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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:As In Heaven, So On Earth
Text:LD 49 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Will
 
Added:2022-05-09
Updated:2022-08-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Isaiah 55

Lesson: Lord’s Day 49

 

AS IN HEAVEN, SO ON EARTH

  1. The Distance Between Heaven and Earth

  2. The Nearness of Heaven to Earth

 

  1. Psalm 47: 1-3

  2. Psalm 139: 1, 12, 13

  3. Hymn 49: 1, 2

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Psalm 148: 1, 4

  6. Hymn 39: 1, 2, 4

 

Words to Listen For: stubborn, wolves, tiny, nicer, million

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. How is Christianity related to gardens?

  2. Explain the challenge with the language visible and invisible when it comes to the church, especially the 3 specific challenges.

  3. How should we truly understand Isaiah 55:8-9?

  4. How does a “backwards” paraphrase lead us along the right path?

  5. What is freedom?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

As spring has sprung here in British Columbia, many of us are looking at our backyards and making plans to plant gardens and be surrounded by plants that produce food and plants that produce beauty.  There’s something wonderful about gardens, and there is also something wonderfully THEOLOGICALLY about gardens.

There are two gardens that are central to the story of our salvation - The Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane.

In the Garden of Eden, our first father, the head of the human race, was faced with a choice - obey God or disobey God?  Obey God and follow God’s will for his life, or disobey and follow his own will.  If only Adam had taken the time to pray this quick prayer: Thy will be done.  Instead, instead of denying his own will, he gave in to temptation, and doomed himself, and the rest of humanity, to a life of sin and distance from God.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, however, our Saviour, the new head of the human race, was also faced with a choice - flee from the suffering, misery, humiliation, terror, and pain of the cross, or drink His Father’s cup.  Drink the cup of wrath that God had prepared for Him.  And Jesus, unlike Adam, did take that time, and prayed so long in the Garden that His disciples fell asleep.

And the words of that prayer?  Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.

It was in a Garden that our first father acted in an earthly, weak, and sinful way, giving in to temptation, and following his own will.  This doomed humanity.

And it was in a Garden that our Saviour acted in a heavenly, strong, and perfect way, resisting temptation, and following the will of His Heavenly Father.  This obedience saved humanity.

And we have a choice.  That same choice that Adam had - MY WILL BE DONE, or THY WILL be done?  We can respond in an earthly way, or in a heavenly way.  And it is our true desire, as children of God, saved by the obedience of Jesus Christ, that we would respond in the way of our Lord, as He taught us in His prayer -  Your will be done

AS IN HEAVEN, SO ON EARTH.  We will examine, first

  1. The Distance Between Heaven and Earth, and then, 

  2. The Nearness of Heaven to Earth

 

What is the third petition?

Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

That is:

Grant that we are all men

may deny our own will,

and without any murmuring

obey your will,

for it alone is good.

Grant also that everyone

    may carry out the duties

    of his office and calling

    as willingly and faithfully

    as the angels in heaven.

It is all too easy to look at these words, to hear these words spoken, and judge them to be NAIVE, or even FOOLISH.  Let’s examine a few of the more extreme lines here

Grant that we and ALL MEN  - this is not only about the church, but about the entire population of this world.  A world dominated by evil.  A world under the tyranny of Satan.  A world populated by stubborn self-willed people!  This doesn’t seem too likely.

Grant also that everyone may carry out the duties of his office and calling as willingly and faithfully AS THE ANGELS IN HEAVEN - even if this was only directed at the church…how could we possibly be as faithful as the angels in heaven?  These beings of immense power, holiness, and servitude, unstained by sin?  Naive!  We say.

There is clearly a distance, clearly a difference between Heaven and Earth.  There is clearly a difference between Heaven and Earth.  That difference in the two Gardens.

Is this world more like Adam, or more like Christ?

The sad answer, must be, invariably, this world is more like Adam.  This world belongs more to that first Garden than to the second.  That is the reality.

But the church…what about the church?

We would LOVE to belong to that second garden…is this true for us?

Well, here we have to differentiate - church vs church.  This is a differentiation that I made last time, in Lord’s Day 48.  That there is a church that can be torn down, and there is a church that will stand forever.  And as I made that distinction, I did so, fully aware of the difficult theological history of dividing the church up like this.

So let me now explain a little more, or at least try to do so.

There is unity between the church in heaven and the church on earth.

After all, Christ has ONE CHURCH.  He is the Head of ONE CHURCH.

Our Saviour is not limited by TIME, uniting believers today with men like Abraham, and women like Ruth.  Abraham is my brother, Ruth is my sister.

Our Saviour is not limited by SPACE - uniting believers in North America with believers in China, and believers already in glory.  I have Chinese brothers and sisters, I have brothers and sisters who have been promoted to glory.

And our Saviour is not limited by SIN - uniting us in this church, who still struggle with sin, with those who are now freed from sin.

Our Saviour is not limited in time, space, or sin...but we are.

 

WE are limited in time.  I cannot meet together with the Apostle Paul.  I cannot sit under his preaching, nor he under mine.

WE are limited in space - the church is spread all across this world, and across that divide between this world and the next.  We are unified with them in heart, but not in body.

WE are limited by sin - and this is the biggest limitation.  This is the biggest divide.  In our churches, in our local congregations, on this side of glory, on this side of perfection, we struggle with sin.  We heard that this morning.  We are called to peace because there is a lack of peace.  There is a lack of unity.  On this side of glory, there is a lack of purity in the church - a lack of purity in the daily sins of weakness of true believers, and a lack of purity in the sense that there are wolves in the sheepfold.

I hope and pray that this is not true for THIS congregation of Jesus Christ, here in Cloverdale, but we are warned by our Saviour that this IS the reality for churches on earth.

And so, the third petition in this prayer seems impossible for the church here on this earth, where it is second nature for the church in heaven.

And so, we can choose to speak of the visible church and the invisible church.  We can choose to speak of the visible and invisible aspects of the church.

There is no doubt that this is a complex issue - the church of Jesus Christ is one and yet many.  It is united and yet divided.  It is pure and yet still sinful.

And it is this tension, between what we ARE and what we wish to be, this tension between what we ARE and what we are promised that we will ONE DAY BE…this is the VERY REASON for this petition.

Heaven seems to be so far away from earth, and it can seem so hopeless.

We look at this world filled with genocide - genocide of the unborn in the womb, genocide of the Uighurs in China…

We look at this world where Christianity is made illegal - illegal here in Canada through the passing of Bill C-4, made illegal in various countries in Asia…

We look at this world with authoritarian states such as Russian and Chinese dictators, and an increasing fear of that in North American countries...

How can we be anything but hopeless?  How can this petition be anything but naive?

This world is so far from heaven…

But examine with me, once again, the petition, as explained in the catechism.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

That is, grant that we

And this is where we must stop.  For now.

Grant that WE.  Before we turn our eyes to the Chinese, Russian, and Canadian governments…we must turn our eyes on ourselves.  Before we accuse others of not following God’s will…we need to check our own heart first.

And this is where our reading comes in.  Though we read all of Isaiah 55, I want to focus in with you on verse 8 and 9, at least to start.

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways

    and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

Many of us are very familiar with these verses, and they can be used to explain away why bad things happen to good people - “Oh God has a plan!  And we don’t understand it because His ways are higher than our ways!”

And they’re not wrong here…God works amazing good out of evil.  And we do not always understand.

But this can also be used to put off our efforts of sanctification.  Being holy like God is holy?  Yeah right!  That’s impossible!  God’s ways are above our ways!  We have no hope of holiness!

But this is not the true meaning of this text.

Drawing extensively on the work of a Reformed Professor and Office-Bearer, Dane Ortlund, we see that, the full passage, in context, tells us a different story.

This is not a statement of God’s mysterious providence, this is not a statement to absolve us from holy living, but rather, this is a statement about God’s compassionate heart.

Let’s look at these verses in context, verses 6 through 9

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;

    call upon him while he is near;

let the wicked forsake his way,

    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;

let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,

    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways

    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

What does this mean?  In what context are we to see God as far surpassing us?  It is in His mercy!  It is in His compassion.  It is, ultimately, in His HEART.  We start with the earth, we start with our hearts.  And we look and say - God’s heart is like this, only better.  When we think this way, we reveal that our view of God’s heart is TINY.  And this view isn’t at all accurate!  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  His heart is not our heart.  His ways are not our ways.  And not because we’re just a few degrees off.  No!  As high as the heavens are above the earth - INFINITELY BETTER!

And though this text speaks only of God’s mercy as being infinitely above ours, it applies to all of His perfections - including the perfections we must emulate, as we heard in our call to worship this afternoon:

What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

And so, before you weep and wail and gnash your teeth at the sins of others, at the sins of this wicked world (and there is a good time to do that), examine yourself.

Are you acting justly?

Is your goal for justice to be done?  Are you more interested in being comfortable, or enacting justice?  Justice for those around you - the ones you love, the ones you hate, the ones you never give a second thought to?  Is your goal for them to be treated fairly?  Are you willing to be treated poorly so that they receive justice?  At any cost?  Or are you like your first father, in the Garden of Eden, casting blame on everyone but yourself, pointing fingers at those closest to you?

Are you loving mercy?

Is your goal for mercy to be shown to the downtrodden?  To those who are struggling, those who are suffering?  Are you more interested in policies or in people?  When someone confesses their weakness to you, when someone asks you for help…is it too much effort for you to show them kindness?  Is it too much for you to meet someone where they are at and walk with them out of the mess and entanglement of sin?  Are you willing to look like your Saviour, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and pray, love, and suffer for those who need you?

 

Are you walking humbly?

In your eyes, who is right?  Is it you?  Is it ALWAYS YOU?  Are you willing to listen to the voices of others around you and be convinced that maybe, just maybe, in this instance, you might be wrong?  You don’t have to be tossed about like a wave of the sea, but are your ears open?  Is your heart softened?  Is your heart a commander, saying MY WILL BE DONE - DO IT NOW! or is it a soldier, listening to the voice and the will of King Jesus?  Saying, “Yes Lord, your will be done.  Not mine, but yours.”

This is the calling of the third petition - Your Will Be Done.  But God is in Heaven, and we are on Earth.  There is such a divide…how can we possibly begin to truly pray this petition…how can we live out this petition, in HOPE instead of HOPELESSNESS?  It is because, even though Heaven is so distant from this earth, it is so much nearer than you think.  Our second point.

You may have noticed something interesting about the theme for this afternoon.  It flips around the wording of the third petition - at least, the third petition as it is written in the ESV, and in the catechism.

As in Heaven, so on Earth instead of On Earth as it is in Heaven.

Though this is awkward wording, it is, in fact, the original.  This is the literal translation of Jesus’ words.  And, in your homes, I have heard some of you praying this petition in this way.  In the little bit of research that I’ve done, it seems this comes from the Dutch version - gelijk in de hemel alzo ook op de aarde.  And this is beautiful.

You will have heard the phrase “lost in translation” and there is an important element to this petition that has gotten lost when we phrase it “on earth as it is in Heaven.”  It’s nicer English, and technically, it means the same thing, but our minds latch on to the order.  We start with earth, and we move to heaven.  Earth first, then heaven.  Earth, because of where we are, and what we are, and heaven, which is like where we are, but better.

But no!  Isaiah 55!  GOD IS NOT LIKE YOU.  Let me repeat that.  GOD IS NOT LIKE YOU.  He’s not you, just a little bigger, just a little better.  No! 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways

    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God is not like you.  His will is not like your will, so we must not start on earth, but we must start in heaven.  Your will be done, as in Heaven, so also on Earth.

But how.  How can we do this?  If God is not like us, how can this happen?

Well, here is the good news - God isn’t like you, and He never will be…but He is working to make YOU like HIM!

In coming down to earth, and remaining true God, Jesus Christ acted, and still acts today, in a way to bring us up to heaven.  Not just with our souls, not just with our glorified bodies, not just after our earthly lives, but right now.  RIGHT NOW in our minds and in our wills.

Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth.

The Holy Spirit, sent from heaven above dwells in our hearts and is hard at work changing them, changing our hearts, our minds, our wills, so that they match with God’s heart, God’s mind, God’s will.

And one of you may say - that’s not fair!  How is the Holy Spirit changing my mind consistent with my freedom?  If I’m not free, I’m a slave!

Well, let me present to you a parallel example.

Imagine a drug addict on the street.  You don’t have to go too far.  Think of East Hastings street in Vancouver, though you could probably find drug addicts closer even than that.  Imagine a dug addict on East Hastings.  Sitting there on a blanket, dirty and hungry.  In some ways, this man is freer than all of us.  He has shed social norms and conventions, he does what he wants, he doesn’t follow the laws against illegal drug use.  What a free man he is!

But in a truer way, this man isn’t free at all.  If you would ask him, “If you snapped your fingers, and your wish was granted, what would your life look like” … as long as he is in his right mind at the time, he would NOT just wish for more drugs.  He would want to be free.  He is a SLAVE to HIS ADDICTION.

And this is the same as us.  We are, all of us, SIN ADDICTS.  At first, we think we have this wonderful freedom to break God’s law.  God says not to steal…well, with my freedom, I have decided to steal anyways.  God says not to commit adultery, what’s freer than sleeping with whoever I want?  But this isn’t you talking.  This is your sinful nature.  This is your ADDICT voice speaking.

True freedom, real freedom, is in following God’s law.  This is what sets you free from your addiction.

A drug addict is set free when he goes to rehab and follows all the rules.  When he follows the rules of not injecting or snorting or drinking any substance. When he follows the rules of going to therapy.  For a recovering addict, freedom can look an awful lot like legalism.  There are SO MANY RULES.   But these are the rules that set us free.

And it is this freedom that the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts.

Because, you see, though heaven is far above us, it also exists, right now, in our hearts.  Even though heaven is a million miles away, it is closer than anything else ever could be.

God’s will in heaven is transferred down to earth and is applied in our hearts by His Spirit.  Our will begins to resonate with His will.

But this isn’t just a process whereby we sit back and let the Spirit do all the work.  We are called to pray this petition and truly mean it.  We are called, quite literally to LOSE OURSELVES IN GOD.

We must lose ourselves in God.

Not my will O Lord.  I no longer desire what I desire, but I desire what you desire.  I no longer want to depend on myself, on my own strength, on my own idea of right and wrong, but I depend on you.  I throw myself at your feet, and ask you to lift me up.  To strengthen me, to teach me.  I want to serve.  I want to serve like an angel serves.

This is what our catechism says - as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.

They are in heaven, but heaven is IN US.  God’s Kingdom is being set up in our hearts, and we must serve.  Willingly, faithfully, joyfully.

For when our eyes are opened, when our addiction is conquered, we will love who we are in our new nature.  We will love it, and we will love the one who set us free.  We will pledge ourselves to Him because we owe him a life debt.  He has saved us from an eternity in hell, He has saved us from a miserable existence of a slave, and we are His servants.

And yet, though we serve, our God does something more.  He raises our heads and calls us sons.

Just as the Father of the Prodigal Son did.

We come, to God, after He has opened our lives to our state of misery and sin, we come to Him, with clothes tattered, stomachs empty, hearts ready to break and say: Heavenly Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.

But, just as in the parable, the Father interrupts.  He throws His arms around us and kisses us, His darling children, lost but now found, addicted but now free, and welcomes us.

Quick!  Clothe Him in the best robe - the robe of Christ’s righteousness!

Quick!  Put a ring on His finger - give Him the status of prophet, priest, and king in my kingdom!

Quick!  Prepare a feast - he will dine at the marriage feast of the lamb, forever, in glory!

 

Beloved, this is a hard prayer to pray.  Your will be done.

So often we would rather the petition went: MY will be done.  God, please give me all of these things that I want.  Listen to me, instead of to you.  But the petition is: Your will be done.

So often, we would rather the petion went: Your will be changed.  God, please change your mind so that my life is easy, so that your will for my life includes a little bit of sinful pleasure here and there.  Change your will from desiring holiness to desiring a good effort.  THAT I’m willing to do.

But the petition is: Your will be done.

We find it hard, because we were born in the wrong garden.  We were born in the Garden of Eden, and our family resemblance to Adam is something very hard to break away from.

But this life, this Christian life, this journey that we are one, is from one garden to the next.  From our first Father to our Saviour.  From prayers that blame everyone else, to prayers for strength to do what is right.  From wanting to avoid all suffering and pain and punishment, to being willing to accept everything that comes to us from our Father’s almighty hand.

It is a difficult journey, and not everyone will make it.  But we do not walk alone, for, through the Spirit, our destination is already there in our heart. Heaven has never been closer.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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