Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

 Bishop Eric Menees

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and in our time grant us thy peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This week's Collect goes back to basics, but they are the very basics that we must go back to again, and again, and again, because we mostly don't understand it - or believe it. I realize I shouldn't use such a broad generalization however twenty seven years of ministry and almost forty years as a Christian have taught me that, while we will often state that we believe that God really is in charge and "governs all things in heaven and earth," we don't really live in a way that demonstrates that understanding and belief.  Equally, we too often don't live in a way that demonstrates a belief that God really does hear and answer all of our prayers.

What would our lives look like if we really lived with the sure and certain hope of God's being in charge? Well for one thing, we'd be a lot less anxious wouldn't we? Jesus said that we should not be anxious about our lives - what we will eat or what we will wear - that God provides for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. (Luke 12:22-34) Jesus says that we should not be anxious about our lives, because our Father in heaven has already taken care of things. St. Paul makes a similar statement in his letter to the Philippians: "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:6)

I know that the anxieties I feel in my own life are often associated with really wondering if God can take care of things. Worries about providing for my family creep in sometimes, and yet time and time again my life experience teaches me that God always provides one way or another. Sometimes I'm anxious because I want both to honor God, and not to look foolish or embarrass the Diocese of San Joaquin or the Anglican Church in North America. That was true this past weekend when I gave the opening invocation at the Walk for Life West Coast. Speaking before 60,000 people was new for me and, if I'm honest, I was anxious - that anxiety was, in part, my not giving things over to Jesus and trusting that he's in charge. Needless to say, he came through and I did not trip and fall on my face - physically or metaphorically.

This is not to say that this kind of faith is simply fatalistic. Far from it! Because we are believers in Jesus Christ, we know that he's given us ministries and responsibilities to represent him in a fallen and broken world. That means that we need to pick ourselves up and, in faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, head out to do what we are called to do. That's what I did this weekend - put one step before the other and trusted that God would cover it. And you know what? He did!

The second half of the Collect calls us to trust that God really does hear and answer our prayers - every one of them. Great sadness has come over me throughout the years when I've spoken to people in difficult times and they've responded, "Oh I haven't prayed about this...I couldn't bother God with such trivia,” or “I save my prayers for the big things,” or “God really doesn't answer individual prayer, he answers collective prayers.” What sad statements these are, because they go contrary to the teaching of Jesus: "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Luke 11:9-10)

Some years ago I heard a pastor explain it this way: God hears and answers every prayer we offer. The answer is always one of three: "Yes," "No," or “Not yet." That really resonates with me, because I do see the result of prayer daily. That which has been broken down is risen up; that which is old has been made new; the sick are healed - the list can go on and on. The problem doesn't come when God answers our prayers with “Yes.” The problem is when he answers our prayers with “No” or “Not yet.” 

My 13 year old son, when he asks for something and we say “No,” has a habit of immediately responding: "Why not?" Expected, perhaps, of a 13 year old, but how often do we all do that with God? We pray for something, we don't see immediate results, and we say, "Why not, must not really exist, or you don’t care about me if you do." In fact, the contrary is true: God, like my wife and I when we say “No” to our son, has our best interests in mind when he says “No” or “Not yet” to us.

This Collect calls upon us to have faith, hope, and trust in God, with the understanding that he really is in charge and really does want to give us the very best. As Jesus said: "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)  And to that I say...AMEN!

Note: The "Notes to the church" articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+  

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