Sighs too deep for words
On this 162nd anniversary I am so pleased to be able to worship with you. Not only is this Sunday your anniversary it is also Pentecost, which I would say is pretty perfect timing. Celebrations all around. Pentecost for me and I hope for many other Christians, is a time when we look around us and see what the spirit is up to. As I hear the passage from Acts that is so often read on Pentecost I am reminded of how the spirit burst forth in the disciples pushing them out of a place of fear and into the streets where they proclaimed the good news to all.
And so when I approach the designated readings for Pentecost that is the first thing that I start looking for. What are the passages saying about the work of the spirit? What is perhaps the one thing that stands out for me in regards to the spirit in these passages? And how do I see that spirit blowing through us, on this anniversary Sunday for you.
And then I received an email from Rev. Bruce Kemp that said there was an elder who was going to be preparing and delivering the liturgy. I was so pleasantly surprised that you are blessed with Elders who prepare and deliver the liturgy here. And that knowledge immediately impacted the direction that my sermon took. Especially in regards to the the passage from Romans.
Since my ordination I have become very familiar with hearing the question: Would someone like to offer the prayer?
No matter where I go, every eye in the place is either looking at me, or doing everything they can to not make eye-contact with the person who asked the question. No one told me that’s what would come with my clerical collar: that when-in-public, I’m the go-to prayer giver, no questions asked.
And it’s not that I mind praying. I like praying. I’m very comfortable offering a prayer before a meal or to start a meeting. But, it always makes me uncomfortable because I wonder if I’m robbing others of the opportunity to pray, to learn to pray, and to come to love praying.
I remember when I first started attending Camp Iawah as a teenager and being really intimidated by some of the prayers that people around me were giving. I thought I was no good at praying, that my words weren’t good enough, that God wouldn’t understand what I was praying, or that I was simply praying the wrong thing.
But here’s the thing: the scriptures say that the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought. Do I ever wish someone had pointed out that scripture to the 15 year-old Jill.
Paul is speaking of something more than just “not knowing what to say.” He’s not speaking of #publicprayerfails. He’s not even speaking of that thing where you just can’t find the right words.
He’s talking about prayer in a much deeper sense.
We look at the world around us with such a small lens. We see only a few possibilities: war or no war; sick or cured; happy or sad. So many of us see the world in black and white. But, God sees from one horizon to the next, in crystal clear high-definition. God sees infinite possibility.
So no, we don’t know how to pray as we ought.
But, the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Prayer. Has nothing to do with the words. Nothing. I mean words are nice. But, real union with God comes not from words but from the sighs that are too deep for words.
The only thing that I can think of that it resembles is the wordless communication that happens between two people who know each other so well, that one person can send a signal with one raised eyebrow to the other person in the room…and the person knows exactly what it means. But the thing is people aren’t just automatically able to do that. Typically people who are able to communicate in that way, have known each other for years, they have spent loads of time together, they have shared their innermost thoughts and feelings with each other.
And, with God, this is a gift of the Spirit. And so although we teach people to pray before meals, to pray the Lord’s Prayer and some of the typical things that are included in a general prayer of Thanksgiving. We really need to be taught how to just be with God, devoid of awkwardness and brimming with humility, casting off words and listening to each other’s sighs.
As you celebrate 162 years of organized Presbyterian worship in this community may we be drawn ever closer to God, looking to see where the spirit is at work