170807 Romans 8:26-27

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 August 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Romans 8:26, 27
Theme: Give Thanks For Holy Groans

Worship has been described as a conversation. When we gather in God's house, the Lord speaks to us through his Word, and we respond with our prayers and songs of thanks and praise. But before the church bell rings, before that divine dialogue begins, there are many other conversations that take place outside of this sanctuary.

As a pastor, I have lots of little conversations like that every Sunday. Some are trivial, chatting about the weather or wondering how the Brewers could lose a 5 game lead in the division in two weeks. Other discussions are more personal, like when someone is wrestling with a problem and comes to me for some advice and spiritual encouragement. And some pre-service powwows are theological, like a conversation I had with a member before church last weekend.

We were talking about Bible class the previous Sunday, specifically the truth revealed in the Bible and rediscovered in the Reformation that believers have direct access to God. You don't have to go through saints or angels or a clergyman like me to approach God's throne of grace. Christians can talk to God anywhere, anytime, about anything.

Prayer is a privilege. The ability to take our petitions directly to God is a great blessing. But as wonderful as that gift is there is still a problem, and Paul identifies it in our text for today. Because we are weak, our prayers are weak too. Because sin clouds our thinking, there are times when we don't know what or how to pray.

When you are conflicted, when you are confused, when you forget to pray, when you don't know what to say, what should you do? Paul tells you what to do. Don't get frustrated. Don't give up. Give thanks...

Give Thanks For Holy Groans

If groaning in a spiritual context sounds at all familiar, it might be because the concept came up not once, but twice in last Sunday's lesson from Romans (8:18-25). Paul described how creation itself groans due to the effects of sin in the world. And in the next verse Paul included himself among all the believers on earth who groan inwardly, longing for the day when our bodies will be glorified and we will enter the glory of heaven.

God's creation groans. God's people groan. And according to Paul, a third source of groaning is the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. In the two verses before us today, the apostle helps us remember something about the Spirit's work that can be easy to forget.

Fill in the blank: the work of the Holy Spirit is called sanctification. What does that word mean? Literally, it means that the Holy Spirit makes us holy. Practically, it means that the Holy Spirit works through the means of grace, the Word and sacraments, to plant the seed of saving faith in our hearts. Without the Spirit, we can't believe in Jesus. Without faith in Jesus, we can't go to heaven. And so it makes sense. It makes sense that we emphasize these truths when we talk about the Holy Spirit's work. He creates faith. He sustains and strengthens our faith. He gives us the desire and the power to live lives of faith.

But that is not all the Holy Spirit does for us. According to Paul, he also "intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (26b). There is some debate about the exact meaning of those words. Is the Holy Spirit able to communicate without using words? Or does he communicate with words that go beyond the limits of human language? Those are interesting questions, deep questions, the kinds of questions that don't have easy answers. But instead of dwelling on the "how" of the Holy Spirit's communication, the more important question for us to consider is: "why?"

Why does the Holy Spirit need to intercede for us in the first place? Why does the Spirit need to speak to God the Father on our behalf if we can (and we can) talk to him ourselves? Joseph Scriven offers us at least a partial answer. You might not recognize that name, but you will probably recognize one of the hymns Joseph Scriven wrote that has found its way into our hymnal. It goes like this:

"What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry Ev'rything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Ev'rything to God in prayer!" (Christian Worship 411:1)

Before there were smart phones, before there were cell phones, long before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, there was prayer. God invites us to call on him, to communicate with him, to cast all our cares on him. So why don't we? Why are we so reluctant to take the phone off the hook? Is it just plain laziness, or is there more to it than that? Is it possible that we don't pray to God because deep down we don't trust him or because we don't want to admit that we need him? Have you prayed to God before and didn't get the answer you were looking for? Or maybe it felt like you were only getting a busy signal, and so you gave up? Is your weak prayer life a sign of a weak, even dying faith?

It's okay to admit that you are weak because the Holy Spirit is here to help. Paul assures us that "the Spirit helps us in our weakness" (26a), and one of the ways he does that is by adding his prayers to ours. Think about that. Think about how amazing that is. Think about how comforting that is. Think about a time in your life when you faced a difficult decision that was anything but black-and-white. You didn't know what to do. You weren't even sure what you should pray for. Maybe you prayed for wisdom and guidance. Maybe you prayed for God's will to be done. Who knows, maybe you got down on your knees and asked God to give you a sign.

There is nothing wrong with any of those prayers, but they are based on limited knowledge, aren't they? Even our best prayers leave room for other prayers, pointed and specific prayers to be offered up on our behalf. Wouldn't it be nice if we had someone like that to supply what our prayers lack, someone to fill in the gaps, someone to pray with a perfect knowledge of our needs and our heavenly Father's will? It may sound too good to be true, but it is true! The same Spirit who has sanctified us also intercedes for us. Or to put it another way, the Holy Spirit has taken it upon himself to speak to our heavenly Father on our behalf.

"And he (the Father) who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will" (27). With these words Paul is taking us into the deep waters of the inner workings of the Trinity, but I don't want you to feel like you are going to drown. Perhaps an illustration will help. A young couple gets married. They spend almost all of their free time together. They eat meals together. They watch TV together. They go on vacations together. It doesn't happen overnight, but after a few months or maybe a few years it happens. They can't necessarily read each other's minds, but they can...finish each other's sentences.

In a similar way, but on a much higher level, the three persons of the Trinity have an intimate knowledge of each other. The Spirit prays to the Father on our behalf, and the Father knows the Spirit's thoughts before he even gives them expression. If the Father has that kind of knowledge of the Spirit (and he does), you can be sure that he knows you too. God knows you, and he will always do what is best for you.

After all, you are one of his saints, right? That's the word Paul just used to describe believers. We are saints. We are holy. We have been made holy by our triune God, including the second person of the Trinity, who prayed nothing but perfect prayers. Jesus prayed to his Father on our behalf. Jesus sacrificed himself in our place. Jesus has washed away our sins. And because he has we are card-carrying members of the holy Christian church. We are really describing ourselves when we confess that we believe in the communion of saints. We are those stalks of wheat Jesus talked about in today's gospel lesson that will be harvested for heaven on the Last Day.

"I'll be praying for you." It's a simple expression of Christian compassion, and those words are nice to hear. When we are in trouble, when we are in danger, when we are struggling to keep our heads above water, it is a great comfort to know that our fellow Christians are praying for us.

If that is a reassuring thought, how much more comforting is it to know that God himself is praying on our behalf. We might not be able to fully comprehend this truth, but we can definitely appreciate it. When we don't know how to pray, when we don't know what to say, God the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. For that great blessing we give thanks. We give thanks for holy groans. Amen.

Our Mission Statement:

Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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Oconomowoc, WI 53066




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