by the Rt. Rev. Gary Lillibridge
Recently, two of our Sunday Collects have us praying for “the fullness of (God’s) grace” (Proper 21); and asking that God’s grace “may always precede and follow us” (Proper 23). Both of these Collects continue their petitions acknowledging that there is a purpose for asking for a full measure of God’s grace, namely that we “may become partakers of (God’s) heavenly treasure” (Proper 21), and that we “may continually be given to good works” (Proper 23). This got me to thinking about what a life full of God’s grace might look like. (The “propers” are the assigned readings for the day, including the Collects.)
Grace is a churchy word that sounds refreshing, but how often have we actually paused to consider what we mean when we say it or hear it? The word can mean many things, including “pleasing quality, favor, thoughtfulness towards others, a short prayer at meals, a special virtue given to a person by God, the condition of a person thus influenced” and so on. The Book of Common Prayer defines grace as “God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved” (page 858).
Presumably, if I am a follower of Jesus – God’s ultimate vessel of grace – I am going to try to pattern my life after Jesus’ example. His life, ministry, death, and resurrection are the very definition of the word grace, and so if I am praying for “the fullness of God’s grace” and I want this grace to “precede and follow me,” I need to think about the things that are important to Christ, care about the things that God cares about, and do the things that the Holy Spirit did and continues to do. I can’t be praying for the fullness of God’s grace unless I am inclined to act with favor towards others, whether they have earned it or whether they deserve it (see earlier prayer book definition). My grace is supposed to be God’s grace, put into action in my thoughts, words, and deeds.
St. Paul writes that we are to be “imitators of God” (Ephesians 5.1). We will be imitators, even if imperfectly, when we strive for a full measure of God’s grace by acting like Christ. John’s Gospel recounts the story of some Greeks appearing before the disciple Philip with a simple request: “We would like to see Jesus” (12.21). People are still longing to see Jesus, and it is our privilege and our responsibility to do all in our power to be imitators of God, full of grace, so that they may see Jesus made manifest in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Think and care about what God thinks and cares about, and you will see people differently. As a result, you won’t be able to do anything other than “be given to good works” because you’ll understand that the heavenly treasure means loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and loving your neighbors as yourself –– right here and right now.
About the author: The Rt. Rev. Gary Lillibridge is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.