Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. – Collect for Proper 23
Several years ago, there was a viral story making its way around the intertubes about Pastor Jeremiah Steepek who supposedly dressed himself up as a homeless man in front of the megachurch to which he had been recently called, to see if anyone would stop to care for him. As the story goes, “He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service….only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food… NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.”
Much righteous indignation followed this post around the internet, especially among Mainliners who were certain that their church would have been better to Pastor Steepek’s alter ego than those feel good evangelicals. For those who were intent on thumbing their nose at evangelicalism, Christianity, or organized religion in general, it didn’t much matter that the story wasn’t actually true, it proved the hypocrisy of the whole thing.
This Sunday, Episcopalians around the world will pray that we might be “given to good works,” a phrase that feels unnecessarily archaic, but means that through God’s grace, we hope to be predisposed to helping our neighbor. This prayer is absolutely lovely in theory, but like the members of the fake Pastor Steepek’s church, I wonder if we really want to deal with what it means. Because what Sunday’s Gospel lesson tells us we are praying for is the ability to see the people that we would rather not see. We are praying to see the injustices that we would rather ignore. We are praying to see the works of the Devil that we would rather explain away. We are praying to see things that will break our hearts and motivate us to act in ways that will take us far from our comfort zones.
Being “given to good works” sounds nice, but when it comes right down to it, good works aren’t always easy, fun, or even, safe. Still, let us pray for the grace to see the world in all its brokenness, to be moved to action, and be given to good works.