O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your Word; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
My father served a large parish in the rural Midwest when I was a youth. There was an old farmer who used to walk out of church every so often and say to him, “Good sermon, Pastor, I sure hope they were listening!” I remember my father once muttering that he hoped this fellow was listening.
It is so easy for us to think that God’s judgement is for other folks. We read a line like “all those who have gone astray from Your ways” and we immediately think of the gross sinner, the person who has made mess of life, the adulterer, the murderer, or…? But what about you? This is Lent after all. We like to imagine that our petty little sins are not so much a problem for God. He is not as concerned about those of us who attend church regularly and serve on a board or committee. We sing in the choir or teach a Sunday school class or show up for the spring clean up day at church. God is surely happy with us. The truth is that our petty little sins are just as damning as any murder. We may not have caused quite as much grief with ours, but God really does not measure such things. Sin is sin. It all stinks because it has the rot of death about it. We stand just as much in need of God’s mercy and grace as any other sinner. The wonderful thing is that God has been gracious to us. It is that truth which is the only way we can pray this prayer without it become a particularly noxious sort of sin – a spiritual pride which would have us look down from our pews at all of “those people.” God grace means we all start out as “those people.” We all need and receive the same Jesus who gave his life for all our sins. Amen!