We Lectio the Liturgy this week with a prayer from the 8th Century. This prayer, the Collect for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, was originally used during the Octave of Christmas.
Almighty ever-living God, direct our actions according to your good pleasure, that in the name of your beloved Son we may abound in good works. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.
This week we ask God to direct our actions toward his good pleasure. It seemed like an odd request to me because how do I know what God’s good pleasure is? Philippians 2:13 happens to tell us: For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work. (NAB) The Greek word for purpose is eudokia (yoo-dok-ee’-ah) and it means good pleasure, purpose, intention.
God’s good pleasure is to accomplish his work through you. He will not only give you the desire to do his work, but the power to do the work. It’s quite humbling, isn’t it? Almighty ever-living God wants to work through you. There’s only one thing we have to do. I’ll tell you what it is later.
The Accrue of the prayer is a dependent phrase, it doesn’t stand alone. To abound in good works is impossible unless we rely on the grace of God to direct us. That thought may have a bit of a sting to it at first. We sometimes try very hard to get those good works tallied up and it’s hard to find the energy or the desire to follow through. St. Augustine said “It is not that the will or the deed is not ours, but without his aid we neither will nor do anything good.” It takes God, directing our hearts, to accomplish the deeds he has for us.
About that one thing we have to do? Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are created by God’s handiwork, created in Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. When God directs our actions to accomplish his tasks, the only thing we have to do is to do it. It almost seems too easy or maybe somewhat unfair, that God does all the work and we get the credit. He has prepared these works for us in advance, he gives us the grace and power to do them, however, when we accomplish his work, we receive the merit.
I recently came across a story about a lady who purchased a new nativity set at a local store. When her family unpacked the figurines, they discovered there were two baby Jesus figurines in the package. Worried that someone didn’t get a baby Jesus in their nativity set because they got two, they went back to the store. The manager said that no one had come in with the issue, and he gave her the permission to put up her note that read, “If you’re missing Baby Jesus, call 7162.”
The family grew excited, hoping each phone call would be someone looking for a Baby Jesus. No one called. On Christmas Eve, the father and children went to see if all the nativity sets were sold. They were, and they brought their excitement back home, maybe someone would call tonight. When they got home, however, they found that their mother was gone, and so was the extra Baby Jesus.
The phone soon rang, it was their mother, calling with an address and instructions to bring blankets, cookies and milk. At the address they found the darkest house on the block.
Inside they found their mother, and a family whose father had abandoned them, taking everything with him. Their furnace had broken down and they were cold.
While the man fixed the furnace and the children filled up on cookies and warm milk, the women talked. The now-single mom said, “I saw your number every day on those boxes. Said on the box that if a person was missing Jesus they should call you. That’s how I knew you were good Christian people, willing to help folks.”
How easy it is for us to sit back and pray, “Lord, help the lonely, the cold, heal the sick.” Prayer is important, and petition is only a part of prayer, but the good works that God is calling us to - visiting the lonely, warming the cold, healing the sick - reach out to those people who will look at us and say, “I was missing Jesus and I found him in you.”
Lectio the Liturgy: Spend some time in prayer this week, not asking God to help others, but asking Him how you can help others. Then, expect a test. At any moment, an opportunity may arise for God to work through you. Jump at the chance!
Thanks for praying with me,