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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon

23rd May 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Easter 7 - Sunday after Ascension

'...Leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us.' From today's collect

We live in an age that expects to be comfortable. Our houses are centrally heated and well appointed, if not yet air-conditioned. In winter we travel to work in warm cars to plush offices. We are comfortable in ways our grandparents could only have dreamed of and that we would not have expected in our own childhoods. In an increasingly materialistic society comfort is seen as almost a right and as a sign of our success.

And yet what I have just said is only really an illusion reflecting the world of advertising. The reality is that the majority in our world are not comfortable. The recent Christian Aid Week reminded us of poverty in developing countries, of Africa laid waste by corrupt governments, of continuing turmoil in the Middle East, of Asia where factories after little more than sweat shops, of the complex political and economic systems that pass by the very poor.

At home there is the problem of homelessness, asylum seekers and of lawless estates with children neglected and out of control. Others find themselves caught up in personal tragedy unknown to most but no less real. Many are not comfortable at all.

The members of the early Christian communities were often very uncomfortable. In Acts we read of Paul and Silas being thrown into prison for destroying the livelihood of the owners of a fortune telling, slave-girl. First they were flogged and publicly humiliated. Abandoned in the dark, with open wounds, in an ancient prison was certainly not comfortable.

Luke's account of the Ascension in Acts that we read on Ascension Day reflects the bewilderment of the bereaved disciples. Their Lord seemed to have gone, despite his mysterious appearances; they simply did not know what was going on. Most of the time they were to be found huddled together, or returning to normality in a desperate search for comfort.

Jesus in the long discourses recorded by St. John, given before the crucifixion prepared the disciples for this. He told them how he would go away, but also promised that his Father would send another advocate, the comforter the Holy Ghost. Most scholars now believe that the discourse comes out of the long prayerful reflection and experience of St. John and his community, of their experience of the comforter in adversity.

This lead us back to the collect and our prayer 'leave us not comfortless'. What then does comfort mean for the Christian and what does it mean to receive the Holy Ghost the comforter. Here are three thoughts.

Because our human life is often very uncomfortable we like to like to order and to make sense of our lives. That too can be the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Luke/Acts, upon which we base the Christian Calendar, does this. Luke gives cohesion and order to the story of the Paschal mystery, giving it a linear form. The reality, reflecting the complexity of human experience, was much more confused.

In the Bible, there is a wealth of material to help us pray and act, to receive and share in the work of the Holy Ghost the Comforter whose feast we celebrate next week.

Let us pray.

Lord God, heavenly Father, may the Comforter who proceeds from you enlighten our minds, lead us into all truth, and make us active in your service, through Christ our Lord.


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Last updated 24/05/04 12:00 Author: David Shepherd