In this week's collect, we pray for the ability to be able to serve God in purity. In just a few words we are humbly reminded of two sides of our Christian lives: the reality of the struggle against sin and shortcomings and the simultaneous reality of God's promised grace that makes our salvation and deliverance possible. Today's readings reinforce both of these themes beautifully.
First, from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, we read:
It’s not that I’ve already reached the goal or have already completed the course. But I run to win that which Jesus Christ has already won for me. Brothers and sisters, I can’t consider myself a winner yet. This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus. Whoever has a mature faith should think this way. And if you think differently, God will show you how to think. However, we should be guided by what we have learned so far. (Phil 2.12-17, GW)
Even St. Paul recognized his imperfections, failings, and sin, but he did was not discouraged. On the contrary, his realization encouraged him to strive even more to imitate Christ and continue to grow.
Our vision isn't always so great, though. Sometimes, our sinfulness causes our vision to cave in on ourselves and fixate on our utter unworthiness, terrifying our consciences, and creating fear instead of faith. In these times, we need to be strongly reminded of the grace of God, which does everything necessary for those trusting in the mercy of Christ.
Writing to a deported and captive Israel, the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the sinfulness that brought about exile, God's just judgment against their sin, and their utter inability to cure themselves. It it a bleak message that is peppered with lines of grace and hope; however, the exact words we need to be reminded of when our own sins oppress us:
Don't be afraid...don't be terrified...
I am with you and I will rescue you...
I’ll restore your health and heal your wounds...
You will be my people, and I will be your God. (Jer 30.1-22, GW)
The penitential seasons of Advent and Lent remind us of our sinfulness, but if they only do this without also preaching grace to us, we have missed the point. We strive for holiness. We strive to follow Christ. But we fail. And when we do, we throw ourselves on his mercy, where we find God's wonderful presence, healing, and forgiveness.
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