The collect or prayer for this day has been a particular favorite of mine for a long time, but this year one word leapt out at me with particular force. Addressing the God who protects all who trust in him and who is the sole source of strength and holiness, we ask that he “increase and multiply” upon us his mercy. The word that’s grabbed hold of my brain and my spirit and won’t let go is ‘multiply’. In this prayer, we’re not asking God for just a little more mercy so we can scrape by. We’re asking for a huge hunk. We’re asking for enough to help us pass through things temporal. You and I know about things temporal. It’s all that garbage that comes our way from time to time, sometimes in almost overwhelming piles, as well as the multitude of temptations we face nearly every day we draw breath. We’re asking God for a huge hunk of mercy so that we can get through all the garbage and the temptations in life without losing sight of what’s really important.
I suppose this plea for way more than enough of what God wants to give us to live our lives, not just adequately but abundantly, sometimes catches up with me because in just about any moderately large community like St. James there are almost always a number of people or families who are struggling with particularly heavy loads of care.
- There are almost always some people who are very ill with what seem to be a multitude of aggravating circumstances and conditions. Not only does there seem to be no simple medical answer for people like that, there often seems to be no answer at all. So they end up living in fear and confusion and ambivalence…in addition to being sick.
- Others in the community are sick, some of them seriously, but in more straightforward ways. They’ve been told what they need to do to get well, and they’re doing what they’ve been told to the best of their ability. But, you know, some of that same fear and confusion and ambivalence creeps into their hearts and minds anyway.
- And, of course, there are always people who are suffering mightily in a darkness of mind and spirit that leaves them struggling with despair.
The past two weeks our newly minted teenage grandson has been visiting his East Coast family for the first time on his own. Matthew actually celebrated his thirteenth birthday with us Friday a week ago. I’m not biased, but he is a wonderful, bright, inquisitive, thoughtful kid. As I’ve been with him this week, I can’t help remembering an earlier visit when the entire family came east for a visit. During that visit he and his brother John stayed with us a couple of nights so their parents could have some time to themselves. What we discovered during that time with us was that Matt, just one year old at the time, never stopped. He was mobile, and he exulted in his mobility. He was curious and nothing, it seemed, could distract him from satisfying his curiosity. I found it fascinating to watch his single-mindedness as he worked his way through our house taking it apart one knickknack, potted plant, book or magazine at a time. He was totally focused on exploring his environment.
That one-year-old Matthew seemed to share a critical quality with the person in the parable who finds a treasure and invests everything he has in securing the land where the treasure is buried, and with the pearl merchant who makes a similar investment of time and energy and resources going after what matters most to him. And it occurs to me that all of us, at one time in our lives, had that same critical quality, that same determination and focus that drives young children. But it doesn’t take very long for the adults in a young child’s life to interfere with that focus, to break through that single-mindedness. Of course some of that interference is for the safety of the child, but if we adults are honest, a lot of it is for our own convenience and the preservation of the possessions we hold dear. I think the net effect of our actions is to create yet another generation of humanity who learns that it’s more important to not rock the boat than to pursue their hearts’ desires with passion and determination.
It seems to me that God’s prodigal generosity in giving us what we need to live, and to give it to us in abundance, and the determined efforts of very young children to go after the “treasures” they see all around them are intimately tied to the power of the promise in the collect for today. It’s as you and I test the promise of trusting God for more than enough strength and courage to face the trials of this life, as we shift our priorities toward conformity with the values and challenges of kingdom living, as we invest more and more of ourselves, our time and our energy in what matters most to God so that it finally begins to matter most to us…as you and I do these things to whatever degree we’re able, it’s then that we can say with complete honesty and utter certainty that no matter what happens it will be okay because God is with us and cares for us more than we know…regardless of how things seem right now.
To trust in God’s exponential blessing and the rewards of being single-minded in our search for God are our part in tapping into the blessing and mercy that is promised. That’s what we’re called to do if we want our witness to God’s goodness to have integrity. Somewhere inside each of us is the ghost of that toddler we once were. So maybe we need to search for that young self, and set it free to companion us with its innate single-mindedness and determination as we make our way to God.