Proper 11, Year B, RCL (Track 1)
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our
necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have
compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those
things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our
blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Outside of my wife & children, a long bike ride, and a perfectly grilled steak, one of my favorite things is when the Collect of the Day and our Scripture meld together the way they do today. That’s really the general idea, of course, that the second prayer of our liturgy, a unique prayer for each Sunday of the year, should gather or collect the general feeling of our Scripture and the seaons of the church year. Some weeks, it’s hard to see that connection. Other weeks, it’s a bit more clear.
Today, it’s about prayer, both in word and deed. Prayer is a tricky thing. Too often, we pray for what we want, what we think God should do. Fix this. Feed them. Heal it. Stop that.
But King David discovers in our reading from 2 Samuel that what we think and what we can do for the building up of God’s kingdom is tiny compared to what God can do, that our hopes and dreams pale when we actually pay attention to God’s hopes and dreams for the world.
David wants to build a permanent structure for the Ark of the Covenant, the place where Ancient Israel believed God resided. David thought it unjust that he had a house of cedar, an extravagant luxury by the standards of the day, but God’s dwelling place was in a box in a tent.
The prophet Nathan, David’s connection things religious in Israel, most likely had heard that David was a man after God’s own heart. So when he presents his grand plan to Nathan, Nathan seems more than willing to support it. “Go and do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you,” he says to David.
I’m willing to bet that more than once, if we’re really honest about it, we’ve been like David. We’ve had some grand plan, maybe even something we are certain God would be a fan of, and we’ve not taken the time to be in prayer about that grand plan. I will confess that I have been there more than one time in my life, and no, being a priest does not make one immune from that mistake. One of the biggest obsitles we palce in our own prayer life is that we rely too much on our own hopes and dreams. We sped too much time telling God what we want or what we want God to be for us instead of listening, really listening, to what God may have in mind, or telling God how to build us up instead of listening how God wants to build us up to be the person God made us to be. That’s what David finds out in 2 Samuel 7. David’s plans for the Ark are nothing compared to God’s promise to do for David. “The Lord will make you a house,” God says to David (via Nathan). God makes a promise that David’s lineage and legacy will continue forever. This is the passage Christians have been pointing to for nearly 2,000 years as definitive evidence that Jesus would come from the House and Line of David, we as often hear from Luke’s Gospel on Christmas Eve.
It is certainly a powerful image. But it’s not a wish or desire that David could have come up with on his own. Maybe his desire to build a house for God was an act of Thanksgiving or Gratitude. Maybe it was pure or ego or a way to sow off to those armies and nations that he had vanquished. Samuel does not tell us David’s motivations and even two Psalms about this very subject (89 & 132), focus more on God’s promise to David than David’s initial plan.
Yet, as we prayed at the beginning of our liturgy today, God knows our necessities before we ask, and even our ignorance in asking. As Paul writes in Romans 8: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” There are many definitions of prayer, but the one that I like best is actually in our Prayer Book. Our tradition defines prayer as responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.
King David was more than willing to respond to God with a tremendous deed; and God responded with tremendous words. One of the most common conversations I have with people is about their uncertainty or discomfort or lack of understanding about prayer, conversations often riddled with guilt or fear. I have, in many conversations, pointed people to our Collect for today, encouraging them to say this prayer once or twice a day, to pay attention to the words, to the thoughts of this prayer, and what it says about our relationship with God, and what it says that prayer can and should be.
Like David, we cannot possibly think of the best possible thing for which to pray because God is going to think of something better for us. That’s not to say we shouldn’t ask God to offer healing to an ailing loved one or for guidance and relief in a job search. But God is so much bigger than we can pray for.
I think our Collect for today can change how we as a parish and as individuals see where God is working in our lives and the direction God is leading us. I am committing myself to pray this prayer every day for the next six months. I hope you will join me. I firmly belive that if we open ourselves up to how the Holy Spirit is moving we will be genuinely amazed.
Let us pray together:
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.