This sermon was preached at the Incarnation Lutheran Church revival service, August 15, 2017. The theme for the evening was “Leaning on the Lord,” taken from the hymn, “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.” The text I chose was Romans 8:26-39. Bishop Paul Erickson
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer; amen.
It’s been quite a challenge to watch the news lately, as there seems to be an unending stream of painful and complicated world events. Heavy rains in Sierra Leone led to mudslides that wiped out homes and villages, with hundreds dead and thousands missing. Tensions with North Korea continue to rise, and we are creeping ever closer to a dangerous and destructive confrontation. And then there’s Charlottesville, Virginia, where the ugly rage of racism and White Supremacy was on public display, leading to violent confrontations and countless counter-protests. Hatred, violence, and fear seem to be surging all around us, and we may be wondering where to we turn to, what do we do?
So, how shall we respond, not just as Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, but as Christians? There are those of us who feel most comfortable in our heads, and our first impulse is to simply understand why things are happening as they are. We read, we scour the internet for blogs and articles that make sense of the madness, we strive for intellectual clarity, thinking that, if we can just understand and explain it all, we’ll know what to do about it. We live in a world that craves sound bite simplicity, but if we’re honest with ourselves and with each other, we will admit that there are no simple solutions and clear explanations.
Then there are those of us who lead with our hearts, and we feel an intense swirl of emotions: anger, fear, compassion, and perhaps even some emotions we just don’t have words for. Our hearts ache so deeply it may even become overwhelming and paralyze us.
And then there are those who believe we don’t have the luxury of thinking and feeling our way out of this, as the time has come to act. These are the people who lead with our hands and our feet, and while we may not know exactly what to do, we know we need to do something. We march, we speak, we pray, we organize, but we may come to the realization that the challenges are so big, and our actions seems so small, and we may wonder if anything we do can really make a difference.
So, as people of faith, we may do what we do when we don’t know what else to do: we lean on the Lord; we pray. We cling to the words of the Apostle Paul who writes, “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.” Think of the all things we might sigh about: the complex challenges facing our world; the child whom we love but whose behavior is beyond our comprehension and influence; the awesome beauty of the north woods; the remembrance of a person who died long ago but whose voice and face are still precious to us; the senseless violence born out of hatred, racism, and revenge; the slow and painful decline of a loved one whose mind and body are fading all too fast. In those times when we don’t even know what to pray for, Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, carries the burdens of our hearts and forms them into the prayers that our words can’t express.
This is good news, especially for those of us who may have given up on prayer, or who may be struggling with just how to pray in a particular situation. I would guess that this includes practically all of us. There are times when we all wrestle with the troubled edges of life, those situations for which there seems to be no easy answer, no simple prayer. We all wonder, from time to time, if God really hears and answers our prayers, and if He does, why the answer seems so hard to understand. And so we are comforted by these words of Paul when we don’t know how to pray, for Paul reassures us that the Spirit prays for us, and that God knows our hearts, and our lives, and our needs, and is busily responding to our prayers even before we can formulate them into words. So, we lean on the Lord, we trust in God’s promises, we may even be tempted to wrap ourselves in the warm embrace of the Spirit’s presence and close our eyes, imagining that when we awake, the sun will be shining, the storms will be over, and we will experience the brightness of a new day, filled with hope, and peace, and love.
But the Spirit has other ideas. I believe that, when we lean on the Lord in an attempt to escape the struggle, the Lord gently but firmly pushes us back into the fray, inviting us to remember that God is not found outside the chaos, confusion, and pain of this world, but right in the heart of it. You see, we believe in and follow a God who is no stranger to the darkness and pain and violence of this world. We believe in and follow a God who is most clearly found in the midst of the madness. We believe in and follow a God who calls our entire selves, our heads, our hearts, our hands and our feet, to engage in the struggle, picking up our crosses and following him.
So, let’s get at it. Let’s find the courage to confront the fact that racism is not just a problem down South or out there somewhere, it’s woven into the very fabric of our churches, our communities, our schools, our government, and, for many of us, our own families and our own hearts. Let’s find the endurance we need to engage in the long, slow, and painful task of unraveling the racism and violence and fear that will remain long after the media’s attention has moved on to something else. Let’s find the hope we need to embrace the truth that the world as it is, is not the world as it has to be, and it is not the world as God wants it to be. And let’s find the love and the grace we need to remember that there is nothing, in heaven above or earth below, that can ever separate us from the transforming power of God’s love for us in Jesus.
The challenges before us are great, but the love of God is greater, and when the children of the light come together, our small candles of hope become a raging fire, a purifying fire, a Holy Spirit fire, that the darkness cannot extinguish, and the hatred cannot quench. I need you; we need each other; and God needs all of us to be “trusting in his holy word; he’s never failed us yet,” and God is not going to fail us now. Thanks be to God; amen.