A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church
June 8, 2019
Romans 8: 14-39
Acts 2: 1-4
Our passage from Romans tonight is one of my favorite passages in scripture, but it’s not what we usually hear on Pentecost. We also heard the more traditional story from Acts 2, where the Holy Spirit came upon people from all over the world, gathered together in a room, and helped them understand what the others were saying.
And I want to lift up the importance of being in a room with people who don’t speak your language. I want to lift up the importance of being around people from all over the known world. Because, as we’ve talked about before, we have a bad habit in our culture to seek sameness. The miracle of Pentecost is that the Spirit shows up when we’re mingling with difference, not when we exclude people of other languages, whether those languages are literal or metaphoric.
You may have seen this video this week, but it’s worth watching again. It’s a father and his baby, having a conversation. Watch this.
They aren’t speaking the same language, exactly. Yet they are clearly having a conversation. There’s an understanding between them, one that comes from attention to each other, if not maybe from clear vocalizations from that adorable baby.
At the end of the encounter, the baby still speaks gibberish. He and his parents still have translation issues they will need to work out as the baby learns to speak. But what a gift it is when people who don’t understand us still engage us in conversation.
As Paul said, “And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Maybe we’re the baby speaking gibberish, and God is the parent who searches our hearts, and because of the work of the Spirit, a conversation is had.
The Acts passage can make the Holy Spirit seem like a lone agent, acting on her own.
And one of the things I like about what the Romans passage adds to our understanding of Pentecost is the reminder that the Holy Spirit never acts alone, and neither does God, or Jesus. When we say that God is one, it means the three persons of the Trinity of God are always working together. The Holy Spirit doesn’t cover a shift while Jesus goes on vacation. God doesn’t treat Jesus and the Holy Spirit as a vice president and an executive director. In all things, they work as one.
And in all things, we’ve got a lot going on. So I’m glad God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are working together on our behalf.
The Romans passage has a lot of language about trials, famine, perils, and pain, with sighs too deep for words. Ultimately, though, it’s a passage about hope. Our trials are never the last word.
As the Message paraphrases vs. 31 and 32
With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else God wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?
A life in faith is not a promise that bad things won’t happen. A life in faith is a promise that no matter what happens, in all things, God is with us.
God as Father, divine parent who sent the son.
God as Jesus, the son who lived in a human body and experienced the pain of the world.
God as Spirit, who intercedes when we don’t know the language to pray what we want to say.
In the bad times. In the good times. In all things. God is working on our behalf, for our flourishing and health.
My very favorite verse in all of scripture is in this passage. V. 28, ”In all things, God is working together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose”. (MRSV–Marci Revised Standard Version).
It was my companion during a difficult year in college, when I needed to know that God was busy working for good on my behalf, because my efforts to ‘fix things’ were not sufficient to the task at hand. I rested in that verse. I said it at the end of each day, hoping that I had done what was in my power to do, and that God was at work on the rest.
And if you know my story, you know that God was, indeed, working for good during that time. I gave birth to my first son, Eric. I placed him for adoption. He turns 30 at the end of this month, and he has been an even richer blessing than I ever could have imagined. God has been working for good in that situation seemingly full time for 30 years. I’ve known Eric his whole life. His adopted family is the most amazing group of people and have been the perfect family for him. Eric has now married and his wife is also a blessing. My life is better for his presence in it.
The day of the adoption, long before I knew how good the story would be, I felt at peace. I felt I was making the best decision I could make. And as I was walking into the chapel, where the birth father and I were going to give him to his adoptive family in a little service, my mom pointed.
There, etched in stone, outside the door to the chapel were the words of Romans 8:28. In all things, God is working together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.
I’ve also felt God’s presence during times of joy and ease.
Yet, it was during my challenges that I saw most clearly saw God’s presence.
It was during my difficulties that I most clearly understood the power of Jesus living a human life, aware of the pains and joys that come along with being human.
It was during the ‘sufferings of that present time’ when I learned to rely on the Holy Spirit to translate my cries into something coherent. I didn’t even know what I needed. How was I to know what to pray for?
God was working in all things, the good and the bad. It’s possible I only recognized God’s presence during the moments where I couldn’t be fooled into believing I had figured it out for myself.
Paul writes: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;
I’m going to confess I don’t really know what Paul meant when he wrote that, about creation waiting with eager longing.
But I think our world is ready for the children of God to be revealed in some new ways. Rather than being revealed to be exclusionary, or worried about our own success, perhaps creation is waiting with eager longing for us to be revealed as people of Pentecost
—people willing to trust God is at work in all things;
—people willing to listen to people we don’t understand, confident the Holy Spirit will do the translating;
—people willing to be vulnerable, as Jesus was vulnerable—dying on a cross rather than using violence to prevail.
Paul ends this passage with a powerful statement.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Creation is groaning for us to believe those words, to live as we we believed them to be true, so that our status as God’s beloved children might be visible, revealed to the world.
Instead, we push back against death.
We fear, despise, or adore earthly rulers as if they held ultimate power.
We worry God isn’t visible in our present things, which leads us to doubt God will be there for the things to come.
We ignore the cries of the planet, as we clog the oceans with plastic and remove protections against water and air pollution. Farmers in the Midwest still haven’t planted crops because their land is underwater from spring flooding. It was 122 degrees Fahrenheit across India and Central Asia this week. Creation is literally groaning for us to pay attention.
We are not now, and we have never been, and we never will be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In all things, God is with us, and working to redeem and restore.
I don’t know what challenges you’ve faced or will face. But I promise that through the worst of it, God is at work on your behalf. Which means this is the place where you can bring your brokenness, your mistakes, your pain, because God already knows it, and loves you through it all.
I pray that will free us to be revealed as God’s children who are free to love other people as they are too, whether we understand each other or not, trusting that in all things, God is bringing us together for good.