Grant Your People Grace - 17th Sunday after Trinity
September 18, 2016
Lord, we implore you, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God. (Collect for the 17th Sunday after Trinity)
We can do no better than to pray today's Collect.
We have many needs in this world, but if we aren't careful they will consume us. They will take up our full time and attention, and crowd out the "one thing needful". Then, like the 5 foolish virgins in the parable we will miss what is best. Miss the grace of God by which we stand confident come what may; and victorious in the life of the world to come. Our Lord says to us: be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life! For that we need nothing less than the grace of God, which is obtained in the church, as she engages in holy communion with her Lord.
If we don't already know it we should learn today that "God is love." That it is his nature to be gracious. That it is essential to who he is and what he does to take pity on us, and to be merciful to us. But when we speak this way of the Holy One we are not merely ticking off a list of attributes. Or asserting hopeful theories, like Muslims do when they say that their deity is merciful. "But God demonstrates his love towards us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8)
But nor was the Lord's incarnation, suffering and death a quickly cooked-up scheme to help us out of sudden troubles. But from eternity Jesus the eternal Son and Word of God consented to become flesh, in order to release us from Satan's tyranny, and to make us sons of God.
But the grace of God we pray for today cannot be found on the internet, or obtained from the world's economic, political or social institutions. But only from God himself, when he meets with us here, in this holy house, brimming over with grace, mercy and peace.
Today's Collect also points out that we are not addressing any old god. Or calling upon the hazy, nameless deities of which people sometimes speak these days when they assert I believe in God, though they have no idea what they are talking about. But in the church we address God as he is revealed in Holy Scripture. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit in whose name, and into whose name we are baptized … all others imposters!
Today, when it is fashionable to hold the Christian religion in contempt, Christians are discouraged from making such exclusive claims: but false humility doesn't help. Many horses run in a race. They all stand tall, proud, strong, shining and full or promise at the starting gate. But only one comes through, one wins the race, one gets the prize … and you have been called to unspeakable glory in him! By faith in Jesus, on the cross bearing our sins, you obtain a share in the Divine Nature.
But please take careful note of that clear and indispensible fact dear Christians: Jesus on the cross. Jesus bleeding, suffering and dying. Jesus pleading for us from the cross, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do," and declaring, "this day you will be with me in paradise." Take note for the cross without Jesus means nothing. And Jesus without the cross, likewise, means exactly nothing at all!
This is why an empty cross, as the focal point of a Christian house of worship, will never do, and must soon be remedied.
All these blessings proceed from the grace the church prays for in today's Collect, and there is nothing more powerful, precious or needful for sinners than this: all else pales in comparison.
For absent the grace of God we fall prey to every temptation of the devil. But we needn't speak of sin in general today because our Scripture lessons get very specific. They name the chief of all sins, which is self-exaltation: pride by any other name. We learn this from the lips of our Lord in today's gospel that, "whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:11)
On this count we all stand guilty! On this charge we all stand accused! For we all have carefully crafted self-images that we put on for the world: some firm, some fragile and some desperate. And we stand at the ready day and night to defend them by whatever means necessary. And to take retaliatory measures against anyone who dares to invade them. This is nothing other than Sinful Pride, dear Christians, and is responsible for the hatred, anger, jealousy, discord and contention that tears down every good work that God's Spirit builds up.
And so it is the duty of Christians today to repent! To cease their sinful pride. To renounce sin and Satan, and to pray God for the grace to withstand the temptations of the Evil One, and with: pure hearts and minds to follow God.
Please don't say this is impossible. Though the devil never rests, the culture never stops inciting us, and Old Adam is always looking for love in all the wrong places, we are baptized! "We are washed, we are sanctified, we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11)
And so what we pray for today, "pure hearts and minds to follow the only true God," our Lord can, does and will continue to grant us. So that humility, gentleness, patience, the composure to bear with one another in love, and to maintain the unity of the Spirit, will prevail among us. Not only in the church, but also in the world as the church teaches more and more people to humble themselves beneath the mighty hand of God, and to exalt Jesus as Lord. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.