Saturday, July 26, 2008

Romans 8:26-39 Sermon

A persons hands can tell a thousand stories. They tell of pain with their scars, cracks, and aging. They can tell of celebrations through their manicures and delicately painted nails. Some hands are soft, speaking at times to a calmer, more sedate life. Others are callused, bruised, and scarred speaking to years of hard labor. Hands can tell stories.

Nelson Mandela, in his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, recalls the scene when he first laid eyes on his granddaughter. It was after his fourteenth year in prison, when he was granted permission for a short visit from his daughter. Upon her arrival, his daughter ran across the room to embrace him. Mandela had not held his daughter since she was a young girl, and it was both poignant and dizzying to hug this fully grown woman, his child.

It was after this embrace that she then handed over her own newborn baby, Nelsons granddaughter, into his callused, leathery hands. He recalls, “To hold a newborn baby, so vulnerable and soft in my rough hands, hands that for too long had held only picks and shovels, was a profound joy. I don’t think a man was ever happier to hold a baby than I was that day”.

Hands tell a story. They can tell of how we, who begin like that newborn child with smooth, soft skin, age from the wear and tear of this journey we call life. Our hands, like our hearts, can become callused and scarred by the years of suffering, distress, and peril we face. They are permanent markers which will ultimately always remind us of the journey we have faced.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is writing to a group of Christians who are faced day in and day out with suffering. They have faced conflicts within the Church itself, struggling between a Jewish and Gentile understanding of what is the Christian church. As with any Christian body during that time, they have also suffered persecution, exile, and other forms of distress. Their life was filled with turmoil; I can only imagine what kind of marks the pain and suffering experienced left on their hands.

It is in those times, the times that leave marks forever engrained within us, that often we may not feel like praying. We, those who are known as “people of faith” may feel spiritually empty. They are the times when the sorrows of this world have become too much. Like Mandela, we may feel as though we have been imprisoned by years spent in a bad marriage, depression, grief over the loss of a loved one, or suffering years of poverty or abuse. While we may not be encaged within the walls of a prison cell, the pain we are living in has trapped us from living our lives and experiencing the joys found within a strong faith.

Suffering can take its toll on our relationships, including our relationship to God. While some may teach us that doubting, questioning, and being angry towards God is bad and unfaithful, it is a natural part of the relationship. Like the relationship we have with our spouse, parent, friend, or child, we will get angry, we will doubt, we will question. It is what it means to be in relationship. When we have suffered pain, turmoil, and conflict, often times it will impact how we relate to God. We may yell, we may write letters, we may become silent. Sometimes there just aren’t the words necessary to adequately talk to God. And sometimes, we just don’t want to communicate.

It is in the times where the ability to communicate with God come up short, when we are just too angry, too sad, too confused to find the words, prayer seems impossible. It is in those moments where we feel we must lean on others to have faith for us, as ours comes up short. We may believe in God, yet our emotions overrun our ability to speak and relate.

In those moments, we can trust that the Spirit will intercede for us. Paul states “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.” We can know, we can trust, that even when our hearts are too callused, when the death of our child shuts us down completely, the Spirit will do the work for us.

The Spirit is the Spirit which will intercede, speaking on our behalf. It is the Spirit that will overwhelm us like the wind, bringing us comfort and peace in the midst of chaos. It is the Spirit that when we feel most abandoned and alone is indwelling within each of us. It is the Spirit that has been with us since the beginning and will never leave.

When those times of complete weakness, physically, emotionally, spiritually, come around, the Spirit will breath those sighs. They are the sighs that can speak beyond our mere vocabulary to communicate our deepest pangs of grief. They are the sighs that will communicate all our suffering, all our grief, all our anger. The sighs are the ones that will echo the truth of every bruise, scar, calluse, and crack that are engrained on our hands and on our heart. They are the sighs that will communicate our hope and are longing for healing.

I read once that “a record of God’s faithfulness in the past combines with hope in a better future for one end: to equip us for the present.” Paul’s message to the Romans was a message speaking to a future. It is the promise that even though they were suffering, God did and still does have a great plan for the future. A plan where all suffering will end and the dead will be resurrected, offering a new Heaven and a New Earth. It is a message speaking of hope in the midst of suffering.

What Paul may or may not have realized is that his message of hope for the future brings us hope for the present. We have the past which speaks to God’s faithfulness. God’s faithfulness recorded in scripture and God’s faithfulness recorded in our personal history. God is and will continue to remain faithful. We are also given hope for the future. It is the knowledge that sin and evil will ultimately be destroyed and that God has given us the gift of grace; we have the hope of the resurrection.

These promises and the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past is what equips us for present suffering. It is what gives us comfort in despair, hope in times that feel so hopeless. These promises are what give us the knowledge to realize that when times are too difficult and painful to use words, the Spirit will intercede and sigh on our behalf. When we are too weak to do the work, God will continue to do the work for us.

We are all faced with the marks of suffering. We can look at our hands and sometimes see the physical evidence. We can also look internally and see how are hearts have been scarred over many times throughout this life. And yet, with each day that we continue on, hope will reappear in the soft, unscarred skin of a baby, a reminder of our future. God does promise us that hope, and God does promise us a Spirit that will intercede when we struggle to recognize that hope and the words just will not come. While the Spirit does not prevent the scarring that will ultimately occur, the Spirit will indeed sigh on our behalf and will always be present with us, offering comfort, peace, and continued hope for the future. Amen.


Paul or Denise said...

Beautiful. I love that although we have these experiences and rough times, the Lord can and will take the pain out of them.

Reminds me of a scripture I love, John 16:33: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Sue said...

How beautiful . . . .
Your writings are always amazing. I was so glad to read on Asher's Space that his mommy was coming your way this weekend. Nothing to make a "hurt heart" happy than a visit from a good friend. Enjoy your time. Please keep my mother in law in your prayers as she has fallen twice this week and is now in a Nursing Facility healing.