Sermon for Rogation Sunday
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
May 9, 2010
One of the geniuses of Anglican worship is the use of the Collect. As I’ve mentioned before the term collect comes from the Latin collecta and it basically means a gathering together just as the name implies. Its purpose is to form a succinct statement and usually gives a one sentence synopsis of the Epistle and Gospel lesson appointed for a particular Sunday or Holy Day. The Rev. Paul Zahl once said if you want to know the theology of Anglicanism, simply read the collects. His point in making that assertion is that the overarching principle of the Gospel can be found therein – the Law of God, and the Mercy of God in that important order.
I think that most of the time the collect is overlooked, and yet, every Prayer Book service has at least one appointed to be prayed. I would ask you to turn again to page 175, and reflect again upon those words, which were offered at the beginning of the service.
We begin with a petition to God and the acknowledgement that all good things come from him. The ancient Prayer Book Lectionary is built on a wonderful order because if you look at the previous page and the portion from St. James’ Epistle which preceded ours this morning, that same sentiment is expressed again, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
There is the temptation within secularism to chase the things that we build up in our minds as good, and we often discover that there is nothing but a letdown at the end. We spend our lives chasing a career, money, security, and realize that our true happiness can never be found in making those things an end unto themselves. Only when we can recognize and acknowledge that all that we have is a gift from God, and that he has entrusted them to us for a short time will we ever realize where true joy and happiness can be found.
The collect continues with what I see as parallel ideas that play off of each other, and begin to solidify what St. James is saying in the Epistle lesson for this morning.
The pleading portion asks God for two things – to think those things that are good, and then to perform them. The pleading incorporates two additional themes that I believe give the collect its tremendous beauty and theological depth. We don’t simply ask God for those two things that I just mentioned, rather, we seek our Lord’s holy inspiration and His merciful guiding.
Our Epistle lesson today opened with the words, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” I have always loved those words from St. James because that is the mission statement for all Christians – put your faith into practice and action. Go out and do, that what we hear Christ calling us all to do.
Our collect puts additional flesh on those words.
O Lord, by thy holy inspiration, help us to think those things that are good.
One of our greatest shortcomings is the notion that we can do things on our own. After all, we were all raised with the thoughts of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and yes, that is what we are supposed to do. However, if we believe that we have all the ability we’ll ever need to accomplish this task, then we’ve only set ourselves up for failure.
That goes with our thoughts as well. I can say with 100% certainty that the thoughts that run through my head are some of my most besetting sins. No, I’m not going to turn the pulpit into my own confessional booth, but I would venture to say that all of our thoughts are the ones that tend to get each and every one of us in our most trouble. Of course, one step further is putting those thoughts into action, but I only wish to dwell on the thoughts for right now.
Jesus told his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:
Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
And further on:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
Jesus is entreating us to get our thoughts in order because our thoughts will no doubt lead to action. If we don’t get our mind under control, then our mind will begin to justify what the will has already decided it wants to do. And the most important of our collect this morning is that we pray that we might receive the inspiration from Almighty God that we might begin to think on those things that are good.
As St. Paul says to the Philippian Church:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
We are told to think on those good and pleasant things, and we most definitely need holy inspiration to do so. It is ours for the asking.
Now all of the thoughts and dwelling on these good and pleasant things is wonderful, now comes the application and putting it into practice. That is where the second half of the collect comes in, and what James is speaking about in his epistle.
Lord, by thy merciful guiding may I perform those same good things.
I think the combination of those two words, merciful and guiding, speaks so eloquently to the human condition. In all that we do we are still constantly in need of God’s mercy. Even when we’ve given our best, we still come face-to-face with our sinfulness. I wish I couldn’t count the times that even sitting in church my mind wanders, I think sinful thoughts, and yet, I’m engaged in the worship of Almighty God.
There’s a witty little prayer that floats around the Internet every few months or so that goes something like this:
Dear Lord, I thank you that I haven’t thought any evil thoughts today, I haven’t gossiped, I haven’t cursed, that I’ve committed myself to you and your will for my life, but I’m about to get out of bed now, and I know I’m going to need you now more than ever. Amen.
As the Psalmist declares and we pray on Ash Wednesday, “Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me.”
When we can admit our condition, we can then more easily entrust our lives to the merciful guiding that our Lord desires for us. Then we can do the work that St. James speaks of when he speaks of the Christian as a doer of the Word and not a hearer only.
We are called to be a doer of the Word not to earn favor, or merit, but rather out of a sense of humility and utter thankfulness for the merciful guiding that we continue to receive. Our ability to understand and attempt to grasp the grace of God only becomes evident when we fully diagnose who we really are in the sight of God. When we are able to do this, then can we start to comprehend the futility of our actions apart from a posture of gratitude.
The medieval church got itself into trouble with some of these passages, and perhaps this is why Martin Luther had so much trouble with them. He saw what happened when works were seen as an end in themselves, rather than a means to an end, which is the worship and service toward a merciful God. He saw what happened when the church abused her authority over the souls of her members and exploited them for deeply sinful and selfish purposes. Seen in its proper context, one can recognize the beauty in seeing God’s holy inspiration shaping our thoughts and desires, and mercifully guiding us into action, thus, helping bring about His kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.
O Lord, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same.
Now, through our Lord Jesus Christ, may we have the opened ears to hear those words, and the minds, wills, and desires, to go forth and perform the same, to the honor and glory of Almighty God, to whom be ascribed all might, majesty, power, and dominion, both now and forever. Amen.