Prayer: Holy Spirit you are welcome here, come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Help us hear what we need to hear, Holy Spirit you are welcome here. Amen.
Today we reach Paul’s “so what?” in his letter to Christians living in Rome. In Paul’s very wordy, very theological letter, he has up until this point laid out his argument. He has stressed that freedom from the law is necessary. Today’s text gets to the meat, begins to be where the rubber begins to hit the road, and challenges readers to see themselves as true children of God. Needless to say, there’s a lot going on. But since we are celebrating Pentecost today, we will mostly focus on what Paul is telling us about the Holy Spirit in today’s text. Hear these words.
2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
14 All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. 15 You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. 17 But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him.
18 I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19 The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. 20 Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. 23 And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. 24 We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? 25 But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.
26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. 30 Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified.
31 So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?
33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. 34 Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us.
35 Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
We are treated like sheep for slaughter.[a]
37 But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. 38 I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels nor rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
So what exactly do we celebrate at Pentecost? Pentecost, is essentially the birthday of the church and a day of joy. As pastor, Danielle Shroyer observes, “Without Pentecost, we’d just be people who tell Jesus’ story. With Pentecost, we’re people who live into Jesus’ story.”. From Day One of the church, which we celebrate at Pentecost, the call was to press in, linger, listen, and listen some more.
And friends, I think we don’t talk enough about the Holy Spirit within the Presbyterian Church. Perhaps it is because the Holy Spirit by her essence is mysterious and Presbyterians like everything to be neat and orderly. The Holy Spirit rarely is neat and orderly. However, we should make space to talk more about the Holy Spirit. Each of us need to be reminded that the Holy Spirit is at work in us- guiding and challenging us, helping us as we try to make sense of our faith, interceding for us when we don’t have words to pray and helping us in our weakness.
In today’s text we learn several things about the Holy Spirit. Paul writes that the Spirit helps make us heirs and adopted children of God. One of my friends tells a story about how from the time her son learned to talk, he very persistently called his father by his first name, Gary. While my friend calls for her husband Gary, she had to explain to her son that he is the only one who has the privilege to call him Daddy. Parents or anyone who spends time around a child knows there are special intimate titles reserved for children to call their parents. If a child gets hurt, they cry out Daddy! If a child needs help with a seemingly impossible task, they cry out Mommy! If a child wants a snack, they cry out Daddy—you get the idea.
The titles Daddy or Mommy have historically been more intimate titles for Mom or Dad. The word, Paul uses here “Abba” is the Aramaic term for father but Abba was used more so in home. Abba, was used as a less formal title than another Aramaic word for father Ab, which is much like our word Dad. Much like today, Abba was the term used intimately in the home because it was much easier for children to use a two syllable word ending with a vowel than to use a single syllable word ending with a consonant. Much like Daddy is easier for a young child first learning to speak than Dad and Mommy is easier than Mom. Through Christ and the Spirit and as God’s adopted children we are able to call God, the tender word of Daddy.
This Spirit helps us in our weakness. The spirit helps hold our tongue when needed. The spirit protects us. I love this image below because it is exactly how our lives can feel sometimes. Out of control and chaotic. The Holy Spirit holds our hands through the ups and downs and twist and turns of our lives.
The whole idea of the complexity of all the spirit can do is baffling when we think about God’s creation and plan. As one pastors observes, “The same God whose Creation causes flowers to bloom, that helped craft the evolution of pre-atomic particles into molecules and into ever-increasing stages of complexity, is also the same God whose ‘Spirit helps us in our weakness.'”
Or as Paul explains in today’s passage, helps us when we don’t know how to pray. Can you remember a time when you encountered something so big and so overwhelming that you did not have words to pray? When you looked desperately into the world with hands up and tears in your eyes and shouted, dear God, how do I even begin to pray?
Much of my childhood felt like that. You see, when I was five years old, I was so excited because after years of being the little sister, I was finally going to be a big sister and have a little brother. But when it finally came time for my brother to be born, it was quite hard for my five-year-old mind to understand all of what was happening. You see, my brother was born with a serious heart condition called hypo-plastic left heart syndrome, which meant his left ventricle never developed correctly and was useless. During his first few years, he had three open heart surgeries to help his heart work properly. When other new big sisters were able to bring their new siblings home after a week or so, I had to drive with my grandparents to the hospital after about a month after Barrett was born. It was heartbreaking.
Though perhaps one of the blessings in disguise of having a baby brother who was frequently hospitalized was having extra time with my grandparents—and I had the best. They each would go out of their way to cheer up my sister and I when our parents had to stay in the hospital with our brother, even though I imagine my grandparents were just as terrified as we were about our brother’s health. From playing Billy goat gruff with my Nanny and Pap to my Pappap’s infamous Donald Duck voice, they knew how to make us smile. I learn so much about God from my grandparents. They always made sure my sister and I prayed every night for our little brother, even if the only words we had were tears.
Before one of Barrett’s most intense surgeries, I vividly remember walking in the woods near our house having a conversation with my Pappap. We talked a lot about God and how God made everything but on that day, I remember we stopped to sit on a log in the woods and pray for my brother. I was so sad and mad that I told him I didn’t want to pray, that I couldn’t remember how. With a twinkle in his eye he said something similar to God knows when you are sad and even our tears and our mad screams can be made into prayers. He talked about this passage in Romans and how the spirit can take our tears and make them prayers. That the spirit knows how to pray for us. It is almost as though we can cry out all the letters of the alphabet and the Spirit turns them into prayers.
Since then, there have been other times in my life when I have struggled to find words to pray, but this passage has always been a source of comfort. It has always been a sacred reminder that even when all we have to offer as prayers are our tears, the Holy Spirit is able to take our tears, questions, and cries and intercede for us.
The same Holy Spirit who meets us in our tears, meets us in the sacraments and in the streets of our neighborhoods. The Holy Spirit is at work in and speaks through the youngest among us and the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in and speaks through the oldest among us. Though, perhaps the Holy Spirit is better thought of as a verb rather than a noun. Or better yet, perhaps we can continuously remind ourselves, the Holy Spirit is like breath, as close as our lips, chest, and lungs, and as near as our nose.
The Holy Spirit is like indescribable joy. A captivating Spirit, as everywhere as the air, a Spirit which we inhale and exhale, a Spirit which animates, revives, sustains, speaks, and nourishes. A Spirit that is in each and every one of us and is always with us so we are never truly alone.
A Spirit which meets us even in our weakness, in our fragility, in our humanity. The Holy Spirit takes our tears, meets us when we are hurting, and tongue tied, when we are overwhelmed and confused and turns our groans and cries into prayers. A Spirit which intercedes for us when we do not have words to pray and gives us a voice.
So thank God for the Holy Spirit and know that the gift of sending the spirit happens over and over again, day after day and thanks be to God for that. Amen.