We are still working on our sound issues with the live feed, but it was better today. Here is my sermon, as well as a video of the entire service.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
July 25, 2020
God Hears Our Sighs
I am going to sound like a broken record after last week’s sermon, but I set out to preach the Gospel passage from the lectionary this week and follow the narrative of Jesus’ parables about growth that we started two weeks ago with the parable of the sower (this week was the parable of the mustard seed) and yet, again, I found myself in Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
Guys – it is so good. It is so relevant right now.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
That very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Sighs too deep for words.
I think we all have sighs too deep for words right now.
So – I had a moment this week.
And not one of my finer ones, either.
I do not think there was necessarily one thing in particular that set me off – just a complicated combination of several things, all exacerbated by covid life.
And so I cried. I stomped around. I threw a dish towel across my empty kitchen because I figured it wouldn’t do a whole lot of damage. I threatened to spend the night in my office so I could get some uninterrupted work done (though I did back down from that threat and Adelaide happily attended our Executive Board meeting via Zoom that evening). And then I prayed to God with sighs too deep for words because I just could not find the words to pray.
And God was there.
Even though things were still hard – God was there.
That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul wrote this letter to a church that he, himself, did not found. In fact, most scholars believe that, while Paul may have met some members of the Roman church in his travels, by and large, he did not know the community very well. There was not necessarily one giant schism in the church Paul was addressing in this letter, but he had been hearing about growing tension between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
The fascinating thing to me about this particular letter is just how relevant it is to what we are going through right now, 2,000 years later. We looked at the beginning of this passage last week where Paul talks about suffering and hope and, in many ways, it feels as though Paul wrote those words to us, as we live in this time of covid.
The same is true as we continue the passage in today’s reading and Paul talks about the sighs too deep for words.
I mean – if ever there was a way to describe 2020, “with sighs too deep for words” seems to cover it pretty well.
So Paul is not writing to a community of people experiencing a global pandemic. He is, however, writing to a community of people whose lives have been turned upside down and who are struggling to find unity in their new normal.
That actually sounds pretty familiar.
Paul says, though, that we are not alone as we struggle to put all of the pieces back together; that God sent the Holy Spirit to be with us on earth so that we do not have to travel this journey by ourselves – no matter what we are going through.
And here is the thing about the Spirit – it not only helps us, but Paul says it intercedes on our behalf. In other words, the Spirit is not just some sort of passive bystander that pats us on the back and tells us we are going to be okay, the Spirit is an active participant in our lives and takes the wheel from us in those moments when we feel as though we are spinning out of control.
When we feel like we might be at the end of our rope.
When we do not know what to do next.
When we know we need to pray to God but do not know how.
When our sighs are too deep for words.
There is a lot to sigh over right now. The corona virus. Political divides. Systemic racism and inequality. The impossible question of how to re-open schools in the rapidly approaching fall.
But Paul reminds us with these words that these issues are not ones we have to necessarily face on our own; that the Spirit intercedes as God searches our hearts.
It is easy, I think, to wonder if God has abandoned us right now. We wake up every day facing a normal that is unrecognizable from the lives we had grown accustomed to; a normal that not only seems impossible itself, but has created impossible situations all around us. And it is important to remember that asking where God is in the middle of all of this is not a failure of our faith, but a reflection of our humanity. Life is hard right now and it is okay to acknowledge that. I think the citizens of Rome might have felt the same way. Their world had also been turned upside, their normal looked nothing like they had grown accustomed to.
But Paul assures the Roman people that God has not abandoned them.
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.
This passage is read often at funerals – it is part of the committal liturgy that I use at the cemetery. It is fitting to read when someone dies because it assures us that nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from God.
I am not sure there has ever been a more poignant moment in our collective lifetime where these words have been so relevant in life, as well. Because while it does feel like there are so many things devastating our lives and even drawing us away from God right now, Paul assures us that the Holy Spirit is interceding and that God has not abandoned us.
I mentioned that I had a moment this week – and not one of my finer ones. But I also had a lot of other moments where I was reassured of God’s steadfast presence not only in my life, but also in the midst of the chaos of the world. Every time I received a card in the mail, logged onto nightly prayers or had a conversation with an RCC staff member or a committee trying to readjust and continue to do church, I was reminded that our church is stronger than I ever thought possible. Every time I had a dance party in the kitchen or picked vegetables out of my garden, I realized that this pace of life is okay right now. Every time I read about people working tirelessly to make order of chaos – those who are caring for those who are sick, developing a vaccine for this virus, trying to figure out what school is going to look like in the fall to name a few – I saw tangible evidence of hope.
And then I read this scripture – and they are not just words on a page, but a reality we are living right now.
And so, even though I do not know how it all works, even though I am, at times, overwhelmed and even though I am not sure how we are supposed to make sense of what is going on right, I am convinced –– that neither death, nor life, nor this virus, nor the question of how to reopen schools, nor the financial ramifications of the shut-down, nor the fact that we all miss being together and traveling and just doing “normal” things, nor the fact that basic public health recommendations have suddenly become hotly debated political issues, nor the fact that there really is no end in sight – nothing in the world as it is or the world that we so desperately want it to be – nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Friends, God has not abandoned us. God’s love is still strong enough to conquer the imperfections of our human world. This was true in Rome in the first century and it is just as true today. God hears our cries – God hears our sighs too deep for words.
And the Spirit intercedes on our behalf. Hear me one more time – we are not alone.
And here is what I want you to know about Paul’s writing in these words – he is not naïve or new to the mission at this point. The letter to the Romans is one of his later letters. These words come approximately 20 years after his conversion to Christianity. They rest on the foundation of two decades worth of faith in a redemptive and resurrecting God.
Of knowing how transformative the Gospel can be in a person’s life.
Of planting churches in and writing to different communities and realizing that anyone can come to know God through Jesus Christ.
Of traveling and bearing witness to what God can do through the local church.
And of not only believing, but seeing how God is never finished, even when it seems like all hope is lost. Of seeing how God shows us and answers our prayers – our sighs too deep for words.
Friends, nothing can separate us from this love – from this power – from this steadfast presence in our lives.
God is for us.
And God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God!