Gleanings from the Collects: Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost

Set us free, loving Father, from the bondage of our sins, and in your goodness and mercy give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect was introduced in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It was appointed for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany. Given the proximity to the season of Lent its placement was most appropriate.

The gem of this collect is in showing the Father’s motivation that flows from His attributes. Because He is love[1], He loves us and wants us free “from the bondage of our sins.” Because He is good[2] and merciful[3], He promises us “abundant life.”[4]

If this is true (and it must be because God says it is) then why do we continue to battle with sin and why does life so often seem to be a struggle? There are both theological and practical responses to these questions that provide at least partial answers.

The theological answer to why we continue to battle with sin is because sanctification or holiness is a life long process. It begins in our baptism when we are washed of our sins and given the Holy Spirit. But this is just the beginning of the journey and not the end. It takes a lifetime to be conformed to the image of Christ but we have His promise that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus.”[5]

The theological answer to why life does not seem to be so abundant is two-fold. First life seems like a struggle because it is. Jesus told us “In this world you will have trouble.”[6] Our battle is against the world, the flesh and the devil and while we may want life to be beach chairs and drinks with little umbrellas, the Scriptures call us to put on the full armor of God and fight the good fight.[7] Secondly the abundant life that Jesus promised will not be fully realized until His kingdom comes in its fullness. While we experience his goodness and mercy in this life, true abundance will be found when we see Him face to face.

The practical reason that we continue to battle with sin is because it is easier to do what comes naturally, and sin is what comes naturally. It is easier to hate because love requires sacrifice. It is easier to trust in riches that we can see than in a Heavenly Father that we cannot. It is easier to pull others down rather than build others up. It is easier to walk on by than to wash another’s feet.

But Jesus has come to not only free us from the bondage of sin but to reveal the Father to us. The more we truly grasp how loving, merciful and good our heavenly Father is, the more we find ourselves desiring to do what is right rather than what is easy.

A practical reason that we do not experience an abundant life is because of our perspectives. Do we expect life to be fair? Do we have a sense of entitlement? Do we demand that things go our way? If so then we will never know an abundant life. But if we live a life of gratitude, if we live in service to God and neighbor, if we love because we are loved, then we will begin to taste the abundant life that is only an appetizer for the banquet to come.

[1] I John 4:16

[2] Psalm 100:5

[3] Exodus 34:6,7

[4] John 10:10

[5] Philippians 1:6

[6] John 16:33

[7] Ephesians 6:10-17

Gleanings from the Collects: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, our refuge and strength, true source of all godliness: Graciously hear the devout prayers of your Church, and grant that those things which we ask faithfully, we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

While absent from the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer this collect can be found in the 1662 and 1828 BCP. In both cases it was the collect for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity.

The idea of God being “our refuge and strength” can be found throughout the Psalms.[1]  Refuge is defined as “a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble.”[2] It is a revelation of God that is meant to bring us comfort and peace.       

Next the collect recognizes the LORD as the “true source of all godliness.” This is vital insight because too often holiness is associated with the proper keeping of rules and traditions. “Don’t drink, smoke or chew or run with people who do.” But the collect shows that godliness is a consequence of our connection to God on a personal level. As branches we have been grafted into the Vine and the stronger our connection the more of the Vine’s godly life we will receive.[3]  

We call on God to hear the “devout prayers of your Church.” This is an expression that brings balance to the all too frequent “me and Jesus” mentality that sees the Church as optional. Scripture tells us that we are individual members of the Body of Christ[4] and so a separated member would be as in much peril as an amputated limb. St. Cyprian (d.258) concluded, “No one can have God for his Father, who does not have the Church for his mother.”[5]        

In a lovely turn of phrase “we ask faithfully” that “we may obtain effectually.” This is not a timid request. When we ask “faithfully” we are literally asking ‘full of faith” that our prayers will be heard and answered. Scripture declares, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”[6]

[1] 18:2; 31:20; 46:1; 71:3; 91:2

[2] Oxford Languages

[3] John 15

[4] I Corinthians 12:12-27

[5] The Unity of the Church

[6] Hebrews 4:16 KJV

Gleanings from the Collects: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in continual godliness, that through your protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly serve you in good works, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect, although absent from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, can be found in the 1662 BCP for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity. It is also in the 1928 BCP. It is a petition for the Lord to empower and protect His Church.

Referring to the Church as God’s “household” is an important reminder that we are the family of God. St. Paul wrote, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”[1]

Therefore we must be diligent to not only treat one another as family but also to resist the temptation to conform the Church to corporate America or follow the latest fad of so called experts. We already have a solid Cornerstone and foundation, as well as those who have gone before us, and that is whom we build upon.

The collect highlights two important elements of being a follower of Christ. One is an inward focus and the other is outward focus and both are necessary to have a balanced spiritual life.

The first is to walk in “continual godliness.” Scripture says, “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.”[2]

Admittedly the call to be holy is daunting. But it is important to remember, as this collect points out, that holiness is first and foremost God’s work in us and that is why we pray for Him to keep us in continual godliness and to protect us from all adversities.

The other focus of our lives is to “devoutly serve you in good works.” Christianity is not a self-improvement course; rather it is a life of service. That is certainly what Jesus modeled for us. If a person cannot answer the question, “whose feet do you wash?” then they need to seek spiritual direction to get back on the right path.

Lastly the collect gives us the goal of our good works. It says “to the glory of your Name.” Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”[3] While our motives and service will never be pure or perfect, we can nevertheless make it our life’s goal to glorify the One who alone is worthy to receive it.

[1] Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV

[2] Hebrews 12:14 NLT

[3] Matthew 5:16