Graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness, and keep us in the same…
(Collect Trinity VII)
You must have noticed that in addition to our Scriptural lessons appointed to be read each Sunday we read or pray something called a Collect. Wikipedia informs us that a Collect is a short general prayer of a particular structure used in Christian liturgy. In the Anglican tradition of Common Prayer the Collect gathers or sums up into one prayer the theme of the day or the focus of any given particular Sunday’s readings. You will have noticed that our Collects are carefully worded and beautifully crafted expressions of theological truth. And yet there is always a danger in them. One might be so swept up with the form that one forgets the content. Their visible and audible poetry and music might grab our aesthetical appreciation for too long so that we never move on to consider the theological desires and aspirations that they encourage. We might liken it to the harmony of a certain musical composition, through which one is swept away by a tune or sound while never taking the time to examine the meaning of the words or feelings that the composition expresses. Countless numbers of people have enjoyed certain songs or choruses, only to realize that, on closer examination, the ideas they encourage are positively evil. Think of Frank Sinatra’s I did it my way. We love the music, the sound, the beat, the combination of notes, and yet, if we examine the meaning, we find that the song is an exhortation to pure narcissism. I did it my way, he sang. Indeed, he did. He did it his way, and no one was going to get in the way of it! Here we have an excellent example of the indulgence of beauty at the expense of truth. The passions are stirred and moved, but finally separated from what is true, beautiful, and good.
But our Collects were formulated to do exactly the opposite. Their beauty and form were crafted to lead a man from the external and visible world into the ground of his soul. And from there they were meant to lift the soul up and into the presence of God. Listen, again, to the opening words of this morning’s Collect: Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things.... The words flow beautifully; they are music to our ears. And yet what are they arranged to do? They lead and guide our minds into the presence of God. He is the Creator and Preserver of all good things. He is the author of all that is true, beautiful, and good. And more than that, He is the one who alone has power and might to bring about and generate all goodness in our hearts and souls. The goodness He desires to effect is our salvation. He longs to carry us out of bondage to the elements of this world, as St. Paul teaches. (Gal. iv. 3) He longs to free and liberate us from the world, the flesh, the devil, and yes, quite frankly, from ourselves.
So God’s power and might constitute simultaneously His unchanging desire and intention for us; for He is the author and giver of all good things. Having claimed and confessed that His power and might alone make all things good, right, and true, we pray for the Grace to love Him in return. Graft in our hearts the love of Thy name. God does not force or compel us to love Him. We must desire and long to be infused with a love for Him that excels and surpasses all other loves -i.e. from the false loves that tempt and distract us from the source and origin of our true and lasting happiness, our salvation, and the promise of eternal communion with the truth. So we pray that His Grace might infuse us with a desire for His love. Our Collect for today leads us logically and rationally through stages of encounter which will ensure our sanctification and redemption. We acknowledge God’s power and might; we see that they generate all manner of goodness. We know that goodness for man is salvation and reconciliation with the same God. And so we pray for the spirit and disposition that enflame a deeper desire and longing for Him.
And yet we cannot end here. We know that our love for God must never be a fly-by-night, temporary, occasional, and impermanent emotion or feeling. So we pray, Increase in us true religion. True religion is the flower and fruit of that instinct, passion, and desire for the power and governance of truth and goodness in our own lives. Without the Spirit of Divine Love, we shall never become accustomed or habituated to the virtues of truth and goodness that are the only ways and means to our salvation. William Law tells us that the Spirit of Love is not in you till it is the spirit of your life, till you live freely, willingly, and universally according to it. (The Spirit of Love) The Spirit of Love must be translated into the spirit of our lives, or the practice of true religion. True religion is a reflection and imitation of God’s holiness and righteousness – of his goodness, truth, and beauty. St. Paul tells us in this morning’s Epistle that when [we] were the servants of sin, [we] were free from righteousness.(Romans vi. 20) What he means is that before we came to our spiritual senses, we were in bondage or slavery to the elements of this life. We were the servants of sin. Like Frank Sinatra, we did it our way. And because of that we were headed for sin’s reward, which is death, spiritual death, and ultimate and final separation from God. But now we are being made freed from sin, [and are becoming] the servants of God.( Ibid, 22) Our Collect for today echoes Paul’s desire and hope for his flock. Increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness…. If we are fed and nourished with God’s goodness, with St. Paul we become the servants of God’s goodness, [having our] fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Ibid, 22) So desire for the love of God in our hearts makes us then practitioners and masters of true religion, goodness, and holiness in deed and in truth. (I John iii. 18) What we are praying for really then is freedom – liberation from bondage and servitude to all that is unclean, unholy, and unrighteous. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ibid, 23)
So at the end of our Collect we pray that God of his great mercy might keep us in the same, through Jesus Christ our Lord. But, perhaps it is here that we come finally to the hardest part of the whole Collect or summary prayer for this Seventh Sunday after Trinity. We pray that God’s holiness and righteousness might become permanent fixtures of our knowing and willing. And this leads us to our Gospel for the day. In it we read of God’s ongoing response man’s desire for Him. In Jesus Christ we find the one who is with us and for us every step of the way in this difficult endeavor. Just as Jesus had compassion on the multitude then, so he continues to have compassion on us now. Then he fed a multitude of four thousand with seven loaves of bread and two small fishes. (St. Mark viii) We read that he had compassion upon them because they had a desire for the kind of life that our Collect reveals. He said then, [the multitude has] now been with me three days, if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way; for divers of them came from afar. (St. Mark viii. 2,3) Jesus took a small amount of food and multiplied it so that it could feed a multitude of people. Jesus is one with the Father. He is the Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things. Through His compassionate love, He begins to graft in [the multitude’s] heart the love of [God’s] name. Through his merciful power He begins to reveal how man can begin to increase in true religion, because he is being nourished with all goodness, and [kept] in the same by the Grace of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Divine power and might, love, and goodness extended to man from the heart of His Father.
Jesus offers to answer our prayers today. What we pray for in our Collect, Jesus provides. He knows that we grow weary and faint as we journey after salvation. He knows that we struggle to leave behind our servitude and slavery to sin – the world, the flesh, and the devil. He understands that our feeble powerlessness always threatens to overwhelm and overtake us. He understands that the music and beauty of our Collect might carry us away from its content and substance. And so he responds to us. Here and now, even today, He takes a few morsels of bread and a small portion of wine and makes them into his Body and his Blood. His Body and Blood are the spiritual power and might of God. In and through them He continues to be the author and giver of all good things. If we thankfully and gratefully receive them for what he says they are, they will increase in us true religion, nourish with all goodness, and keep us in the same.
But here is the rub. We must believe that what God offers to us in his Son Jesus Christ is nothing short of Himself. What he offers to us is the substance of His full and complete being. In making bread and wine into His Body and Blood, He responds to our deepest desire for the ways and means to our salvation. What we must receive, cherish, treasure, nourish, and grow in our souls from the author and giver of all good things, is the power and might, whose goodness will overcome all evil in our lives. What we must recognize and perceive in our frail souls are God’s real and present desire and love for us, to which we respond, Graft in our hearts the love of thy name. For in receiving the miracle of Christ’s Real Presence with us and for us, we desire not to sing I did it my way, but I am doing it God’s way. And God’s way is offered to us in the One who did it His Father’s way. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. (St. John xiv. 6) We come to the Father through Him alone, in the beauty of holiness, through the Spirit of love, as we sing a new song of purest desire for the inward and spiritual power and might that lovingly free us from all sin, making us the servants of God, who bear fruit unto holiness that, in the end, leads to everlasting life. (Romans vi. 22) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: