05/15/2016 -Romans 8:14-27 – “New Language, Old Wounds”

Guest preacher today, Princeton Theological Seminary student, Jamie Fiorino, with baptisms and waving flags and more. Click here for the audio version.

Many Pentecost blessings on your faith and life.

 

Preachers are always looking for new ways to help you remember scripture and deepen your understanding of how God moves and works in our lives. Guest preachers are no different, so our Scripture reading this morning requires your participation. I am first going to read the scripture so that I know you have heard it before I ask you to be silly. So listen to the word of God.

 

Romans 8:14-27

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba!Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and ifchildren, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

 

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 ofGod in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

 

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. 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 ofGod.”

 

This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God.

 

I know this isn’t a typical Pentecost passage, but it does give us an idea of the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes to both the Jews and the Gentiles of Rome that by the Holy Spirit, we are led into a better understanding of our identity as children of God; the Holy Spirit helps us to hope despite our weakness; and the Spirit intercedes in our prayers, through God and in accord with God. To help us visualize these three activities, I’m going to read it the first paragraph again and if you have a red piece of fabric I want you to wave it around whenever I say the word “Spirit” and if you have a yellow piece I want you to wave it when I say the word “Hope” or “glory”.  Green and blue, we’ll get to you in a minute. Hear the word of the Lord:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

 

Good job. Now, let’s add in the greens and blues. Green, when I read the word “God” or “Christ” or “Creation” you give it an enthusiastic wave. And the blue fabric: whenever I read the words “children” or “father”, wave it like you just don’t care. Ready? See the word of God:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba!Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and ifchildren, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

 

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 ofGod in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

 

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. 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 ofGod.”

 

So why did I do it that way? I believe that scripture is God-breathed and therefore it is alive, but sometimes we read it like it’s dead and just words on a page. I wanted to give some movement of scripture. But also, it was really fun to watch. Let us now pray for God’s illumination on this word, that it may move in our hearts.

 

In the first chapter of Acts, we see the beginning of this new company of believers: later called the Church. Jesus ascends to his throne and they elect a new apostle to fill Judas’ place. We’re told the church had about 120 people in it. These new Christians were gathered together for the Jewish Feast of Weeks, the celebration of new spring harvest and the giving of the law by Yahweh. And suddenly a violent sound filled the house and drops of fire fell upon them. Everyone was screaming in different languages. The scene must have been loud and chaotic because in no time, a crowd gathered around the house with commentary: they must be drunk. Peter stops everything and says: Please, it’s 9 a.m. They aren’t drunk, this is the work of the Holy Spirit as we were promised.

 

There are a lot of things to explore in just that one paragraph. I could talk to you about why these new believers of Christ are still gathering for a Jewish tradition. Is there a lesson in there about falling into old habits?

 

I could talk about the theological implications of the church gathering to celebrate the giving of the torah, the Law, from God to Moses on Mt. Sinai, but it is the Spirit (promised by Christ) that comes to them. Are we to interpret this as the Spirit replacing the law as the instigator of ethical living?

 

And what is the deal with tongues of fire?

 

But instead, this morning, I want to talk about the New York subway.

 

About two months ago, I had a day off from class and some friends visiting me so we decided to go into New York City. An hour train ride from campus, and we are dropped off in Penn Station, next to Madison Square Garden arena and five blocks from Times Square. At noon on any given day, there are more people in that 9-square block than all of Spokane County. We spent the day on the Upper West Side, visiting the dinosaurs at the Natural History museum and wandering through Central Park. We went to dinner at a wonderful Greek restaurant and then saw a show on Broadway. At the end of our day, we had to get back on the train and ride home to NJ. If you’ve never had to catch a train from a station, here’s how they work. You buy the ticket from a vending machine and wait in the lobby until your train is announced. You then have 10 minutes to find your gate, get downstairs to the train platform and find a seat on the train; however, in order to keep people from bunching up the back of the train and blocking the stairwell, they only open train doors are at the front end of the train. When our train was called, it was bedlam trying to find our gate and go through the single door, down the broken escalator stairs and walk the length of the train because at least 20 theater shows, a Metallica concert, a Bernie Sanders rally, and a New York Rangers hockey game all let out at the same time, and that’s in addition to the regular commuters in and out of Manhattan. We all crushed into the train lobby, about the size of three of these sanctuaries end to end. So when the Luke writes that the scene at Pentecost was “bewildering”, Penn Station is the scene that I picture. Languages I did not recognize, every skin color in the flesh rainbow, confusion, yelling, cursing, shoving, self-preservation, utter confusion. My friends and I got separated and didn’t find each other again until we reached the Princeton station and stepped out on the platform where we embraced in relief to find each other. When I picture and reenact Pentecost, I don’t think of it as the fun little moment that lasted 10 minutes. It was an all-day event that caused terror and wonder.

 

Paul wasn’t there that first birthday of the church; he had to hear about it later. And in the time between the day of Pentecost and when he wrote today’s scripture, there were a lot of ideas about what it means to be the church and to live under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

 

Those first believers had the unique blessing to literally be led by the tongue into a new identity as the children of God. Ever since God claimed them through covenants with Jacob and Abraham, the Jews were known as the heirs of God’s promises. God said, “These are my people. YOU are my people.” But because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and the grace offered to all, those outside the tribe of Israel are welcomed into the family of God as siblings and co-inheritants. BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, WE ARE LED INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF OUR IDENTITY AS CHILDREN OF GOD. As an example, Paul writes that we call out “Abba! Father” which is a very strange turn of phrase. Abba means Father, but not in Greek, the language that Paul wrote the letter in and not in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, but in Aramaic, the foreign language most common in the region south of Israel. It’s an example of the language of adoption: we cry out with foreign words and it is the Spirit that, like a loving Father, dotes on us and convinces us we are safe in the language we understand.

 

My friend Katie adopted a daughter from Korea, named Bo. Katie and her husband brought Bo home to meet her new big sister, Lindsay. Lindsay was 5 years old and Bo was 2. Bo could walk and was beginning to speak, but obviously Korean not English. She was fond of exploring and clapping, but she was, from the moment she locked eyes on her, completely devoted to her sister, Lindsay. Bo followed Lindsay around the house and would cry, “Umma! Umma!” if Lindsay disappeared from her sight. Lindsay once spent the night at a friend’s house and Bo cried every minute she was gone—even in her sleep; Lindsay now hosts all the sleepovers. You see, “Umma” is the Korean word for mother. There was something about her adopted sister, Lindsay, that soothed Bo’s fears.

 

When we were children, there were a lot of things to be afraid of—things we didn’t understand or couldn’t completely comprehend: the thunking noise in the basement, floating too far from the edge of the pool, the shadows in the closet. Even as adults, the world is a scary place: the thunking noise under the hood or under the stethoscope, floating away from the things that ground us, the shadows on the street and in our minds. Paul writes that these present sufferings and fears are not even worth comparing to the glory that is about to be reveled: the dissolution of our fears in the glory of God. And not just that, more: THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS US TO HOPEDESPITE OUR WEAK INCLINATION TO FEAR. What do you suffer from that is stronger than the glory of God?

 

Paul uses the analogy of birth. A woman cries out while in labor, from fear and from pain. But the act of labor doesn’t just produce something squishy and beautiful and new to the world, it produces within the woman a whole new identity: umma, mother. Labor brings forth something new and changes the world while at the same time easing our pain and fear. I recently had a conversation with the moderator of the PCUSA’s General Assembly about the future of the church. There is a lot of fear of the unknown and pain over past actions, and that fear and pain has been, I think, smothering our potential as the Body of Christ. What if we viewed the present sufferings of the church not as the groanings of death, but as labor pains, producing something new? What if, in your life, you viewed your current trials and tribulations not as the end of something, but the bringing forth something new and squishy and beautiful?

 

The Spirit intercedes and helps our gaze focus on what is to come, and Paul asks a great question: who hopes for what they already have, what they can already see? Only a fool, that’s who. With the Holy Spirit as our guide and intercessor, we can hope for what is unseen and we can pray with power and assurance that our hope is in the right place.

 

My friend Paula had cystic fibrosis and had been on oxygen as long as I had known her, waiting for a double lung transplant that would extend her life. Paula was a petite woman, just a wisp of a thing. So small that she couldn’t have the lungs of an adult, she needed a parent to give consent to donate the organs of their dead child. She was on experimental and costly drugs, in and out of the hospital, and tired; always tired. I was her pastor and we spent a lot of time in prayer and discussion about how do we pray for a kid to die so that she could live. We decided we would pray with hope for a full life, an abundant life. And so it was on Pentecost Sunday 2014, our prayer for abundant life was answered, not in the way we wanted but in the way we hoped. Paula passed away in her sleep, about the time the congregation was singing the words of this hymn:

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

till I am wholly thine,

till all this earthly part of me

glows with thy fire divine.

 

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

so shall I never die,

but live with thee the perfect life

of thine eternity.

 

That was the best worst Pentecost I will ever know, because I learned the lesson: who hopes for what is seen? Friends, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who can shake the house with violent wind and soothe our fearful minds, we too are being led to a hope-filled place of perfect peace. Amen.

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