the acerbic odor of lies & murders, affairs & greed, hate & selfishness, the rotten, rotten evil that brought these grapes to fruition. Let this cup pass from me.
Then Jesus takes a deep breath, exhales with a sigh, looks up to heaven, & with a confident nod He whispers, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” It is a prayer of faith, & it’s the proclamation of the faithfulness of God.
The cup set before Jesus contained God’s burning anger against everything rotten in your life. If Jesus drinks that cup, it will kill Him. So He prays. He prays for another way: “Take this cup away!” But He also prays, “Nevertheless.” It’s the pivotal moment in this potent prayer – “Nevertheless.” In that one word, Jesus not only prays to the Father, but He proclaims to you & to me. In that one word, “nevertheless,” Jesus declares:
“God is a good Father. You can trust Him. His good will is life & love for His children. His good will is life & love for you.” “God is a good Father. You can trust Him even when your situation seems full of darkness & suffering. God is going to take care of it in ways beyond your understanding.”
“God is a good Father. Nothing can hinder His gracious will, & that will is forgiveness & life for His children. Even when we can’t see it, even when we can’t feel it, even when we can’t conceive of it, God’s will is best.”
Jesus prayed, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” It’s the prayer of faith, & it’s the proclamation of God’s faithfulness. Then Jesus proved God’s faithfulness & drank the cup down to the last drop. With innocent trust, Jesus commended Himself into the Father’s hands, into God’s will, with His final breath.
What appeared to be His final breath turned out to be not so final in end. Because God’s good & gracious will is life & love for His children, beginning with His only-begotten Son, Yahweh began a new work that would be for all His children: resurrection to new creation life.
As we live the life of faith today we lean into the ‘Nevertheless’ of Jesus’ prayer. Seeing Christ trust His Father, helps us trust God as our Father. When faith is manipulated, or religion becomes a tool for evil, we cling to the gracious will of God even when it’s difficult to see.
Then, because trust is only deepened & developed over time, slowly we begin to echo the trust, the “Nevertheless” of Jesus’ prayer. God, help me do well on this assignment. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, I need a better job. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, make me more popular. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, bring more people to our church. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, fix what’s broken in our nation. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
God, show this person their fault. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, help us conceive a child. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, I want out of this marriage. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, take this cancer from me. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus points us to His good Father, a Father whose good & gracious will can be trusted, even when we cannot see the big picture. So we pray, “Nevertheless.” Amen.
Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Amen. LSB 436:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet