Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good
things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in
us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth
in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
"Increase in us true religion". What exactly is that supposed to mean? Is the "true religion" Christianity? Episcopalianism? What I believe?
According to the master of our Book of Common Prayer, the late Dr. Marion Hatchett, this particular phrase of the collect comes from our modern day prayer book's original author, Thomas Cranmer. "True" was placed before "religion" with the intent of addressing the numerous controversies arising out of the Reformation period. Hatchett describes the collect as as "an extended metaphor of the farmer or gardener: the fruit of good works is brought forth by the grace of God who plants, nourishes and continues to care for His own."
Working with that metaphor, I think gets us a lot closer to what I believe is really behind the idea of "true" religion.
I talked about a couple of the readings that accompany this collect for tomorrow morning. In particular, the reading from Hebrews says...
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured... Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. --Hebrews 13: 1-3; 16.
When I put this reading alongside the call for an increase in us of "true religion" what I read is that the "true religion" is a move toward more hospitality, more love, more willingness to open our hearts and know that there are many who remain imprisoned, literally and figuratively, who need us to be present with them. In other words, the "true religion" is the one where we have enough trust in God's love of us, that we can be confident in spreading that love and living as freed individuals to others. That doesn't mean beating people up with the Bible. But it does mean being aware of the rest of the world around us, and approaching it with that centeredness that comes with being aware of God's love. If we meet people and the other parts of our world in this way, it can be transformational.
That, I believe, is "true religion". And these are the seeds we should be sowing in the world.