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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon

6th July 2003

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity 3

What makes you sorrowful, what do you long for, what do you desire? Such a question takes us to the core of our humanity, to emotions shared by all yet particular to each individual. Ask anyone and they will have their own special answers.

Go on to ask them if they pray or whether they believe in God and they may well be unsure, embarrassed in giving an answer. I suspect that deep down most people do pray, often without knowing it. The reason is that the emotions with which I began lead us into a definition of prayer that I came across the other day. It comes from the C16th English reformer and Bible translator, William Tyndale, and it goes like this.

'Prayer is a mourning, a longing, and desire of the spirit to God-ward, for that which she lacketh; as a sick man mourneth and sorroweth in his heart, longing for health.'

Our reflection on that definition will open channels to receive the divine healing that we seek for others and for ourselves this morning. Tyndale gives us three key words; - mourning, longing and desire.

  1. Mourning. As we grow older so increasingly we experience loss because we are subject to change. There is the loss of childhood and youth, the loss of familiar places and of home and the loss of people we have known and loved. 'Grief' is the word used to describe those feelings of loss. 'Mourning' is how we deal with them. Often we don't deal with loss very well. In an icy freezing over of our emotions we become dead to the world. To spend some time reflecting on what and whom we have lost can be very cathartic.
  2. Longing. If mourning has a past reference then longing has a future one. Aware of what we have lost, of emptiness within, we long for a better future when things will be put right. Tyndale uses the picture of the sick man longing for health and the return of normality. When mourning gives way to longing then that is a sign of an inner healing, of a thaw.
  3. Desire suggests an object for our longing. We feel desire in the present, for a beautiful person or a valuable product we do not possess. Our desires are natural, they can be disordered (sin), and at heart they are good. Good because they come from God and ultimately they point us to him. Tyndale writes of 'the desire of the spirit to God-ward for that which she lacketh'.

Mourning for that which we have lost, longing for restitution, giving name to our desires; all these things reveal that it is God who is lacking in our lives. That awareness opens our heart to his grace that forgives and restores because it is all mercy and love. In him we find our desires are eternally satisfied. This is the process of prayer. When we seek God then those ordinary commonplace human emotions become both prayer and vehicles of God's grace in our lives. From this we are led to care for others in their mourning, longing and desire.

I'd like to end with the C4th bishop St. Augustine. He led a life of mourning, longing and desire. If we had time we could trace it in his relationship with his mother, his mistress and their child and with God in Christ. To find out more read his surprisingly modern and candid 'Confessions'. For now it will suffice to end with one of his best loved prayers.

'Almighty God, in whom we live and move and have our being, who hast made us for thy self, so that our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee: Grant us purity of heart and strength of purpose, that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing thy will, no weakness from doing it; but in thy light we may see light clearly, and in thy service find perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.'


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Last updated 06/07/2003 09:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd