O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I don’t tire of praying this collect from the fifth Sunday in Lent since it is, unfortunately, always applicable. What’s it saying? Only God can change the hearts of sinners. May he help us love his laws and want what he promises us. The things of this world are fleeting—like dust in the wind, all is vanity. We can find joy only in him, ultimately through the hope we have in Jesus Christ.
We are, however, a people transfixed on those things that are always changing and decaying. Current events and fads go out of date before they gain our attention. As soon as the latest iPhone is released, we begin to speculate about the next iteration. Et cetera.
Would that we could devote this much energy toward fixing our hearts where true joys are to be found. We instead fill the void with sundry and manifold stuff. This is nothing new. It’s the story of the ages. It seems this is the bottom line when it comes to the story of Israel’s relationship with God: He commands, he promises, they agree, they lack trust, they disobey, and God sends his prophets to remind them of his laws and promises. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Those who remain in Jerusalem after Judah’s destruction ask the prophet Jeremiah to seek the Lord’s guidance for them. But Israel already knows the answer they want to hear. Haven’t you been there before? You ask for guidance, but you already know the advice you want to hear. When you hear the counter advice, you’re circumspect and rationalize. I know I do it all the time. It’s the same way with Israel: After ten days, Jeremiah tells them to stay put. Have no fear. Although things look terrible now, God will provide and restore Jerusalem.
But they disobey the Lord and his warnings that things will not be better for them in Egypt. They go to the house of bondage, where they will worship other gods and meet the fate they fear in Jerusalem. They say to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there.’” So the Lord sends Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to strike the land of Egypt.
Haven’t we been here before? I’m no different. My heart is fickle and heavy. I can hear God’s promises, and in an instant, my mind wanders to things unreal—the sundry and manifold changes of the world.
Where’s the mercy? Where’s the hope? Maybe you’re like the remnant in Israel or like me: prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. The Lord did make this promise to those in Jerusalem: “I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up.” Indeed, if they go to Egypt, he will pull them down and pluck them up. But if they abide in his promises, he will build them up and plant them.
As Jesus would later explain, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
This is where true joys are to be found. Not in the latest fleeting fashions but right under the wings that spread over the city of Jerusalem when they were nailed to a cross. May we like a brood gather under those wings where true joys alone may be found. May he order our unruly wills and sinful affections to do so.