Gleanings from the Collects: The 2nd Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect was appointed for the 2ndSunday in Lent in the Gregorian Sacramentary[1]and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It was transferred to the 3rdSunday in Lent in the 1979 BCP and returned to its original position in the 2019 BCP. 

It is a very appropriate prayer for the penitential season of Lent. True penitents realize and confess that they have come to the end of their own strength, are found wanting, and as a consequence they call out to God for mercy. 

The power of such an approach can be seen in the countless lives that have been restored through AA. Their first three steps to recovery say, “1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”[2]

Thus it is not until we realize that we have nowhere else to turn, that we turn in the right direction. The Scripture says that when the Prodigal Son “came to his senses” the returned to his Father[3]Lent is a focused time for us to come to our senses.

Additionally the collect points out that our battles are in two dimensions. We battle outwardly with the flesh but we also battle inwardly with spiritual forces. The collect says that we face “adversities that may happen to the body” as well as “evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul.” 

An important part of spiritual maturity is to keep both battles in their proper perspective. If we only battle on the level of the flesh then we can easily become pawns and even casualties in a spiritual battle of which we are unaware. As someone said, “If you don’t recognize the spiritual battle then everything looks like a conspiracy.” Ignorance of the big picture results in ineffective tactics that have dire consequences. St. Paul warned, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”[4]

On the other hand if we only consider the spiritual battles then we tend to make excuses for sins of the flesh. Like Flip Wilson, we shift responsibility and say, “the Devil made me do it.”[5]Thus the mature Christian denies (St. Paul says “crucify”) the flesh[6]AND suits up in the whole armor of God to battle against principalities and powers.[7]

All throughout Holy Scripture we are reminded that when we call on the LORD He then comes to our aid because He is faithful to a thousand generations.[8]And so as we pray this collect the following Scripture should resound in our hearts and be a cause for thanksgiving. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”[9]In this way we end the prayer, not in desperation, but in quiet confidence and peace. 

[1]A 10thcentury book of prayers and rites used by the Celebrant

[2]AA Big Book 4thEdition, p59

[3]Luke 15:17 NASB

[4]2 Corinthians 11:3 NASB

[5]Apologies. You have to be at least 150 years old to catch that reference.

[6]Galatians 5:24

[7]Ephesians 6:11-13

[8]Deuteronomy 7:9

[9]Psalm 46:1

Gleanings from the Collects: 1st Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect first appeared in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It is adapted from the book Ancient Collects[1]that in turn drew from a collect in the Gregorian Sacramentary[2]of the 8thcentury. 

This prayer is an improvement over the collect for the First Sunday in Lent in the Sarum Rite[3]that reads, “God you cleanse your church with the annual observance of Lent: grant your family that what they strive to obtain from you by fasting they may follow up with good works.” This collect has been correctly described as having pelagian[4]overtones. The words “what they strive to obtain from you by fasting” seems to paint a quid pro quo relationship with God that betrays works righteousness.

The 1979 collect however is not an improvement over the 1662 collect. It reads, “O LORD who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may every obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honor and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

The 1662 collect hits the mark for a number of reasons. First it is addressed directly to our Lord Jesus Christ who overcame temptation and therefore is the very One to give us grace to do the same. Second, while avoiding pelagian overtones, it is not as passive as the current collect. It has us correctly calls upon His grace but then goes on to declare our role in overcoming temptations. Our abstinence is to subdue our flesh to the Spirit and we are to obey the leadership of the same Spirit (“obey thy godly motions”) to pursue righteousness and holiness.

That being said, the current collect has its merits. It perfectly captures the focus of the day’s Gospel that is on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Thus as we enter the 40 days of Lent with Christ it reminds us that we do not do so with bravado or with trust in our own power. 

The collect acknowledges our true condition that we are “assaulted by many temptations” and because of our weakness we stand in need. The collect wisely has us to call upon the Lord to find Him “mighty to save.” 

This balanced approach of admitting our weakness but finding the Lord “mighty to save” will lead to a fruitful Lenten season. It will help to prepare us for the glories of His resurrection, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”[5]

[1]William Bright, 1824-1901, Anglican Priest and Historian.

[2]A Sacramentary is a book that contains the prayers used by the Celebrant.

[3]Sarum Rite was the Rite of Salisbury Cathedral from the 11thcentury

[4]Pelagius was a British monk of the 4thcentury who put such an emphasis on free will and asceticism that St. Augustine condemned him for denying the necessity of God’s grace for salvation.

[5]Romans 6:4 NASB

Lessons from a Fallen Leader

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11 NLT

“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James 3:1 NLT

Reading the report on Ravi Zacharias produced a plethora of emotions. Shock, anger, sadness, and even feelings of betrayal that such an internationally famous leader would and could deceive us. At first I did not want to read the news articles because I thought that they would merely be gossip. Additionally it did not seem right to pile on a man who was dead and who therefore could not defend himself. But when I saw respected writers weigh in on this topic I felt a need to learn the facts…and the facts were very, very ugly. You can learn the story at

The point of this reflection is not to chronicle Ravi’s sins but to offer lessons that can be learned from this tragic story. However it seems necessary first to make some clarifications. As the Scriptures quoted above point out, it is not only allowed but the duty of the Church to expose leaders who engage in deeds of darkness. If Paul could publically call out Peter for his hypocrisy[1]then bringing Ravi’s grievous sins into the light is more than appropriate. Additionally it strengthens the Church when sin is exposed because it acts as a cautionary tale. St. Paul wrote, “Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid.”[2]

It also needs to be pointed out that the weight and consequences of Ravi’s sins are so egregious that it would be a sin to hide them. Consider his victims. Some may wrongfully believe that all sin is equal in God’s eyes and therefore all sins should be covered by Jesus’ statement “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”[3]But Scripture refutes such a notion. First, not all sins are equal. St. John wrote, “All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death.”[4]If you think that swearing and murder are equal sins then you still have some work to do on your ethical standards. Second, if the sins of others should universally be covered, because each of us is a sinner, then St. Paul’s call to publicly rebuke sin would be in direct contradiction of Jesus’ teaching. A more thoughtful application of Jesus’ words is called upon.

So after learning the ugly truth about Ravi what can the Church learn? How can this darkness help us to walk in the light?

  1. Walk in the fear of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[5]God’s holiness and God’s mercy are equal attributes and we become dangerously imbalanced if we do not hold both before us. If we only speak of God’s mercy then He becomes a lenient grandfather who winks at our sin. If we only hold to God’s holiness that we become “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”[6]But when we have both views of God before us we see Him as “Judge of all men”[7]whose “property is always to have mercy.”[8]Because He is holy we flee from sin and because He is merciful we come home like the prodigal when we do sin. The fear of the Lord has us turn the other way when temptation approaches us and the mercy of God has us run into His arms.
  2. Walk in the love of God. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”[9]
    We love Him because He first loved us[10]and it is because we love Him that we keep our promises to Him. When I was a child it was the love of my parents, even more that the fear of them that motivated me to obey. The greatest dread was not punishment but rather the dread of disappointing them. Thus obedience and a healthy desire to please are fruits of love.
  3. Walk in humility. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”[11]The Message says it best. “First pride, then the crash— the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.” One sign of Ravi’s pride was that he was not submitted to a local church. It is pride to think that we do not need one another or that we have outgrown the local church. CS Lewis said, “ If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church…It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”[12]The second sign of Ravi’s pride was that he had little to no accountability. According to the report, he surrounded himself with underlings and “yes” men who were awed by his intellect and fame and trembled before his anger. 
  4. Walk in truth. “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”[13]One of the ways that God’s truth keeps us from sin is that it gives us true perspectives about life. It tells us who God is and who we are and so we order our lives accordingly. Ravi’s view of himself had become so distorted that he justified being a sexual predator because of his supposed faithfulness to the Gospel. He clearly was not walking in the truth about either himself or of God. A key truth about ourselves that the Scriptures teach is our utter dependence upon Him. He is the Potter and we are the clay.[14]He is the Shepherd and we are the sheep.[15]He is Eternal and we are like flowers that fade away.[16]He is the Creator and He is mindful that we are but dust.[17]This biblical perspective acts as an important reality check no matter what measure of fame or success we may achieve. So instead of being deceived like Ravi, that we have earned some special privilege, we remember Jesus words of truth, “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”[18]

When Christian leaders fall it can be a temptation to become cynical and withdraw. While this is an understandable reaction it is also an immature one. A mature biblical understanding has us prepared for the inevitable without becoming cynical. It should be of no surprise to us when leaders fall because we live in a fallen world. And that is why our ultimate faith must be in the Good Shepherd and not in His under shepherds whose feet are clay. It is also important to be reminded from Holy Scripture that we can forgive the unforgivable of our fallen leaders who repent because the Lord has forgiven the unforgivable in each of us when we too have repented. 

[1]Galatians 2:11-21

[2]I Timothy 5:20

[3]John 8:7

[4]I John 5:17 NLT

[5]Proverbs 9:10

[6]Puritan Sermon, Jonathan Edwards, 1741

[7]1928 Book of Common Prayer p75

[8]1928 Book of Common Prayer p82

[9]John 14:15

[10]I John 4:19

[11]Proverbs 16:18 NASB

[12]God in the Dock

[13]Psalm 86:11 ESV

[14]Isaiah 64:8

[15]Psalm 23

[16]I Peter 1:24

[17]Psalm 103:14

[18]Luke 17:10

Gleanings from the Collects: Last Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect first appeared in the 1928 English BCP and was repeated in the 1979 BCP of the American Church. As the number of Sundays in Epiphany varies, due to the movable dates of Easter, this collect has been appointed for whenever the last Sunday after the Epiphany occurs. Its focus is the Transfiguration of our Lord because that is the Gospel lesson appointed for that day each year. Hence the last Sunday before Lent is commonly referred to as “Transfiguration Sunday.” The actual feast day of the Transfiguration is August 6. 

The collect gives us the contextof Jesus’ Transfiguration. It was “before the passion of your only-begotten Son.” While this event revealed Jesus’ glory, that is His divinity, it was not yet time for His glorification. He had “set his face like a flint”[1]to go to Jerusalem to finish the work that His Father had given Him to do. We can presume that speaking with Moses and Elijah, and having the Father speak aloud as at His baptism, strengthened Jesus for the terrible task that was ahead. And while the disciples had not put all the pieces together at that point, they could look back later and see what the Father was preparing all of them to face.

 While the Transfiguration was a once and for all time event, we may still be a part of it. How? The collect tell us how. By “beholding by faith the light of his countenance.” This lovely expression is poignant. It reminds us that we walk by faith and not by sight[2]and Jesus says that those who believe but have never seen are especially blessed.[3]

The collect also reminds us of the focus of our faith. It is not the Bible or the Church or the Creeds, as wonderful and vital as is each of those. The focus of our faith is the Person of Jesus, to behold “the light of his countenance.” This is a refreshing reminder particularly when we get bogged down in church politics or theological debates or the failures of our leaders and we have lost our focus. This collect reminds us, as a popular expression puts it, “It’s all about Him.” One of the most well respected theologians of our generation said that the most profound thing that he had ever learned in all of theology was that “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” We need to return to that truth daily if not hourly. 

The collect goes on to tell us of the outcomeof our faith. And that is to “be strengthened to bear our cross” and to “be changed into his likeness.” 

This is a very appropriate reminder as next Wednesday we enter the season of Lent. The fasts, the additional disciplines and worship, the almsgiving, and whatever else the Lord calls each of us to do, can all be a form of a cross that we bear. And we bear the cross in this manner not to become martyrs or to gain spiritual brownie points or to be respected by others. We bear our cross to “be changed into his likeness.” We bear the cross so that we may be able to say with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”[4]

[1]Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51

[2]2 Corinthians 5:7

[3]John 20:29

[4]Galatians 2:20, The Message

Gleanings from the Collects: World Mission Sunday

Almighty God, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you revealed the way of eternal life to every race and nation: Pour out this gift anew, that by the preaching of the Gospel your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect for mission first appeared in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and is repeated almost verbatim at Pentecost. It drew heavily from a prayer in the Gelisian Sacramentary.[1]

The collect calls to mind the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 when people who were present from many nations heard the Good News of salvation in their own tongue. 

Two very important truths are contained in this collect. The first is the universality of the Gospel. Pentecost was evidence that salvation was not just for the Jewish people but for every “family, language, people and nation.”[2]

The Apostles understood this truth and so they began the ministry of taking to Gospel to the nations as Jesus commended. They began in Jerusalem and then they and their followers since have gone to the ends of the earth.[3]

Today we are to follow in their footsteps and in the power of the Holy Spirit boldly proclaim, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”[4]Such a message will be a stumbling block to many but it will also be salvation to those who hear and receive it. It would be unfaithfulness on our part to dilute this message.

The second truth of this collect is that it informs us how salvation reaches to the ends of the earth. It is the work of the Holy Spirit “by the preaching of the Gospel.” While the modern church puts much emphasis on programs, bands and smoke machines, this collect calls us back to what the Scripture calls, “the foolishness of preaching.”[5]It is the central way that God speaks to saint and sinner alike and He promises that His Word does not return void but accomplishes His purposes.[6]Thus preaching should be held in high regard in the Church and so we pray that “with meek heart and due reverence (we) may hear and receive thy holy Word, truly serving thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of (our) lives.”[7]

Of course the proclamation of the Gospel is not limited to preachers. All Christians are to proclaim the salvation of God in Christ in both word and deed. And because our citizenship is in heaven[8]in one sense we are all full time missionaries while we walk in this world. Are we doing the work that He has given us to do?

[1]A book of prayers, rites and blessings used by the Celebrant dating to around 750AD

[2]Canticle 18 pg 94 1979 BCP; Revelation 7:9

[3]Acts 1:8

[4]Acts 4:12 NASB

[5]I Corinthians 1:21

[6]Isaiah 55:11

[7]1928 Book of Common Prayer p.74

[8]Philippians 3:20

Gleanings from the Collects: 4 Epiphany

O God, you know that we are set in the midst of many grave dangers, and because of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant that your strength and protection may support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

This collect is found in the 1662 and 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It was replaced in the 1979 BCP with a rather innocuous prayer and then restored in the 2019 BCP to the fourth Sunday after Epiphany.

The collect is particularly pertinent in our time, in light of the triumphalism that permeates not just American Christianity but is infecting the Church around the world. This triumphalism has many permutations but in essence proclaims that if you have enough faith and/or make the right confession then you will be healthy and prosperous and have “Your Best Life Now.”[1]Meanwhile Holy Scripture teaches that we are not exempt from suffering and that our best life will be in the world to come.

This collect reminds us of that which is ignored by the health and wealth “gospel,” namely that we live in a fallen world. It reminds us “we are set in the midst of many grave dangers” and positive thinking or the right confession cannot change that. And if that were not enough the prayer also remind us of the “frailty of our nature.” So in light of a fallen world and our frail nature we look not within but to God and ask for His grace and seek His “strength and protection.”

A very comforting thought is contained in this collect. God knows that we are in peril and that “because of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright.” The Psalmist says it so perfectly, “He is mindful that we are but dust.”[2]This means that God is not surprised when in our human nature we fall and He does not love us any less. Brennan Manning says it this way. “He loves you as you are, and not as you should be, because no one is as they should be.”[3]We fall because we are frail, we fall because we are dust. This is not an excuse rather it is an explanation. 

But God also loves us too much to leave us where we are and so we can appeal to His strength and protection to “carry us through every temptation.”  God answers this prayer by hiding us[4]in Christ, “who was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin.”[5]He is our shield and our buckler[6]against the fiery darts of the enemy. 

[1]Joel Osteen, Faith Works, 2004.

[2]Psalm 103:14

[3]All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

[4]Colossians 3:3

[5]Hebrews 4:15

[6]Psalm 91:4