The Spirit of Intercession (8th Pentecost, Proper 12A)
Romans 8:26-39 (NRSV)
26 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. 27 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.
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.
“The Spirit of Intercession”
In the last two weeks, we have covered two movements of the Holy Spirit, based on Romans 8:
The Holy Spirit draws us close to God as the Spirit of Adoption
The Holy Spirit comes near to us as the Spirit of Intercession.
The Holy Spirit comes to our help in our weakness. God is not far off in heaven. God did not set the world up like a watchmaker who remains distant and removed. God gets her hands dirty in the world. God’s Spirit “takes part with us in our weakness.”
This is important for more than our “spiritual lives”. In the world of the Bible things weren't strictly “secular” or “spiritual.” Everything is spiritual. The polítical, the social, the familial, the sexual, the individual, and any other “-al” you can think of all tied together to one’s relationship with God. God is over all and in all. God takes part with us in our weakness so these things can't be ignored.
And right now, the world seems crazier than it has been in a while. The news cycles are bizarre and unconventional. Politics makes my head spin. In a world full of flashy headlines, breaking news alerts, provocative tweets, and some downright fake news, it is hard to keep track of what is true. What actually happened? What did she really say? What did he really do? There should be common agreement on basic facts, but in so many cases there isn't.
Instead it seems that we honor every claim with a debate. Even if we know that something a politician said is inaccurate or baseless, you can find two to five pundits on some TV channel debating both sides of nonsense.
Words become more than weapons. They become a flood of information and misinformation. They distract us from addressing meatier truths about society. They make it easier for us to forget our problems and concerns by focusing on the scandal or controversy of the day. There are times when I need to turn off the radio and the TV just so I can hear myself think.
Many times, I am too weak to know how to live and pray and minister in this social and political climate. The thought of responding to the chaos and finding ways to speak love and truth to power is overwhelming. I don’t even have all the right words to say to God when things feel so turbulent.
But the Spirit helps us in our weakness. The Spirit takes part with us. God comes down to be with us even when we are overwhelmed by all the changes and chances of this life. God does not abandon us or the world in our chaos. God draws near to us when we need it the most.
And in this state of weakness that we find ourselves, our words may not measure up. We’re not wise enough or smart enough to diagnose all the problems of the world and prescribe the perfect solutions. We don’t know what we ought to say to our neighbors to show them the love of God in Christ. And we often don’t even know how we ought to pray and express our love for God in these times.
But the Spirit comes to our aid again. With sighs and moans and wordless groans, the Spirit speaks where we will not or cannot. The Spirit intercedes for us so that we don’t have to mess anything else up with our thoughts, words, or deeds. The Spirit speaks words of healing and truth. The Spirit reminds us of our right relationship with the Father through the adoption of the Son. “Abba, Father.”
The Spirit prays and reminds us: “You have already been welcomed and adopted into the Family of God. You are already precious in my sight. You don’t have to earn this. I am coming to you to be with you because I love you…”
In silence and stillness, we can hear the voice of the Spirit. The Spirit of Intercession comes to our help when we need it. The Spirit of Intercession groans with “sighs too deep for words.” So if we crowd our minds and souls with words, we may miss the Spirit’s prayers for us.
I know that silence cannot fix the world by itself. I know the shutting off the news and remaining uninformed about the state of world won’t help much either. But I wonder if we might not be a little more balanced, a little more connected to this Spirit of Intercession, if we turn off the devices from time to time and listen for those “sighs too deep for words.” In that silence the Holy Spirit can speak truth to us and help us stay grounded in who we truly are: Adopted and loved children of a God who is always near to us. Amen.
Image Credit: Holy Spirit Window in St. Peter's, Vatican City.