Sermon - Sunday, 25 February 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 25 February 2018.

Scripture: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-17 / Mark 8: 31-38

Text:  Jesus said, this then is how you should pray, Our Father in heaven – Thy will be done    (Matthew 6: 9, 10)


Thy will be done – it is the phrase at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer.

Thy will be done – how often have we prayed it, our heart-felt petition that in all the opportunities and challenges of life not be your will or my will but God’s will be done.

Thy will be done – and with it the plea that beyond the will of the church, beyond the will of the City of Edinburgh Council, the Scottish Government, the UK Government, beyond the will of any national or international corporation or parliament, beyond the will of the United Nations, beyond the will of all the people, systems, structures, institutions and organisations that shape our life and the life of the world, God’s purpose will prevail and will do so in such a way that God’s kingdom of justice, love and peace will be evident among us.

Thy will be done…………………

When our associate minister, Tom Cuthell, spoke to the children some weeks ago about his time at the Scots Kirk in Rome, and of hearing the Lord’s Prayer being said in so many different languages, he suggested this might be something the Sunday Club could do – hear and learn the Lord’s Prayer in different languages.

This morning the children rose to the challenge and allowed us to share in the experience of hearing and saying the Lord’s Prayer in lots of different languages.

However this morning I want us to rise to the challenge too, the challenge of the Lord’s Prayer, that is, not just of saying or hearing it in a variety of languages, but of taking seriously what it means to pray ‘Thy will be done.’

Within the calendar of the Christian year, this is the second Sunday in the season of Lent.

Although in popular culture, Lent is often thought of as a time to give something up, a time of abstinence or denial, in Christian tradition Lent is a season which invites our reflection on the way we live, the values to which we aspire, the things in life which really matter and the people in life who really matter.

It is a season framed by several important events in Jesus’ life;

…………….the forty days and nights Jesus spent in the Judean wilderness

……………his announcing to the disciples he was headed for Jerusalem where he would suffer much, be put to death and rise again on the third day

……………and the time spent in the Garden of Gethsemane where, as his disciples slept, Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering might be taken from him.

And one of the threads running through these experiences, something which gave shape and substance to Jesus’ ministry and his journey to Jerusalem, was his desire to let God’s will be done.

In other words, during the season of Lent, with the shadow of the cross looming ever larger, one of the things to see with fresh eyes is the Lord’s Prayer was not just the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, it was his prayer too.

Jesus said, this then is how you should pray

Mark records the dramatic moment when, having travelled to the north of the country and the area around Caesarea Philippi, Jesus tells the disciples they are headed for Jerusalem and for the first time reveals to them the fate which awaits him.

It was all too much for Peter.

Until Caesarea Philippi Jesus had gone to some length to keep his true identity secret.

All of that changed when at Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was and Peter was able to name him as the Christ.

It was a moment of inspired insight yet a moment which quickly turned sour when for the first time Jesus revealed to his disciples the fate which awaited him; that he would suffer much at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, that he would be killed and after three days rise again.

Unable and unwilling to accept what he had been told, Peter’s belligerent response could hardly be more understandable.

And because it could hardly be more understandable, we can perhaps feel something of the force of Jesus’ stinging rebuke, Get behind me Satan.

Peter must have felt devastated?

Yet it is what follows which provides the clue, Jesus saying to Peter, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

Thy will be done – and from the account of his 40 days and nights in the wilderness where he was tempted to use his God-given gifts and powers to satisfy his own need rather than to seek God’s purpose to the events at Caesarea Philippi, what we discern is Jesus starting to teach the disciples that what really matters in his life – and what should really matter in their lives – are the things of God.

Of course we know how events unfolded.

We know that having made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem seated on a donkey, Jesus ate a last supper with his disciples.

We know that following the meal, when the group went to the Garden of Gethsemane, three of the disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed fervently for the cup of suffering to be taken from him.

And we also know that however much he did not want to die, Jesus prayed that his Father’s will be done.

All that is still to come – for the moment it is enough to know the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t just the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, it was his prayer too.

And that brings me to the heart of the matter: how do we know what God’s will is, how do we discern God’s purpose for the world, the church, for you and me?

Professor David Fergusson suggests one answer; the best way to know God’s will is through the Jesus of the gospels.[1]

Although they are told in different ways, Fergusson argues the four gospels are the indispensable foundation and focal point not just of our faith but of our understanding of God.

So when Jesus spoke to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi about what awaited him in Jerusalem, it is evident everything he said and did reflected his awareness of God’s will.

Yet as Fergusson points out, the converse also holds, namely that everything Jesus said and did is the best indicator we have into the nature and purpose of God.

Our understanding of the divine is Christ-shaped Fergusson writes - and so if we want to know what God is like we need to pay attention to what Jesus is like.

Jesus calling fishermen and tax collectors to follow, Jesus feeding a great crowd with a few loaves and fish, Jesus calming a storm and his disciples fears, Jesus raising a dead girl to life and curing a woman, Jesus speaking with authority, Jesus driving out evil spirits and healing people, Jesus confronting the religious authorities of his day with the truths and claims of God’s kingdom; as well a man of signs and wonders Mark paints a picture of a man inspired and motivated by love.

It was a love expressed in his evident concern for people in need, his refusal to walk past on the other side of human need even when it meant violating cherished rules and regulations.

It was a love expressed in his passion for justice, his denunciation of the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, his over-turning of the tables of the money changers in the temple.

It was a love expressed in his willingness to spend time with the people others shunned, people pushed to the margins of so-called respectable society.

It was a love made evident in his many parables and in his naming of the commandments to love God and to love our neighbour as the greatest of all the commandments.

And it was a love which took its deepest expression at Calvary when, in obedience to his Father’s will, Jesus made himself one with all humanity even to the point of death.

Although we can make it remarkably complicated, in essence the Christian faith and the Christian life is quite simple.

If you want to know something about God, look to Jesus.

If you want to learn something of God’s presence and purpose, listen to Jesus.

If you want to discover God’s will, you must be willing to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.

And of this you can be assured; in the looking, the listening and the following you will come to know what it means to pray the Lord’s Prayer, Thy will be done.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen


[1] David Fergusson Our one foundation Life and Work , February 2015, p43