Graft in our hearts the love of your Name – Seventh Sunday after Trinity 2012

What image does the word “graft” conjure up for you? The surgeon transplanting skin from one part of the body to cover a badly-damaged burnt leg. The gardener blending two trees to get something more robust or more useful. The two components – e.g. skin and leg – must be sufficently related for it to work, and yet it is not quite natural – it requires intervention from outside. And the hope is that, all being well. in due course the two components will be indistinguishable – one healthy leg, one fruitful tree.

“Graft in our hearts the love of your Name”

This week’s Collect is based on an ancient pre-reformation prayer; but the translation and adaptation are fairly free. The choice of the word “graft” is arresting, but revealing. For loving God is both what we were created to do and what we resist doing. Both intrinsic to our nature and somehow needing to be brought in from outside. This accords well with the church’s perception of human nature as fallen from grace. Made in God’s image, we have wounded and marred that image, and God must graft in his Son to restore and make us whole again. Like the tree that has gone wild and unfruitful, the gardener must tend to us so that we may be recalled to our intended fruitfulness. So we pray that God may graft “the love of his Name” into our hearts so that it may become second nature to us, and we may be re-made as his children.

 

Sometimes we clergy are tempted to say of baptisms we have conducted, “It didn’t take”. Various theological and pastoral questions going a-begging there, of course. But it is a point: if in baptism we are grafted into Christ, or the love of God is grafted into our hearts, it is a fragile thing that needs to be nurtured.  So our Collect goes on,

“Increase in us true religion”.

 

There are those who would say there is no such thing as true religion: all religion is delusionary and false, and to be shunned. Even we who presumably have a different sense of the value of religion might want to distinguish between religions that seem wholesome and those that are not; those that enhance life and those that diminish it. To be saved from false teaching and destructive versions of faith is a reasonable thing to pray for. But there is something else here. When the translators used the phrase “author and giver of all good things” it was an allusion to the Letter of St James, where we are given a definition of pure – or true – religion:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

The word that this suggests to me is “integrity”. True religion involves a growing integrity whereby our profession of love for God shows itself in external acts of loving-kindness, and in an internal pursuit of holiness. it is, if you like, the sign that the graft is beginning to “take”, when the love engrafted in our hearts is influencing and directing our thoughts and wills, our attitudes and our actions. Given how strong our unregenerate instincts are, we do need to be constantly praying for an increase of true religion – and willing to receive it.

Both surgeon and gardener know that their grafts will only work if there are adequate nutrients available to enable healing. So our prayer goes on,

“Nourish us with all goodness”.

Long before we talked of vitamins and Omega-3 and anti-oxidants we spoke of certain foods being full of goodness. How can we nourish our love of God, so that we may grow in true religion? We need to immerse ourselves in goodness. St Paul once wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8) We are surrounded by bad news, and bad examples, triviality and mediocrity; we need an antidote, or we sink in depression or in apathy. It needn’t be explicitly religious. The Olympic Games, for example; dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in human endeavour in so many fields – something to inspire us to pursue excellence in whatever is appropriate for us. Most of all, we are nourished by goodness as we put goodness into practice. “Patient continuance in well-doing” is a rather quaint way of putting it, but showing love to our neighbour nourishes our soul too.

 

Graft in our hearts the love of your Name;

increase in us true religion;

nourish us with all goodness;

and of your mercy keep us in the same;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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