The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity:
Many of us live in this mental space: we know how God would like us to live, and we know that we fail to meet that standard – repeatedly. Though we know that Jesus died for our sins, we still live with a chronic sense of guilt, an overwhelming idea that our Father is disappointed with us. If this sounds at all familiar, then today’s collect is going to be good, theologically sound, medicine for you:
Almighty and everlasting God,
who art always more ready to hear than we to pray,
and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve:
Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy;
forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask,
but through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
This collect draws our attention to a number of really vital things about the God we serve and the means of our salvation.
The generous Father who loves us
So who is this God that we serve? He is the generous Father who loves us. We don’t deserve his love, but he gives it to us anyway. We don’t deserve his listening ear, but it is always there. And we don’t deserve the blessings that he sends our way, yet he is the one who just keeps giving us gifts – even as we sleep (Psalm 127:2).
I love the way that this prayer, even before we get into the meat of it, reminds us that God’s love for us is much bigger than our inability to be worthy of it. We may as well throw the self-recriminations and checklists out the window. Our starting point with God is the fact that we’re not worthy. Our starting point with God is the fact that he is merciful and generous and loving.
The anxious conscience
Okay, check out this phrase: “things whereof our conscience is afraid.” Even in the old-fashioned style, we totally understand what is going on here, right? There are times in our lives when our conscience troubles us. We are so troubled that we feel anxious even approaching our Father. Maybe we even avoid him. But avoidance and anxiety are not the answer. Why? Because we have a God who is always eager to hear from us – no matter the state of our conscience. This is the same Father who watched and waited for the prodigal’s return in the famous parable. He wants to forgive us. What he does not want is for us to throw up our hands and walk out of the relationship.
The fact that we’ve messed up yet again is no surprise to our Father. Jesus came to die because we were utterly incapable of getting it right. Our salvation was made possible because of his merit, not ours. Would such drastic measures have been undertaken if the situation were not dire?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should become complacent bedfellows with our sin, but I am saying that we should not lose sight of Romans 5:8. It says this: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (NASB). God’s love was never contingent on our virtue or success. It still isn’t.
So the next time you are tempted to imagine a disappointed heavenly Father glowering down upon you, stop yourself. Remember that this Father knows you well enough to know that you cannot do it on your own. He went to great lengths to make a way for you to come home. He is waiting for you to come home, again. So don’t stay away. Accept his forgiveness. Start fresh tomorrow, not with a weight on your shoulders, but with the joy and courage that comes from knowing that his love won’t change.
A meditation in song
In closing, I want to share with you one of many lovely hymns that I don’t hear often enough: “Here is love, vast as the ocean” by William Rees (1802–1883). The words reflect on the sacrifice of Christ, and the magnitude of God’s love for us. And in the final verse we are reminded that this love, power and grace without measure is present for us right now and continues without end. Thanks be to God.
Here is love, vast as the ocean
by William Rees (1802–1883)
(Performed by Bryan Gilliland)
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
loving-kindness as the flood,
when the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He will never be forgotten
throughout heav’n’s eternal days.
On the mount of crucifixion
fountains opened deep and wide;
through the floodgates of God’s mercy
flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
poured incessant from above,
and heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
kissed a guilty world in love.
Let me all Thy love accepting,
love Thee, ever all my days.
Let me seek Thy kingdom only,
and my life be to Thy praise.
Thou alone shalt be my glory,
nothing in the world I see.
Thou hast cleansed and sanctified me,
Thou Thyself hast set me free.
In Thy truth Thou dost direct me
By Thy Spirit through Thy Word;
And Thy grace my need is meeting
as I trust in Thee, my Lord.
Of Thy fullness Thou art pouring
Thy great love and pow’r on me,
Without measure, full and boundless,
Drawing out my heart to Thee.