8th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 11) LSB #’s 904, 650, 981:1-4, 7
Text – Romans 8:26
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
GROANING FOR WORDS
Something as simple as talking with God can be turned into a hot mess by sinful creatures. It is one of our heavenly Father’s greatest desires that you & I turn to Him in times of trouble. However, it is one of our greatest sinful desires to never be dependent upon someone else’s mercy. In the text for this sermon, St. Paul acknowledges how far sin has corrupted us:
“For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Prior to the fall into sin, mankind was in perfect harmony & communication with our Creator. After the fall, we don’t even know what to pray for as we ought. At best it is a challenge for you & me to get in touch with the heart of God.
At worst, we’re taught that prayer is a means of manipulating God’s response to our every desire. As Paul writes to the church at Rome, which is under tremendous pressure from a pagan government, he wants to encourage them that prayer brings powerful results. Yet, those results are never due to our expertise, but due to the power & wisdom of a God who is love.
As a pastor, I get asked to say a lot of prayers. That’s not surprising or in any way inappropriate. However, there are times when I wonder if it would be better for the person making the request to bring themselves to pray instead. My prayers are not better than yours, & God is not more likely to give you what you want just because I am saying the prayer.
Every child of God should feel comfortable turning to the heavenly Father in prayer even while God has called pastors to intercede on behalf of His people. Trying to put things back into balance between those two designs, I like to use humor. I’ve told the story that, as a pastor, sometimes I feel like people treat me as the prayer genie. Instead of rubbing Aladdin’s lamp, you just rub my bald head & three prayers pop out. Now, God does have a sense of humor & there can be laughter involved with our prayers. Remember, prayer is simply heart to heart communication with our Creator. Still many of our prayers have little to do with humor.
Often, when we’re so distraught that we are literally unable to pray that’s when we most need heart to heart communication with God. It is times like those that the Apostle Paul is writing of in this letter to a church suffering under the devil’s persecution. As such, you & I have a great deal in common with the Roman Christians way back in the 1st century.
Satan persecutes in many ways. For one, the Judeo Christian values that our nation was founded on are under attack as never before, because now the greatest attacks are not from outside our nation. They are from the inside. During WWII, the Nazis & fascists of Europe declared war upon our nation. Today, groups from within are seeking to cancel our values.
Hard work is no longer honored. Truth is no longer respected. Arrogance & pride are held up as virtues. As we encounter those attacks on the values that our Creator has given to us we discover how weak we are to battle against the attacks. The burdens they impose upon us can be so complicated & exhausting that we have no idea how to pray.
In March of this year, a former student went back to a Christian school she had attended. She shot her way into the building & then killed three adults & three children, before the police were able to stop her. The investigation revealed that the killer calculated & planned the attack. You don’t need to be told in order to imagine the anguish & pain caused by that attack.
“For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26b ESV) In his letter to the church at Rome, there is no doubt that Paul was writing to believers who had endured events causing similar anguish & pain. People on the lower rungs of society paid a very high price for the Pax Romana – the peace of Rome. Satan always makes sure that people on the lower rungs of any society pay the highest price for the peace of the well-connected & the wealthy.
In the Christian Church of Paul’s day, it was those suffering people on the lower rungs who flocked to the Church for the comfort of Jesus Christ. That solace could be found nowhere else. Jesus is very God of very God yet He completely knows & understands all the suffering that every human being has ever endured.
No god, that any human being has invented, becomes one of his creation in order to suffer & die along with us & for us. No god, that human beings invent, loves so much what is clearly inferior to him. Still, the people who are rejecting the true God, & His design, are broken & hurting, just like you & I, even if they deal with that in a harmful manner.
The shooter in Nashville would have found comfort & acceptance in Jesus Christ, if she had actually surrendered to Him. Jesus knew all her sorrows & pain. He sends the Holy Spirit to intercede for us with groanings too deep for words, because sin has grievously harmed every single human being on earth. We are so broken that often we have no idea how to pray.
Our heavenly Father is well aware of that & never refuses our petition because we didn’t pray in the ‘correct’ manner. He knows our needs & our suffering before we ask. The question is, do we seek His help in humility, or do we demand His help from arrogance & pride? If you’re afraid of praying out loud, in a group, it might be that pride is the cause.
Jesus never rejects our heart felt plea even when we fall flat on our face in offering it. The Spirit helping us in our weakness is pictured in Romans by an image of the Spirit shouldering the burdens which our weaknesses impose upon us – even if that weakness is pride & arrogance. Christ suffered & died for all of our sins. If you feel embarrassed about your ability to pray, keep in mind that this text is exactly about that feeling of weakness & it reminds you that the Holy Spirit is praying for you with groanings too deep for words. God is always aware of our thoughts. Those thoughts become prayer when we submit them to the heavenly Father in humility.
We will never adequately diagnose all our struggles – health, financial or otherwise. We’ll never articulate godly solutions for our problems, or the problems of this world because of our brokenness resulting from sin. When Jesus suffered & died for us, He proved that suffering is not the end. It’s not the greatest enemy we face. Jesus rose from His suffering & death.
The time Jesus spent on the cross was not random & meaningless. God is able to turn all of Satan’s attacks on you to a godly purpose. Though we are God’s beloved children, there are times when we feel forsaken, forgotten, victims of jumbled & incoherent thoughts of guilt, self-condemnation & despair. That suffering also is never random & meaningless.
The heavenly Father knew it was coming & has already orchestrated every previous facet of our lives to bring good from it. God does not minimize our suffering, but He does add purpose & meaning fitted to every aspect of our individual being. So the Epistle lesson begins:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-19, 22-23 ESV)
Christians often look at death as the great & final release from the iron fist of sin, but there’s something even greater that comes after death. It is the resurrection of our body to perfect holiness & glory. That’s what Paul means when he writes, “…we …groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23 ESV)
For that moment too, knowing full well the glory that is to be revealed to us, “…the Spirit
…intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26 ESV) He groans for the suffering we endure, but also that we might have patience to hang on until that day when we clearly see that all our past sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory we will know.
We are always battling with our own weakness in faith & hope. At times we find it difficult to keep a firm hold on the promises of God concerning our sonship. Satan constantly attacks those promises. The Spirit comes to the aid of our faltering, uncertain, even proud footsteps. His strength serves to counter our pride & to uphold us in our weakness.
The contrast between our present state of oppression & tribulation to the future state of glory is so great that even Christians cannot find the proper words to adequately express our longing for the final deliverance from sin. That’s why Jesus came, because for the joy set before Him of our eternal life – He endured the cross.
Jesus endured that cross not simply to pay for our sins, but also to re-create you & me & all of God’s creation. The entire universe will be made new on the Last Day, & that will be our new & glorious home. That entire salvation process was begun when Jesus arrived on earth with His incarnation.
Built within our faith is a deep longing for what Christ has promised. We don’t yet know what that means, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, because He does know, & He intercedes with groanings too deep for words. May His prayer always be ours. Amen.
Holy Spirit, ever living as the Church’s very life; Holy Spirit, ever striving through us in a ceaseless strife; Holy Spirit, ever forming in the Church the mind of Christ: You we praise with endless worship for Your gifts & fruits unpriced. Holy Spirit, ever working through the Church’s ministry; quickening, strengthening & absolving, setting captive sinners free; Holy Spirit, ever binding age to age & soul to soul in communion never ending, You we worship & extol. Amen. LSB 650:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet