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Holy Spirit, Our Intercessor

July 17th 2011 by Joel Schultz

Paul brings comfort and hope to God's people who live in the midst of a sinful world - people who often suffer from the burdens and hardship and difficulties of life. The hope that Paul offers is that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf to the Father and reminds us of the glory of the New Creation yet to be revealed. Read to find out more...

Proper 11A – “Holy Spirit, Our Intercessor” – [Romans 8:18-27]({% url get_scripture reference="Romans 8:18-27" **– July 17, 2011"

In the past 2 weeks, Paul has led us to consider and meditate upon Christ, our Deliverer, rescuing us from our sin and God, our Father, who claims us as His children. Today, we see God, the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

In Psalm 139, the psalmist asks, “Where shall I go from your Spirit?” In answer, he meditates on the places he might go. If he goes up to the heights of heaven, God’s Spirit is there. If he goes down to the depths of Sheol, God’s Spirit is there. If he goes to the farthest parts of the sea, even there God’s Spirit guides him and holds him fast. The Spirit of God overwhelms the psalmist. He sees the Spirit every place he goes. And so it remains for God’s people today.

Today, as we contemplate Paul’s letter to the Romans, I’d like to take you not to the highest heavens and not the farthest seas. But rather to a hallway – a hallway in Florence in the Galleria dell’Accademia. There is little to hear in this place. But there is much to see.

This hallway is part of a museum and, as you stand there, you are surrounded by four unfinished pieces of stone. It is as if time itself has been frozen. An artist was working but stopped in the middle of his work, leaving four pieces of marble. The edges are rough. The stone is misshapen. These rocks look like they have been cut from the quarry and dragged to this place. And yet, emerging from these blocks of stone are the beginnings of figures. Some have no faces. Others are missing arms, hands, feet. Yet you can clearly see the beginning of four figures.

They are slaves. Prisoners. Begun by Michelangelo but never finished. His work has been frozen in time. What they once were, rough blocks of marble, is gone. What they will be, beautiful sculptures, is not yet here. Instead, we stand here in the hallway in the midst of an awkward moment. The past is gone and yet not gone. The future is here and yet not here. We can see the future, slowly taking shape, and yet the past is painfully with us, as figures appear before us locked in the stone.

In our text this morning, Paul invites us into a hallway like this. He asks us to see how we are caught right now in the middle of God’s greater vision and work. Paul begins by saying, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Suffering and glory held together in this moment. Like rough hewn stone, our present world is filled with suffering. God had originally formed a beautiful creation. Wherever one looked, one could see God’s fingerprints and it was beautiful and it was good.

Adam and Eve, however, brought suffering into God’s creation. They disobeyed God and brought God’s curse into the world. “The day you eat of it, you shall die,” God had said and now God came and subjected the beauty of creation to the bondage of decay. Such punishment was set in stone and only God could free His creatures and bring about a new creation. This is the glory that Paul has seen in Jesus Christ – the beginning of a new creation – the beginning, just the beginning of eternal life. Like first fruit foretelling a future harvest, Jesus Christ is the promise of a new and never-ending life. God has begun His work, and like this glimpse of figures in stone, it is only a matter of time before the full glory of God is revealed.

So Paul writes to the Romans to help them stand in this painful moment. And his words come to us to help us stand here today. In Christ, we have been made into the children of God. This is sure. This is certain. His death has destroyed the power of sin for you and His resurrection has brought you the promise of a new creation. Yet what we are is not fully seen and experienced in this world. Take a deep close look at God’s people, Paul says, and you will see a people, imprisoned and suffering, groaning because they desire to be free – free from sin – free from death.

So we stand, awkwardly positioned between the sufferings of this present world and the glory yet to be revealed. And in this place, the apostle Paul asks us to meditate on our situation and to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.

To meditate on our situation is like taking a good close look at these figures in stone. If you look closely, you will see that each of the figures Michelangelo carved is different. One is young. Another is older and bearded. One slowly awakens and another is busy working, bearing his burden in the heat of the day. While each of them is different, one thing remains the same. All of them are slaves. Young or old, working or sleeping, all are slaves in the eyes of this world.

So, too, for God’s people. Burdens and difficulties abound – family problems, divorce, sickness, disease, death, unemployment, ethical dilemmas in the workplace, problems with co-workers. To what burden do you find yourself enslaved?

“If I make my bed in Sheol,” the psalmist cries, “You are there.” When troubles and hardships and burdens shove you into the darkness of despair, the slavery of doubt, into that place where you open your eyes but you cannot see God, God is there. That is Paul’s message. Even in the hardest, darkest times the Spirit of God is there, crying out for you.

This is what Paul is revealing to the church in this letter. The Spirit of God cries out for God’s people. The world is groaning as it awaits the revelation of the new creation. God’s people are groaning as they are locked in positions of slavery and rejection by this world. But the Spirit is also interceding/ praying for you.

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” (Romans 8:26-27). In these words, Paul joins groans with a glorious vision.

On the one hand, the Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. There are times when we are at a loss for words. The suffering we have seen in this world, the longing we have for the new creation is so strong and so deep that we cannot find words to express it. For instance, have you ever been to a child’s funeral? What do you say? You stand there, next to her parents, your heart filled with groans that words cannot express. What do you say when your wife tells you the doctor said it was cancer? How do you respond when a massive tornado destroys towns and lives like the one in Joplin? What do you say when flooding washes away homes and farms and hopes and dreams? What do you say to the child who faces the divorce of parents?

The broken edges of this fallen world cut deep and language itself is limited. It is difficult to reach down and touch our sorrow much less grab a hold of it and put it into words. We have trouble speaking to one another, and even more trouble speaking to God. At moments like this, Paul asks us to listen as the Spirit takes the groaning of our suffering and puts it into prayer.

The groans of the Spirit, however, are joined to glory – the glorious desires of God for His people – for all creation. You know, one of the interesting things about Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures is how he approached carving figures into stone. Michelangelo believed that his work as an artist was to liberate figures from the stone. Rather than carving figures into stone, he saw himself as freeing these figures from the marble. Though in this case his work is unfinished, we can catch glimpses of his larger vision, his master plan. The larger glorious vision of these figures was there in the mind of the artist and, only through time and effort and the removal of stone, piece by piece, did that vision slowly come into being.

In a similar way, Paul talks about the glorious vision of God seen by the Holy Spirit. Paul says that “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:27). The Spirit knows not only the deep mysteries of our suffering. The Spirit also knows the deep mysteries of God – His vision of a new creation. You have been joined by baptism to God’s new creation in Christ. God is at work in Him. He is shaping our lives, forming our faith, working in small and sometimes painful ways as He continues His promise to bring about the kingdom. We cannot see this plan of God. We cannot see His overall design. Sometimes, we can’t even see the smallest carvings He does as He leads this world to that day of the new creation.

When we experience suffering in this world and look forward to the new creation to be revealed, the Spirit Himself speaks for us. He brings our petitions to the throne of the Father. Our suffering touches God’s glory in the words of the Spirit and we trust His work because of God’s love made certain for us in the death and resurrection of His Son.

I invite you one more time into the hallway of the Galleria dell'Accademia. Note that these sculptures are displayed in a hallway, not a closed room. This space is a corridor where people pass from one place to another and, at the end of the hallway, stands a work of remarkable beauty, Michelangelo’s David. No longer is this figure a slave encased in stone, but now he stands, in glorious freedom, the freedom of a man of God.

How much greater is that glory of David’s son and David’s Lord – our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Ruler of a new creation. In Him, God the Father will bring all things to completion. He is the one who stands there, ruling over all at the end of this world and the beginning of the new creation. Paul can barely see this, but he knows that it is there and so he offers us hope – hope that lives and breathes through the prayers of the Spirit. Although we suffer in this world, we are heirs of the next.

The Spirit knows the mind of God and He hears our cries and prays for us according to God’s will. God is alive. He rules over all creation. He sees your life, He knows your suffering, and He has sent His Spirit to be here for you. He listens to your groans, He sees God’s greater vision, and He puts your life into prayer according to God’s will. So, wherever you go in this world, you are never far from the Spirit. At home, at work, falling asleep or rising for labor, the Spirit sees and intercedes for you according to the will of God. Amen.

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