Proper 23A SJHC
In the 1928 Prayer Book today’s collect is prayed on the 17th Sunday after Trinity and reads, “Lord, we pray that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” This prayer was sent by Pope Gregory the Great with St. Augustine to Canterbury in 597, over 1500 years ago. “Prevent” comes from the Latin “praevenio” to come before.
“Prevenient grace” is a theological term for God’s grace given to all people to prepare us to receive and respond to the gospel. The gospel is good news of Jesus’ death on the cross which set us free from slavery to sin and Jesus’ resurrection to offer us new life in him in the truth and power of the Holy Spirit.
Article Ten of the Article of Religion tells us, “. . . we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us (going before us), that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.”
In the section on the sacraments our church catechism page 857-858 says this, “The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.”
God’s prevenient grace comes before our conversion and prepares us to receive and respond to the good news of Jesus’ death on the cross which set us free from slavery to sin and Jesus’ resurrection to our new life in him in the truth and power of the Holy Spirit. When we respond to the good news in faith we begin to receive the continuing grace of God. Our sins are forgiven, our minds spiritually enlightened, our hearts stirred and our wills strengthened to know and do God’s will in our lives.
We call that response “conversion” or “being saved.” The response is not automatic or universal. God’s prevenient grace, God’s call, is universal. God calls us all. God’s grace makes it possible for everyone to respond. But God’s creation includes free will. We have to choose to hear the call and respond to it.
Baptism and the eucharist are the biblical means of grace, the ways God has given us to know his grace and to grow in his grace. Most of us have been blessed to be born into families that knew God’s continuing grace and brought us to baptism. In baptism we are made members of the spiritual body of the crucified and resurrected Jesus. As St. Paul tells us in the epistle to the Romans, we are grafted in to the body as a tree is grafted into a root. We are made God’s children by adoption and grace. In the eucharist we give thanks. Efharisto is the Greek word for “I thank you.” We give thanks for the death and resurrection of Jesus and for the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us by faith. We offer ourselves in God’s service, and we are spiritually fed and strengthened in that service by the bread and wine which are for us the life giving body and blood of Jesus.
God’s grace, “God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved” us such a wonderful gift that it is hard to understand why everyone does not accept it. . Our sins are forgiven, our minds spiritually enlightened, our hearts stirred and our wills strengthened to know and do God’s will in our lives. Why is it so hard for us to receive this wonderful grace, and to continue in it?
Today’s bible readings suggest four reasons why it is hard for us to receive this wonderful grace, and to continue in it. First, some have not heard this good news. God trusts Christ’s body the church to proclaim the good news. Some have not heard because as someone said, “what you do is so loud I can’t hear what you say.” We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Some have been so injured by church people clergy and lay that they are spiritually deaf. Second, some cannot hear because they are so culturally bound. Third, fear makes some deaf. Fourth, some are so immersed in the immediate tasks of this life that we will not stop long enough to hear God’s eternal call. Some are so caught up in sin that we are unable to repent and receive God’s grace.
Fear: The people of Israel escaped slavery in Egypt, followed Moses into the desert, were fed by manna, watered from the rock. But when Moses was slow coming down the mountain they got scared. Clergy can fear like everyone else. Aaron the priest made the golden calf. We “test the Church by the scripture.” Moses prayed for the people; pray for the church that we may be faithful in preaching and serving Jesus.
Busyness: “. . . they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.” Some of us who have responded to grace allow the urgent to distract us from the important. We need continually to respond to God’s grace and seek to serve.
The wedding garment: Continual repentance is a sign of grace filled life. Eastern Orthodox spirituality includes the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” We are sinners saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. God grant us grace to live as we believe.