United for the Common Good: What Is God’s Will?

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on November 8, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.

Matthew 6:8b-10

for your God knows what you need before you ask. So pray this way:

Our God in heaven, may your name be honored,

may your kingdom come,

may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

At our worship planning retreat a few months ago, our staff talked about how we were going to be in a worshipful space the Sundays following the election. 

  • What are the messages we need to get across? 
  • How is God speaking? 
  • Where are we in need of guidance? 
  • And finally, how will scripture reveal a response to those questions? 

We had some important conversations as a ministry team about our intentions. Something that was important to us was to recognize the diversity of political ideologies among you all, our church family. No matter what the votes decided, some of us would be disappointed and deeply hurt, and some of us would be excited and celebratory. No matter the result of the election, we knew division was still going to occur. 

The other thing that was and is important to us, as church leaders, is that no matter who won the election, that we not lose sight of our values as Christians.

I’ve seen a lot of posts going around on Facebook that say something like “no matter who wins, Jesus is King”. And I get why that is helpful to some people. And I also have a fundamental problem with that statement being used in terms of the election, because it’s not specific enough. What does it mean to say that Jesus is King? What does it not say? And how will we live that out?

Thousands of years ago, Jesus taught us how to pray. But it was more than prayer. Because through this prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us how we are to live, how we are to live out the notion that Jesus is King.

In the 1700’s, the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, wrote this study guide on the Lord’s Prayer, where he refers to it as “the prayer that contains all we can reasonably pray for”. This week, we’re focused on the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, which you’ve heard twice today. As we look closer at this today, and next week, I want you to think about this phrase, Jesus is King, and how we are being called to act if we really believe that to be true. 

Our God

These first two words are so simple, yet fundamental to this prayer. Our God. It’s not my God, or your God, or the Democrat’s God, right? It’s ours. Our God means that while there may be division over certain things, when it comes to God, there is no such thing. Our God indicates that what is good for the individual must be good for the community, because at the end of the day, it’s about us, about we, not me. In South Africa there’s a word for this called Ubuntu: I am because we are. This is why, when we praise God, it’s often in community. We take communion together, for example. We can worship together, in person or through a screen. We pray for each other. We worship through standing up for other people, through learning about cultures that are different from our own. We give thanks for those in our life who remind us about the character of God. God’s universality is made known through relationship, through the truth that God really is ‘Our God”.

Our God, who art in heaven

God in heaven has a vantage point that none of us do. We can try and see from another perspective, or look at things from a more neutral view, and yet, the reality is that we all have a bias. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but we all see the world based on our personal experiences, our context, our family. I had a conversation with a family member before this election, who aligns differently than I do politically. We both shared that we make decisions about who to vote for based on what is best for our community. And even with the same intentions in mind, we tend to vote differently. The goodness of God is reflected in God’s ability to see all things, to not be so enveloped in specially tailored media sources, or algorithms that are carefully selected for us. 

When we believe and live into ‘Jesus is King’, we recognize our own fallibilities. We recognize that a vote does not determine how we live. Christ does. 

Our God, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name

In connection with the last piece, hallowed be thy name allows us to remember that God is holy, that when we feel weak or sad or hurt or confused, we can fully rely on God. In the same way, we can go to God when we are rejoicing, celebrating, and excited too. God’s name alone is holy, which is to say that we are given the gift of being invited to trust in God’s power. We trust in God’s character, so much that even when things are difficult, we know God is still there. 

For those who are upset over the results of this election, may you trust in God’s comfort and God’s ability to remind you of your belovedness. And for those who are not upset, may you trust in God’s example of humility, through Christ, and God’s reminder to care for those who may not be celebrating, or for those in need of goodness.

Our God, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kindom come

When we pray, hallowed be thy name, we proclaim a truth, that God is the one whose way we are seeking. Thy kindom come is our ask to make that happen. Thy kindom come is an invitation, for God to work and speak through us to better the world we live in. This is the work Jesus started on earth, that is now our job to continue. In Luke 4, Jesus paraphrases the prophet Isaiah saying:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has appointed me to proclaim Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

These instructions are direct reflections of the Kingdom or kindom Jesus prayed about, and whether you associate it as such or not, these are political instructions. While not tied to a party or a candidate, these words from Isaiah are countercultural and radical and not entirely safe. They require those doing them to sometimes go against the grain, to take a leap of faith, and to listen to God over society, no matter the earthly consequences. 

Our God, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kindom come, thy will be done

This is where we end today. So what then, is God’s will? We’ve learned that God’s will is communal, about the we over the I. We know that God can be trusted, and God wants us to trust God. We can believe that God sees us and each other in expansive ways, ways that break boundaries and party lines, and God calls us to see each other in that way too. And we learn that God’s will requires us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps to do the work, and sometimes that work will be hard and even dangerous.

God is asking us to be in covenant with God, to partner with God and with one another in this enormous holy feat, to create a kind of world on earth that reflects the heavenly one.

In the 1700’s, the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, wrote this study guide on the Lord’s Prayer, where he refers to it as “the prayer that contains all we can reasonably pray for”. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, we can’t reasonably pray for Trump or Biden, for a certain candidate or party to win an election. Yet the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that there is so much power in our prayers, and that our faith is bigger and more powerful than the results of an election. 

There are no term limits on being a Christian. Our work is not changing whether our political leadership does or not. Because Jesus has not changed. Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow.” 

So Church, this is my call and question to you.

Will you take that seriously? Will you, as individuals and as a church, take seriously the call to continue living like Jesus, releasing the captives, bringing good news, and giving power back to those who have been oppressed? Will you accept the power that God has given us, to pray this prayer, not only with your mouths, but with your actions? 

We do not have the privilege of waiting to bring the kindom to earth. We cannot wait or sit around or look to our neighbors to do the work of the Gospel. It is here and awaiting our response. And so, I am urging you, and challenging you, to do the work with me. 

Let us pray: 

God of us All, the Republicans and Democrats and the in-betweens, you see us and you know us. We thank you for your breadth of knowledge and wisdom, which will always be bigger than our own. God, as your holiness abounds, give us the strength and faith to trust in your vision, one that further calls us to action, justice, and relationship. Bring us closer to your truth, that the world reflects your heavenly kindom, here and now. In your name we pray, Amen.

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