In Psalm 139, the psalmist asks, “Where shall I go from Your Spirit?” In answer, he considers the places he could go. If he rises up to the heights of heaven, God is there. If he does down into the depths of Sheol, God is there. If he goes to the furthest parts of the sea, even there God’s Spirit guides him and clings to him. God’s presence literally overwhelms the psalmist –God’s Holy Spirit is with him.
In Genesis, the Spirit of God hovers over the face of the waters. Time begins and creation takes shape. Look to the farthest reaches of the sea, and once again, the Spirit is there. The disciples gather together for prayer in a house in Jerusalem and suddenly the Spirit of God does more than just hover – He descends into the midst of them with a flash of flame and the sound of a mighty rushing wind. He fills their mouths with speech and their hearts with faith, eventually sending them to the very ends of the earth.
One of Paul’s well known sayings is,“The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” God formed a beautiful creation. Wherever you looked, you could see the handiwork of God. But Adam and Eve brought suffering and death into the world. They disobeyed God, and by doing so brought death and decay into the perfection of God’s creation. Now, only God can free His creatures and bring about a new creation. Like the first-fruits foretelling a bountiful harvest, Jesus Christ is the first-fruit of God’s new creation. But here’s the best part – Jesus has chosen you to join with Him in His new creation; it is only a matter of time before the glory of His new worls is revealed.
Paul wrote to the Romans trying to help them better understand the situation they faced. And in so doing, helps us understand the situation we face here today. In Baptism and through faith in Christ, we have been shaped, formed, and molded into the “People of God.” Christ’s death on the cross destroyed the power of sin, and His victorious resurrection destroyed the power of death. Yet Paul says that if we take a close look at ourselves, we’ll see a people imprisoned and suffering, even creation itself is groaning and longing to be set free – to be made new once again.
So, here we stand, caught between the sufferings of the world around us and the glory of God’s new world yet to be revealed. And it is here that the Apostle Paul urges us to carefully consider on our situation, trust the promises of God, and trust the Holy Spirit.
In America, Christianity was once a strong cultural influence. Prayer was spoken in school; baccalaureate services were led by pastors, crosses and nativity scenes were proudly displayed in the public square. But today, that connection between Christianity and American culture is under attack. We are being marginalized, pushed further and further away from public notice. Like the Christians in 1st century Rome, we wonder how can we continue to be the people of God in a country that is increasingly hostile toward God?
Paul’s words today offer us the very comfort and hope we need.
Paul knew that the Christians in Rome were suffering. They were trying to confess, “Jesus is Lord” in a city that confessed “Caesar is Lord.” Christians were marginalized, pushed off to the side and forced underground, into the tunnels, catacombs, and caves that lay beneath the great city of Rome.
“If I make my bed in Sheol,” the psalmist cries, You are there.” When persecution forces you into the valley of the shadow of death, God is there. That’s Paul’s message. The Spirit of God is with you even in the deepest, darkest places on the planet. Open your ears and you will hear Him. You will hear the Spirit of God crying-out in that place with you – crying-out in that place for you. The Spirit of God cries-out for the people of God. This world and all of creation groans as it awaits the revelation of the ultimate glory of God and His new creation. But there is another voice to be heard.
Paul writes, “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. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom 8:26-27)
There are times when we are at a loss for words. What do you say to the parents at the funeral for their child? What do you say to your loved one when the doctor confirms they have cancer? At these and moments like them, we have trouble speaking to each other and to God. So Paul asks us to listen, to hear the groaning. To allow the Holy Spirit to take our pain and suffering from us and lay it before the throne of God.
Paul said, “The Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God.” The Spirit knows the deep mysteries of our suffering, and the Spirit knows the profound mysteries of God’s love. Groans and glory, present suffering and future glory are held together by the Holy Spirit for us in prayer. As we stand here before God, we live in this world, yet we’re certain and sure that another world is coming.
Wherever you go in this world, you are never apart from God’s Holy Spirit. At home, at work, in the car, eating, sleeping, or working, God’s Holy Spirit will always be there for you. No matter what. Amen.