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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


31st May 2009

Fr David Shepherd

Whitsun 2009

‘... that very Spirit intercedes with us with sighs too deep for words.’

These days the debate about God is carried out on the side of buses. Not very subtle but I guess it gets people thinking – including the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’!

As I understand it one of the objections that atheists like Richard Dawkins have about Christian belief is that it paints two static a picture of Creation – at least in the caricature he attacks.

If we took Genesis literally instead of seeing it as the beautiful and poetic creations story it is then we have God creating the universe in 6 days and then leaving it going, like a machine.

Today, Whit Sunday, we read of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the new Church in Acts. St. John gives us his deep reflection on the link between Father, Son & Holy Spirit and the Church – the advocate.

Tucked away between them is a passage from St. Paul writing to the Romans. It gives us a much more fluid view of God’s work in creation, a process which sits more readily with the scientific view of evolution as development & process.

St Paul saw creation as ‘groaning in labour pains until now.’ This accords with our perception of the world as place subject to change and pain & suffering. It is not just the whole creation but us as part of it. We have the first fruits of the Spirit given at Pentecost but we still ‘groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.’

We are not satisfied, we sense our lives are incomplete in need of more and we long for that we know not what. St Paul encourages us to look forward to the future time when God in Christ will bring all things to completion and fulfilment.

In the mean time we are left with hope. Hope is one of the great gifts of the Spirit. As Christians we have hope. Sometimes it may not seem much but it is always better than the alternative no hope! We hope for what we do not see, the things of God & we wait with patience. This is a good description of the Christian life. It reflects the fragility, vulnerability and essential weakness of our condition.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; how, by teaching us to pray. Praying can be hard. How can we pray, how do we pray? St. Paul’s answer is in deep sighs for the very Spirit intercedes with us with sighs too deep for words. We might say we have to do nothing save to let out whatever is in our hearts or rather to allow God’s Spirit to do this. God already knows what is in our hearts & he knows the mind of the Spirit because ’the Spirit intercedes for us according to the word of God.’

It is a beautiful picture of prayer, something which is forever going on, something we can join through the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, given to us in Creation, through Jesus & in the life of the Church through Baptism Confirmation & the Eucharist.

To end a profound Whitsun prayer from the late Eric Milner White.

O Holy Ghost giver of light and life;
Impart to us thoughts higher than our own thoughts,
and prayers better than our own prayers,
and powers beyond our own powers;
that we may spend and be spent in the ways of love and goodness,
after the perfect image
of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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