The Collect for the Third Sunday after Trinity:
O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may by thy mighty aid be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A homily preached at Holy Communion on the Third Sunday after Trinity, Sunday 6 July A.D. 2014.
Our prayer of the day is all about prayer; and it assumes that praying is something we want and need to do – something on which we depend, something we enjoy, and something we do often.
According to this prayer – the collect for the Third Sunday after Trinity – God has ‘given us an hearty desire to pray.’
But is this really true? How much, or how deeply, or how often, do you really desire to pray? Ask yourself that question.
As a priest, prayer is my job; and even I must confess that my desire to do so is not always there; and even when it is, it’s not necessarily ‘hearty’ or strong.
So, then, is today’s collect simply wrong? Maybe it should say that God has given us, not ‘an hearty,’ but rather, an occasional desire to pray; or, a desire to pray on an as-needed basis. Wouldn’t that be more accurate?
Well, it might be more honest about our day-to-day experience; but it can’t possibly be true.
It cannot possibly be true that God would have given us a weak or defective desire to pray. Our Creator has hard-wired into our souls a deep, strong, and hearty desire to pray; the problem is that this good desire is suppressed by something bad – something that tells us we don’t really need to pray.
And that something is pride. Our pride tells us that our life is our own, that we’re in control and that we can manage it well enough on our own.
If that were really the case, then no, we would not need to pray.
But if we’re honest with ourselves – and if we think back to our past and remember the hard times we’ve been through – then I think we’ll see that we really did not and cannot manage on our own. We simply cannot deal with all the things life throws at us through our own strength and wisdom.
So then, we really do have this hard-wired, hearty desire to pray; but that desire is choked by the grip of our pride; and it’s only through suffering that our pride can be gradually chipped away throughout our lives. Only then can our soul’s hearty desire for prayer breathe again.
That’s why our prayer of the day asks God to comfort and defend us in all dangers and adversities – not from them.
Suffering is actually good for us in so far as it breaks down our pride and delusion of self-sufficiency and reminds us of our dependence on God, who, as we heard, cares for us and will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us.
1 Peter 5:5-11; Luke 15:1-10
Those were the words of Peter from our first lesson – a lesson that encourages us in the way of humility, the very opposite of pride.
As Peter says, Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, ‘For God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’
As we said earlier, pride suppresses our desire for honest prayer – it discourages us from communicating with God. So you can see why He would oppose it:
Pride keeps us from God, who wants to be close to us.
That’s why Peter encourages us to humble ourselves […] by casting all our anxieties on Him.
To pray honestly and openly; to express our needs to God; to beseech Him mercifully to hear us; to ask that His ‘mighty aid’ would defend and comfort us ‘in all dangers and adversities’; to draw near to God and pray in this way is an act of humility – the very opposite of pride.
We see this contrast between humility and pride play out in today’s gospel reading:
The tax collectors and sinners – who are humbled by their guilt, shame and rejection – draw near to Jesus to hear Him. Meanwhile the proud Pharisees and scribes can only grumble and condemn Jesus and His humble audience.
In response, Jesus tells two parables: the shepherd who seeks and finds his lost sheep; and the woman who seeks diligently in her house to find her lost coin.
Jesus uses both of these parables to show how God seeks out lost people (like the tax collectors and sinners) and how God rejoices when such people repent.
So Jesus says these parables are about repentance.
Normally we think of repentance as something that we must do to restore our relationship with God.
It’s about stopping and turning around from going down a path of sin; and turning back to God. That’s true; but here, in today’s readings from Peter and Luke, we learn two prior things about repentance:
First, repentance is about being humbled and turning back to God in prayer.
The first and most basic step in repentance is to humble ourselves and cast all our anxieties on God. That’s because our pride is the first and most basic sin from which we must repent.
So that’s the first point: to repent is to humble ourselves before God.
But secondly, even though Jesus says these parables are about repentance, we don’t actually see any repentance taking place on the part of the lost objects.
The sheep and the coin simply get lost. They don’t find themselves and humbly turn back to their owner. No, the shepherd and the woman, respectively, seek them out and find them. The action is all on the part of the one who’s doing the seeking.
As Jesus says, repentance involves being sought out and found by God.
And as we learn from Peter, repentance involves turning from pride and prayerfully humbling oneself under the mighty hand of God.
So it seems that there’s something of a two-step cycle to repentance: God does His part – seeking and finding us; and we humans do our part – humbling ourselves and turning back to God. You need both steps, both directions, to complete the cycle.
Friends, the gospel, the good news, is that Jesus Christ accomplishes both of these steps and completes the cycle for us.
God the Father sent Jesus, not only to find us, who were lost in pride and sin, but He sent Jesus also to humble Himself in our place.
Jesus ‘humbled Himself under the mighty hand of God, [He] entrusted Himself radically into God’s hand, and endured shame, suffering and death, in order that in Him, we might also humble ourselves and trust God (Harink)
Our humbling, repentance, our turning back to God, happens in Christ and through Christ.
Jesus initiated this in His life of perfect humility & obedience. He completed it in His death. And now He fulfills it in us through His Resurrection and Ascension. Jesus prays for us at the Father’s right hand in heaven; and He sends upon us His Holy Spirit to give us a new, hearty desire to pray with a humility full of joy and thanksgiving.
As Peter wrote earlier in his letter: You were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of you souls (1 Pet. 2:25)
Jesus Christ is the Great Shepherd, who was sent to seek and find us who had gone astray in pride and sin.
And yet this Great Shepherd humbled Himself completely by becoming the sheep who was lost in our place – lost even to death.
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who sacrificed Himself so that we could never be lost forever.
Friends, in just a few minutes, we will receive Holy Communion: the Lamb of God who grants us His peace by taking away the sin of the world and of our proud hearts. To receive this Communion is to turn from pride, from self-centeredness, from believing that we can manage our own lives. To receive this Lamb of God is to humble ourselves – to share in His glorious humility.
So as you prepare to do this, be sure to cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.
In this Holy Communion Jesus Christ makes good on His promise to Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
For that, thanks be to God. Amen.
Douglas Harink, 1 & 2 Peter (Brazos, 2009), p. 126.