Week of the Sunday from June 19 to June 25
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
No one is good but God alone.
This week’s collect reminds me of the following exchange in Luke 18:18-19:
A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
God is the source of everything good.
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things:
This is what the collect prayer affirms to be true about God. (Sure, it also affirms that God is powerful and mighty, but—as we’ll see below—the theme of “goodness” gets taken up again in the petitions of the prayer.)
Another way of putting this: God is BENEVOLENT
In Thomas Oden’s magisterial work, Classic Christianity, (that’s an affiliate link) he’s got the following excellent summary of divine benevolence:
The divine benevolence is that attribute through which God wills the happiness of creations and desires to impart to creatures all the goodness they are capable of receiving (Tertullian, [Against Marcion] 2; Augustine [De Trinitate] 8.4, 5; Anselm, [Proslogion] 23-25). The psalmists delighted in meditating day and night on the enduring generosity of God (Pss. 1:2; 77:12).
God is not only good in himself, but wills to communicate this goodness to creatures. Having freely offered his life to creatures, God then allows life to be sustained and perpetuated, to propagate and defend itself, to further define itself adaptively, and in so doing to enable innumerable secondary values (Neh. 9:20, 21; Song of Sol. 1:15-2:6; [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 1. 38]).
God displays the goodness intrinsic to the divine character by bestowing upon living creatures prolific capacities for enjoying creation, for receiving the goods God has created, and for creating secondary goods that both God and creatures can enjoy (Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catechism I; [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1 Q6]). (These quotes are from pages 69 and 70.)
OK, so far, everything sounds great. Why are we praying about goodness again?
Well, because there is the following problem: sin.
On our own, we humans can neither manufacture nor discern true goodness.
That’s not to say that humans never accomplish or attain goodness. Yet, whenever we do so, it is ultimately due to the goodness of God.
God’s goodness is, admittedly, a pretty basic fact. But just think about how easy it is to forget this in our everyday lives!
I don’t know about you, but I’m prone to lose sight of the fact that God is the source of everything good. Instead of receiving good things from his hand, I’m prone to go after “good” things on my own.
We must, therefore, pray for the following.
Graft in our hearts the love of your Name,
First, we need God to reshape our hearts, so that we love the right things. For starters, we need to love God, the source of all goodness. And “loving God’s name” means loving the glory of God’s reputation—delighting in being invited to advance God’s reputation throughout creation.
increase in us true religion,
Second, we need God to teach us how to worship him rightly. Otherwise, we are prone to idolatry, which means worshipping anything else other than God.
Lest we think that idolatry was just something ancient people did with little statues, we should consider how idolatry is alive and well today in modern cultures, thanks to the worship of things like money, power, and sex.
Here’s the thing: without the redeeming influence of God, even Christian worship can be idolatrous.
We can often care more about our preferences (think music style, Prayer Book selection, etc.) than the object of our worship.
And, what’s more, we can often care more about our own comfort than the well-being of some of most vulnerable image-bearers of the object of our worship. Consider the words of James 1:27:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
We must pray for God’s help in order to worship him rightly.
nourish us with all goodness,
Third, we need God’s constant provision—his constant nourishment—lest our commitment to goodness be a brief flash in the pan. This provision begins through the preaching of God’s Word and the administration of the sacraments. But it doesn’t end there. It extends into all the various ways God benevolently provides for us.
and bring forth in us the fruit of good works;
Finally, and this is where the rubber meets the road, we pray that God would use US as instruments of his benevolence to others!
I don’t know about you, but I think this is pretty wild: part of God’s benevolence to us, his people, is that he invites us to be instruments of his good-will to each other and to others.
This is the foundational truth at the heart of what it means to live the Christian life. It’s also why James 1:27 links caring for vulnerable people with religion that is pleasing to God.
We don’t try harder and harder to be good so that God would love us. No! Instead, we bring forth the fruit of good works because God loves us and he wants what is best for us.