Inspired by Romans 8:26
Preached by Rev’d Andrew Mintern – Eighth Sunday After Pentecost 26 July 2020
I will come back to the verse from Romans about the Spirit interceding for us with Sighs too deep for words but first let me remind you of the very well-known Prayer of Preparation (Collect for Purity)
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
This prayer, based on a 10th century Latin prayer, was translated into English by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549 for the Book of Common prayer and for nearly 500 years, it’s been part of Anglican Prayer-books ever since.
The Collect for Purity, as it was always known, acknowledges that God knows us intimately, through and through. All hearts are open! All desires known! From whom no secrets are hidden! God knows us – our fears, our loves, our desires, our weaknesses, our sin, our shortcomings, our strengths, our beauty. And yet…. Yet…. God loves us. Despite all of this, maybe because of all this, God loves us and desires us and yearns for our growth, our faithfulness and our love in return.
There is enough in that thought … to simply stop and reflect in silence. Today’s theme “The Power of Silence” goes really well with this prayer. Indeed the collect for purity almost makes prayer redundant – God knows us totally, God knows what we want to pray for anyway. But yes, it is still important for us, at times, to actually pray intentionally with words. With our praying there is always a point where we don’t know what to pray and our prayer stops or stalls or becomes inadequate and silence takes over. That silence is still prayer.
Silence has long been seen as an important part of Spiritual discipline. It seems counter-intuitive in our world where we think we have to do something to achieve something. We may wonder: What can be achieved by silence?
Yet mother Teresa said:
“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you.”
Martin Luther said:
“be silent to God and let him mould you. Keep still and He will mould you to the right shape”
19th Century Catholic writer Robert Benson wrote:
“It is in silence that God is known and through mysteries he declares himself”
And there are many others who extol the important of silence as a path to experiencing God.
I think there is an invitation for us this week to find times of silence. Our world is so noisy, so busy. So many messages are coming at us all the time – TV, Netflix, radio, Instagram, Facebook, email, Snapchat, tik tok, Youtube, podcasts, billboards ….. They all have their place and we’re certainly making good use of Facebook and email as a parish… but we also need times to stop. To sit, be quiet, contemplate and allow silence.
The writing of St Paul encourages us in this: from Romans chapter 8
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
So we are reassured that even when we are not praying, the spirit is praying within us and for us. Even in the silence of our mouths, prayer continues. We can find times of quiet to become aware of the Spirit interceding within us and for us.
I’ve used before the beautiful parable by Anthony DeMello about the old man who spent long hours in prayer in the church and one day the priest asked him: “what do you say to God in all those long hours of prayer?” The man replied: “I don’t say anything I just listen.” “Well then,” the priest asked “what does God say to you?” The man replied: “God doesn’t say anything, God just listens too.”
We should all try to find a bit of intentional silence this week. It doesn’t have to be for hours on end just pause for a minute or two. We don’t have to have any huge expectations of ourselves or of God. Just let’s be aware thankfully the that Spirit is at work interceding for us. The Spirit is praying within us as we are still, with sighs too deep for words. And we can let it simply be a time for quiet prayer beyond words. Faith doesn’t have to be always about big monumental actions and grand revelations.
Perhaps over time we might discover that silence is more like the mustard seed or the grain of yeast from today’s Gospel reading. Something so small in our lives that can make a big difference – This is the power of silence.