Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Seventh Sunday After Trinity

(We continue our comments on the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church.)

And to all thy People give thy heavenly grace; and especially to this congregation here present; that with meek heart and due reverence, they may hear, and receive thy holy Word; truly serving thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life.

We come now to the paragraph in which we pray for “all thy people” and “this congregation here present.” Here we begin to pray most explicitly for ourselves, but notice exactly what needs we mention: grace, holiness and righteousness. We deliberately refrain from praying for health, wealth and success. The Church's liturgy never allows us to sink into a “Gimme” style of praying, in which we presume to judge for ourselves what our greatest needs really are and then demand imperiously that God quickly oblige our requests. According to the Biblical Gospel, our greatest needs are nothing but grace, holiness, and righteousness.

Grace is an attribute of God. Grace is His loving-kindness, unearned, undeserved, unexpected, unexplained. By grace, God acts on our behalf, to extricate us from the hopeless predicament of our sinfulness. However we might define our problem as humans, it is at bottom a situation of our own making, resulting from our disobedience and ingratitude toward our Creator. The Biblical name is sin, and the only cure is grace. We might prefer to think of our fundamental problem as some harmless little defect of character, which we can try to cure through some humanistic program of ethical culture.

There is a story of a man who made a list of all his character defects and then decided to work on them one at a time until they all went away! He seemed to make a little progress until he came to the sin of pride. No matter how hard he tried, we could not erase his pride! The more he thought about his ethical progress, the more proud of himself he became! If our spiritual sickness were so superficial, then we could have no need of grace and God would be out of business.

Grace is God's love, but also His power. Only a truly sovereign God could take desperate sinners and make them into saints. It is also His special intervention. Grace is God's surprise, since such a miracle does not just casually happen in the ordinary course of events.

St Paul records a quotation from the lips of our Lord, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Here we are taught that grace is all we need. It is the power of God, put on display in the weakness of the baby Jesus and the dead man on the Cross.

(To be continued.)

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