A Sermon for Pentecost 9

Romans 8:26-27 biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom%208:26-27&version=31

St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church

When groans are all that come, what do you do? You are in a hospital room. In that room is your mother surrounded by all kinds of monitors, and has more tubes coming out of her than you can count. She is unconscious and she is dying. In a chair beside you is your father, hunched over, cheeks stained with tears. What do you pray for? That she live? Like this? That she dies? How can you watch your father in such grief? What do you pray for? What do you do when groans are all that come?

You are at a company that is involved in unethical practices. You need the job, but can you stay there? Should you quit the job or fight it out? What is the answer? What do you ask God for?

We know we should pray. We know that we should pray often. We see the mercy seat of God and believe that God will hear us for we are his children. Yet we hardly know what to desire. We are so confused that even the remedy of prayer seems to be taken from us. We moan in our spirit but we don’t know what our spirit needs or how to put into words the struggles of our heart.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Ever run out of gas on a lonely stretch of highway? You try to push your car, but it is too much for you? How nice when someone stops to help you push. That is what the Holy Spirit does. He helps us in our weaknesses. When you run out of gas in life the Holy Spirit steps in to help you.

The word used here by Paul was the common word used to describe what a lawyer did in court. Just as a lawyer intercedes and pleads your case before the judge, so the Holy Spirit intercedes and pleads with you and for you before your Father in heaven.

He does that with groans that words cannot express. What do you tell a person who is watching their spouse of 50 years suffer from cancer or a stroke? Do you say, “I know how you feel?” Maybe, but most of the time we can’t say that. I have not been married for 50 years and my wife is not dying. I don’t really know what someone feels in that situation. I have never had a doctor tell me, “You’ve got cancer. I give you about six months to live.” I don’t know how I’d handle the shock.

So what do you say at such times? You can say, “The Holy Spirit knows exactly what you feel.” And he steps in to help, taking our prayers to heaven in “inexpressible groans.”

Has suffering and groaning found its way into your life? Are there deep inner agonies you cannot even verbalize? Your experience is not unique. It is that of all creation, as we heard Pastor Jenkins talk about last week. It is the reality of living in a sinful world. It is that which happens to every Christian at various times and with various levels of intensity. You should not feel guilty or unspiritual over your groaning. If you have come to recognize your own fallenness and that of the world in which you live, you have come to see life as it really is.

The question is not whether you are groaning, but what good this suffering and groaning is producing in you. Does your groaning give you a hunger for heaven? Does it make you discontent with this life and the way things are? Does it focus your hope on the things of God which are presently unseen? Good! (Adapted from Robert Deffinbaugh at www.bible.org.) Does it move you back to the cross of Jesus with its proof of God’s love? Does it drive you to the Lord’s Supper with its foretaste of heaven? Does it drive you to the promises of God such as Paul is leading to in the rest of this chapter? May these times of groaning help draw you closer to Christ and while you wait for Christ may you be assured that the Holy Spirit is helping you groan and translating those groans to your heavenly Father.

Paul promises, And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. “If I were to come into your house I might find there a little child that cannot yet speak plainly. It cries for something, and it makes very odd and objectionable noises, combined with signs and movements, which are almost meaningless to a stranger, but his mother understands him, and attends to his little pleadings. A mother can translate baby-talk; she comprehends incomprehensible noises.” (C. H. Spurgeon at www.spurgeon.org) Even so the Holy Spirit makes our groans understood to God because he understands our groans and he knows God’s will.

Augustine, one of the early church leaders was not a Christian growing up. When he made plans to leave, his Christian mother, Monica, prayed that God would not let him go because she feared that he would fall deeper into sin in the wickedness of Rome. God did not answer Monica’s prayer the way she wanted. Augustine went to Rome but it was there that he was converted and became a Christian. The Holy Spirit knew the Father’s will for Augustine and redirected Monica’s prayer to fit God’s will.

So when groans are all that come, we can take comfort in the fact that the Holy Spirit knows what we feel and he knows God’s will. And as we have seen so often through our study of the book of Romans this summer, grace shines through again. By grace we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s grace connected us to Christ in Baptism to make us heirs of eternal life. Even when we struggle in our Christian lives, we can trust God’s grace. And now, he assures us of God’s grace in our prayer life.

When we don’t know what to pray for we might conclude that we just shouldn’t pray. These promises in these verses tell us just the opposite. Instead of our ignorance putting a seal on our lips and leaving our hearts to break, the Holy Spirit gives our groans a language heard and understood by God. When groans are all that come, we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is groaning with us and for us. He turns those groans to prayers that our heavenly Father hears, treasures and answers. Amen.

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