Sermon for Sunday, June 6, 2021 || Proper 5B || Mark 3:20-35
At the end of the Gospel story I just read, Jesus broadens his family to include everyone who does God’s will. His relatives either think he is in danger or think he has gone mad, so they come to collect him. But Jesus won’t go with them. Instead of hewing to his blood relatives, Jesus looks out at the crowd and says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? …Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Whoever does the will of God. Jesus expands his family to include everyone who does the will of God. When I read that this week, I found it extremely unhelpful. I found it unhelpful for two reasons that have nothing to do with the reality of God’s will, but with our all-too-fallible human use of God’s will as a concept. Let’s talk about God’s will this morning. We’ll start with the two reasons I find it unhelpful, and then we’ll take a stab at how we might conceive of God’s will as a way to enliven our walks with Jesus.
The first reason I find the idea of “God’s will” troubling is that it is often invoked by people who are quite clearly exercising their own wills and using God’s will as a rubber stamp. I do not think God wills for the televangelist to have a multimillion dollar learjet. I do not think God wills one sports team to defeat another. I do not think God wills for one nation-state to rise above all others in exceptional blessedness. It’s all too easy to say “It’s God’s will” as a cover for “Whatever I desire to happen.”
The second reason is that “the will of God” is often deployed in problematic ways following inexplicable tragedies, like the death of a person well before their expected time. I’m sure we’ve all heard this before: “It must have been God’s will that she was taken.” People turn to the idea of “God’s will” when nothing else makes sense, when nothing else can explain why something happened. A natural disaster, the loss of employment, the death of a child – all of these have been met again and again with well-intentioned, but ultimately harmful, explanations of “God’s will.” Imagine being on the other side of such a comment? What image of God must it evoke in the eyes of the one suffering from tragedy? If it truly were God’s will for a child to die, then how are we conceiving of God?
Either we’re trying to explain the inexplicable or we’re seeking divine permission for what we want to happen. These two uses of “God’s will” cover about 99% of the times people say such a phrase. The trouble is, I don’t think either case is what Jesus is talking about when he says that his family includes everyone who does God’s will. In order to take seriously Jesus’ call to do God’s will, we have to break ourselves from linking it to the reasons I’ve just explained. We need to reimagine God’s will beyond this narrow mindset so that embracing God’s will can help us follow Jesus more closely.
In order to do this reimagining, let’s expand the concept of God’s will to be the sum of three other concepts: God’s Word, God’s Love, and God’s Dream. Taken together, these three help us see how God is moving in creation and how we might partner with God to do God’s will.
First, God’s Word. I’m not talking about the Bible here, though the words of Holy Scripture surely can help us discern God’s will. Rather, God’s Word is the creating element of God’s will. God spoke creation into being when God said, “Let there be light!” According to the prologue to John’s Gospel, “All things came into being through [the Word of God], and without [the Word] not one thing came into being.” This Word is the logos, the logic of creation, that which orders creation into a near-infinite series of interconnected relationships. Or as my seminary chaplain, the Rev. Tom Ward, who spoke in a wonderful deep southern accent, was fond of saying, “If God stopped speaking, the world would stop turning.”
God’s Word created, sustains, and renews all things. This element of God’s will shows that will to be endlessly creative. We humans discover this creativity in our own creative lives and in the ways the evolution of the natural world is continually adapting in order to thrive.
Second, God’s Love. This is the desire to hold all those near-infinite relationships created by the Word and to keep them connected. I’ve said before that love is the desire to be woven together. The love of God is the thread. God’s Love is the connecting element of God’s will. In a famous passage in his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says, “[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” And in his letter to the Colossians, Paul says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
God’s love weaves all things together into the tapestry of God’s creation. This element of God’s will shows that will to be constantly connective. We humans discover this connection when we move beyond our selfish selves and embrace the other for who they are and not for what they can do for us.
Third, God’s Dream. This is the best word I can find to describe the renewing grace that God showers upon creation. (Many thinkers have used it before me.) God’s Dream is the restoring element of God’s will. When the relationships nurtured by God’s love are broken, God repairs them. Holy Scripture describes this element of God’s will again and again. The Prophet Isaiah hears God say,
“If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday. […]
You shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.” (58:9-12)
God’s dream returns all things to right relationship with God. This element of God’s will shows that will to be mercifully restorative. We humans discover this restoration when we work to dismantle the unjust systems that allow some to thrive while others struggle to survive.
God’s will is a misunderstood concept. We hear it used to justify selfish ends. We hear it used to explain inexplicable tragedy. But we can be part of Jesus’ family by doing the will of God a different, more expansive way. We do God’s will by living God’s endlessly creating Word, constantly connecting Love, and mercifully restoring Dream. God’s Word, God’s Love, and God’s Dream combine to be the Will of God. With God’s help, we can pattern our will after God’s will, as we partner with the God who creates, connects, and restores all things.