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Proper 19, Yr C, Tr 1 (Trinity 15, 12.09.10)
Exod 32.7-14:
Ps 51.1-10:
1 Tim 1.12-17: I, Paul, was a sinner, but God had mercy on me so that Christ’s patience might be manifested in
me.
L k 15.1-10: Lost sheep & coin: rejoice (over repentant sinner)! (866)

Lord God, defend your Church from all false teaching and give to your people knowledge of your truth, that we may enjoy eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

(We are called to do the truth; our Collects should reflect this more.)

            Why do we pray and what do we pray for?  These are a couple of questions that came to mind when I looked at today’s Prayer for the Day which is more formally known as the Collect.  I will return to these questions later.

          I’m afraid that the framers of this collect may have had the orientation of the author of the Pastoral letters, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Writing in Paul’s name about 40 years after Paul’s death, he was moving along the path that leads from emphasis on faith as trusting obedience toward stressing faith as creedal belief.

          Thus today’s collect speaks of false teaching and knowledge of God’s truth, and it links that knowledge to our enjoying eternal life.  How do you understand this prayer?  It pits ‘false teaching’ against ‘knowledge of God’s truth’, so it seems to me that it is concerned about believing the right things. 

          But this is not the primary concern of the biblical witness.  It is concerned with knowing God and his ways but not about knowledge about God.  Let me indicate what I mean.

          If we look at the concept of wisdom in the biblical witness, a basic passage is Prov 1.7, also found in Ps 111.10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Yira, ‘fear’, does not mean fear as an emotion but rather it means ready obedience, a sort of hop-to-it attitude.  And the word for ‘beginning’ does not so much mean starting point but rather the apex or best part.  So, to put it in modern terms, we might say that ‘ready loving obedience is the heart of wisdom’. 

          To be truly alive is to live for others.  We need to be needed, and we fulfil that need by living for others.

          About forty years ago F. Gerald Downing, an Anglican priest and theologian, wrote a book called Does Christianity have a Revelation?  He basically argued that the answer is No;  what we have is a way of life.  That way shown in Jesus of Nazareth.  And the way that Jesus reached out to the outcasts and to the rejected Samaritans ought to be of significance on this day which has been designated as Racial Justice Sunday.

          The Gospel of John (3.21) and the first letter of John (1.6) speak of ‘doing the truth’, while the third letter of John (4) talks of ‘walking in the truth’, so the ‘truth’ is something that is done.  And what is this truth that is to be done?  In the terms of the 4th Gospel, it is, quite simply, to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’

          In Mark and Matthew what is stressed is following Jesus in the Way, and in Luke-Acts the Christians are known as ‘those of The Way’. 

          The prophetic tradition of the Old Testament continually calls God’s people to true wisdom, and that wisdom is concerned with action, not doctrine.  As the Prophet Micah says, ‘What does the Lord thy7 God require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.’ (6.8)

          And so back to our Prayer for the Day, the Collect.  To my mind the function of the Collect should be to collect our thoughts in such a way that we are better orientated to live the life in Christ.  And judged by this standard I have been largely disappointed by the Collects for many years.  The vast majority of them are inward looking, rather like good housekeeping and good maintenance, that is, keeping the show going without really addressing the question of what the is Church for. 

          The Collects in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer were drawn largely from the Latin sacramentaries.  And they echo either times when the Church felt itself either embattled on the one hand or comfortably settled on the other.  There is little or no sense of outreach.

          When in 1980 the Alternative Service Book came along, the Sunday Collects were largely the same prayers put into modern English.

          Now with Common Worship the main Collects are still basically the old Prayer Book ones.

          Even though we are now using the set of Alternative Collects, which are generally shorter and often in simpler language.  I am still searching almost totally in vain for Collects which have a real sense of outreach to our neighbour.  And that, I think, is a crying shame.

          We are ‘do the truth’ in sharing God’s love with others in reaching out to our neighbours near and far.  As I have said, to be truly alive is to live for others.  We need to be needed, and we fulfil that need by living for others.

          And so what I believe is that we should have a number of Collects which balance our dependence upon God’s love with a strong note of pointing ourselves outward in that love toward the needs of God’s world and our neighbours.  This is something that we do very effectively here, not just with our intercessions, but also with our choice of hymns.  But I for one would like to see more of this same depth of concern reflected in our Collects as well.