Who prays when we pray? St. Paul answers, “We do not know how to pray as we ought. It is the Spirit who gives us utterance in cries too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). St. Augustine opens his Confessions with a meditation on the smallness of the human person and the seeming impossibility of reaching out to God. “A human being, such a small part of your creation, carrying about his mortality, carrying a testimony of his sin and the testimony that you resist the proud: and yet he wants to praise you, this small speck of your creation.”

Who, Augustine asks , prompts the wanting, moves the will, stirs the heart? He answers, “You excite him so that he wants to praise you.” God’s prayer in us is no affront to the human will, for in our freedom we say, “Oh Lord,” but then immediately “Open our lips,” and so confess that the font from which every prayer comes is the Living Lord of Heaven.

Isaiah feels the testimony of sin, senses that the Hebrew people have suffered as recompense for their unfaithfulness. They are utterly without hope but for this languid cry, spoken out of a yearning hope that God will not remember iniquity forever: “Now consider, we are all your people.” When mortality is confessed, when sin impedes, when desperation dries and scatters the soul or a whole people, the Living God comes. For, just as God is the source of every prayer, God is the source of our forgiveness, liberation, and growing sanctification.

The reading from Mark, like the passage from Isaiah, strikes a note of urgency, although here the emphasis is not on guilt, but on the impending close of the age. “Beware, keep alert!” Jesus suggests the image of a doorkeeper and says, “Keep awake!” We are likewise reminded each Sunday by that hidden future participle: “he is about to come to judge the living and the dead.” If so, the time is short.

There is, obviously, a real weight to the subject matter , precisely the sort which the happy preacher will try to avoid, but that avoids the truth. We are mortal. We are broken. We live in moral collapse. Death is waiting. All of this is said with a clear eye toward the one faithful God, who knows us, loves us, forgives us, frees us, watches over our going out and coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

This is not a grim and grumpy message. Christ comes to a fallen humanity, and, as a result, St. Paul says, “we are enriched in speech and knowledge of every kind.” We are mortal and in moral collapse , having our hope fixed exclusively “on the grace of God that has been given us in our Lord Jesus Christ .” In him, freed by him, we go from grace to grace.

Look it Up.
Read 1 Cor. 1:7. Do we exercise our gifts with expectancy, opening ourselves, from moment to moment, to God’s Spirit?

Think About It
A natural landscape, a Haydn symphony, a beautiful woman, an innocent child are enough to make me question the Fall for a transient moment. We have not lost the exquisite image of God, but we have lost our likeness, and so need the One who knocks at the door of our heart.