Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17, Year A), 2017.
We have asked this day in our Collect for God, the author and giver of all good things, to graft in our hearts the love of His Name, to increase in us true religion, to nourish us with His goodness, and to bring forth the fruit of good works. If one had to find a single prayer that summarizes the Christian faith and our total life in it, this Collect would be it. It is also a very old prayer. It goes back at least to the eighth century, making it at least one thousand, three hundred years old. But that is only when the prayer was written down, so it is probably much older than that. It lived in England as one of the Collects of the Day (although earlier in the liturgical calendar than our use) before the English Reformation, and it lived on in the first Book of Common Prayer, and in Prayer Books ever since, including those of the American church. I point this out so as to invite you to reflect on the fact that in our praying of it this morning, we are doing something very ancient, indeed, with words well seasoned with the sweat and devotion of untold numbers of souls.
I said a minute ago that this prayer summarizes our total life in the Christian faith. Let me say more what I mean of that. First of all, it is a summary, meaning not everything fleshed-out in detail, but the big picture. You might say, the view of the earth from 50,000 feet above ground. It is a prayer that covers all the necessary bases so as to function perfectly as a touchstone sort of prayer—a standard map to which to regularly refer. Why? For three reasons: it properly names God, it properly describes our relationship with Him, and it properly describes our desire. Let me go through these in more detail.
This Collect properly names God as the Lord of all power and might, and the author and giver of all good things. God is omnipotent, and with God nothing is impossible. God tells Jeremiah that He will deliver him and the children of Israel out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem them from the grasp of the ruthless. Jesus tells Saint Peter that God will repay every person for the suffering they have endured on His behalf; indeed that all who have given their lives completely to God will have their lives given back to them sanctified, holy, and in unity with Him. God gives His people the keys to open the gate of heaven, a gate He made for us to open who learn how to delight in His will and walk in His ways. This is why our God has given us gifts and why He expects we use them—because when we use gifts given to us by God, God himself acts through them. Anything that exists, exists because God wants them to exist for His pleasure and for the use that gives glory to His holy Name.
To not be thankful to God—thankful every day—for what He has given us is to be ungrateful, and as one Saint taught, to be ungrateful to God is to commit the worst sin imaginable. To not be constantly in awe of God and His power is to misunderstand who He is. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus deserved the retort of “Get behind me Satan” because Peter, who just a couple of verses earlier had correctly named Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, now in his humanity recoils from that and not not believe Jesus’s teaching about needing to suffer and die for our sake. Peter’s understandable reaction nonetheless does not reflect an understanding of Jesus as the Lord of all power and might. To name God as the Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things, is to safeguard our lives. Words matter.
Then our Collect properly describes our relationship with Him. It does this in the general sense in the first clause, because He is the creator of all good things, and so it is He that hath made us and not we ourselves (to quote the older translation of Psalm 100). He is creator and we are creatures—not creatures in the same way as rocks, dirt, snails and the rest, but creatures nonetheless. But our relationship with God is brought out more clearly with the words, “Graft in our hearts the love of your Name.” This refers to our baptism, how we are made members of One Body in Christ. In Baptism, human creatures are made children of God, adopted into His Family, His Body through the Holy Spirit, the presence of Whom changes the nature of our being. Creatures are born biologically, but children of God are made. By ourselves and on our own, we do not know how to love God. Love of Him must be grafted into our hearts, so that when others benefit from the gifts we are given, the fruit of our good works, this fruit is delicious, so that others can taste and see that the Lord is good.
Finally, this Collect effectively describes our desire properly understood. Our desire should always be to love God more and more—that His words become for us the joy and delight of our hearts, to quote Jeremiah. We must want our lives to be saved—really, truly desire that in the deepest parts of our soul. Our desire should always be for the increase of true religion—that is, the increased availability of that which binds us to God, for that is what “religion” means, that which binds us to God; in other words, we must always desire to become better at prayer which is true obedience. We must also desire God to nourish us with His goodness—that our pain be soothed, our wounds healed, or to be made aware of wounds we have tried to forget; we must want also to be made aware of the gifts God has given us, because He nourishes us by teaching us who we are. And we must want God to bring forth in us the fruit of good works—really want it, which means, really wanting to serve the world, to minister to those around us, to seek and serve Christ in those around us. We must really, actually, want this.
Brothers and sisters, let us always know that the more earnestly we love the Name of Jesus, the more clearly He will call us by our name. We love Him by trying to love Him, by giving our best attempt. God sees all that we do, and rewards the effort to love Him. As Jesus tells Peter and the disciples, He will repay every person for what He has done. He will heal the souls of all who listen for Him to call them by their name. Amen.