Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Ninth Week after Pentecost - Proper 14

Bishop Eric Menees

“Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot exist without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Have you ever noticed how Archbishop Cranmer, in the Collects - either the ones he wrote or the ones he included from previous works - tends to confront our number one sin: Pride?  This week's collect does not disappoint in addressing the issues of human pride and vanity.

Our pride tells us: "I know the difference between right and wrong, I don't need to pray for God to direct me to think rightly." Boy is that line of thinking messed up! Note that the prayer calls upon the Lord to give us His Spirit in order, always, to think and do the right thing. "Always think the right thing and do the right thing;" now there is the rub. I can often think of the right thing to do, but my ability to think it and the willpower to do it are not always in sync. In fact, more often than I'd like to admit, I think of the right thing to do but I do the wrong thing. I suspect that you may be able to relate with this. St. Paul certainly understood this reality when he wrote his letter to the Church in Rome: For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)

How often do you know the right thing to do, but do the wrong thing? Or - put even more strongly - do the very thing you hate? The answer for the vast majority of us is: "More often than I'd like to admit." When we rely upon our own strength and willpower, too often we give into temptation, or expediency, or peer pressure.

Which is the very reason for this week's Collect. Archbishop Cranmer is reminding us in this prayer that we need not rely upon our power and strength but upon the power and strength of The Lord and Him alone.  It is by God's Grace alone that we do the right thing or even think the right thing.  What a huge blessing that is - we do not need to rely upon our own strength, but upon the strength of the Lord God and Him alone!

All too often we act like we are alone. We believe we have to carry the burden - we have to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. Whenever we tell ourselves that or live that way, Satan rejoices because it means that we have bought into his lie that we are self-sufficient. Jesus tells us just the opposite: Take my yoke upon you, and  learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 12:29-30) I suspect it breaks Jesus' heart when we fail to respond to his gracious offer to, "Take my yoke upon you...." The image of the yoke was very common in the first century, but in an age of tractors and farm machinery we lose some of the impact.  

A yoke is that wooden implement that - very often - fastens two oxen together so that the farmer can harness the power of not just one, but two oxen to plow a field, remove a tree stump, or do whatever heavy labor a man could not do on his own. There is a tradition that Jesus, as a carpenter, specialized in making yokes, since each yoke had to be specially made for each set of oxen so that the wood would not chaff their hides, and to best maximize their combined power.

That image is a beautiful one: Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon our shoulders so that we do not have to bear life's burdens on our own. That is God's grace and love for you and me: the desire not simply to sit up in His heaven, detached and far away, but rather hooked together to pull along His adopted son or daughter, or - more often than not - to carry him or her.

Let us join together in this week’s Collect, bidding God to grant us the Grace not only to think the right thing but to do it - not on our own, but joined together with God - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  And to that I say...AMEN.

I pray you all a very blessed Lord's Day!
Catechism Questions    

4. What is the way of death?
The way of death is a life empty of God’s love and life-giving Holy Spirit, controlled by things that cannot bring me eternal joy, but that lead only into darkness, misery and eternal condemnation.

5. Can you mend your broken relationship with God?

No. I have no power to save myself, for sin has corrupted my conscience and captured my will. Only God can save me.

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