Sorry for the late Collect Reflection this week! My daughter, Eva Joy Steele, was born on Friday after quite a lengthy labor and delivery process. Here’s what I was able to put together!
Week of the Sunday from July 17 to July 23
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
GOD defines who God is. We don’t.
If we’ll allow it, the first portion of this week’s collect could completely reshape our theology:
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Did you catch that? The prayer is zeroing-in, not just on the fact that God is powerful, but on how God has in fact displayed God’s power.
THIS is how theology is to be done. Instead of speculating about God’s attributes (in this case, his omnipotence/power), we instead observe God in his self-revelation, and we use that revelation to define/describe God’s attributes.
It’s the difference between “Here’s what I think divine power must be like: take human power and times it by, like, a billion…” and “Here’s what divine power looks like: God has mercy and pity, even on his enemies.”
It reminds me of Hosea 11:8-9:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
There are enormous differences between God and humans. And these differences aren’t able to be reduced to theological formulas, as if we could always tell whether to multiply or invert human attributes in order to learn about divine attributes.
Instead, as this week’s prayer implicitly reminds us, we must heed divine revelation.
God is powerful, to be sure. But he primarily displays his power by showing mercy and pity.
This is great news! Why?
We need God’s power, mercy, pity, and grace to live life well.
Having established the surprising and true nature of God’s power, our prayer continues:
Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure
That’s a fine summary of the Christian life, right there. Here’s how this portion of the collect is worded in the 1662 BCP:
Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure
I actually think that the meaning of this is clearer in the 1662 BCP.
What does it mean to “run to obtain God’s promises”? It means “running in the way of God’s commandments,” that is, following God’s commandments in order to receive his promised blessings. Of course, God’s promises are many, but the chief promise in view in this prayer is partaking of God’s heavenly treasure—referring to eternal life in perfect communion with God and with each other.
Eternal life, though it will be fully fulfilled in heaven, starts now for Christians. We discover this as we “run in the way of God’s commandments”—that God wants what’s best for us!
And yet, lest we think that the answer is simply trying harder to obey God’s commandments in order to earn his promised blessings, this prayer reminds us that what we need is NOT trying harder, but rather more of God’s grace!
So, join me in thanking the Lord that he is powerful, merciful, and gracious enough to sustain us as we follow his will. And keep your eyes open for where you’re called to run in the way of God’s commandments this week!