Pentecost - "Wordless Groaning"

Today is Pentecost Sunday--the day that we celebrate the birth of the Church. 

It's also the day that the early Christian believers experienced the power of the Holy Spirit of God in a brand new, incredible way that changed everything for all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. 

Christians believe that even though Jesus isn't physically with us, the Holy Spirit of God reveals Jesus to us... guides us to more fully be like Jesus,, and empowers us to be like Jesus to the world.

After Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to his followers and promised them that even though he physically wouldn't be with them any longer, he would be with them spiritually and that they would have a Spirit--the Holy Spirit of God---to guide them. 

He said to them:  "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Let me tell you a bit about the full meaning of the Day of Pentecost, which was an important day in ancient Judaism because it's incredibly important that we understand the full meaning of what happened that day. 

Pentecost is traditionally the 50th day after Passover and is more accurately called the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot.  It was an agricultural festival that was marked with the giving of the "first fruits." In other words, the Hebrew people were asked to give the first sheaf of the wheat harvest as an offering and to pray fervently that the remainder of the harvest would be brought in plentiful.

The Feast of Shavuot was also traditionally held to commemorate when Moses was given the Torah (the law) on Mt. Sinai and God entered into a covenantal relationship with the people of Israel. 

In Acts chapter 2 we find Jesus followers huddled together in a secret room, waiting, hiding, wondering.  And then the text tells us that there was a wind that blew through the room, and then what appeared like fire above the heads of all who were gathered there. 

They were huddled scared in that room, but once the Spirit of God landed on them--they were never scared again.  And they went out and changed the world with a message that God was on everyone's side, that salvation was for everyone---not just a small group of people. 

This whole scene is a re-telling of the story of Moses receiving the Torah, the Old Covenant with Israel and God.  Just like there was wind and fire present on the mountain when Moses received the Torah, according to the book of Exodus, in the book of Acts we see the same thing when the New Covenant is unfolded.

Only this new covenant was not written on stone tablets.  It was written in the hearts of the believers who were hopelessly wrecked because they had seen a dead man raised to life.  

All of the old comfortable categories that the disciples were working with... All of it was turned upside down.  Nothing would ever be the same again.  The Spirit showed up and transformed the whole shebang.  

So what does this mean for you and me? 

Because of what happened on Pentecost---you and I... all of us... we have a ghost inside us.  

The Holy Ghost... the Holy Spirit of God... the mysterious revelation of God that holds all things together, moves us, inspires us, convicts us and guides us.  

The Spirit of God changes the game for you and I.  The Spirit awakens us, enlivens us and empower us.  The Spirit of God helps us to truly see the world as it could be... when our eyes are opened to this we can't unsee it, we can't settle for ordinary things. 

And when we can truly see... we can begin to imagine a better world... and when we begin to imagine a better world, a world filled with the peace and glory of God, a world with all of the wrongs made right... when we imagine, we begin to experience longing. 

And this longing... this deep desire that the world is made new, and us along with it...  that longing can lead to transformation. 

All of this comes to us through the urging, the leading, the constant conviction and pleading of the Holy Spirit of God--the loving God-soaked energy that exists between us, between everything in all spaces and times. 

Come on!  You know why that resonates with you?   Because you know deep down inside that it's true.  You feel the longing.  You feel the longing for a better you... a better world. 

But what do you do about that longing? 

Sometimes it feels like there are no words to express your longings for things to be better. 

Maybe you are struggling with health issues... or financial pressures... or maybe the pressing problems of our day are overwhelming to you and you find yourself longing... desperately longing for something better, and you can't even find the words to speak about your longing. 

We all know how this feels.  It's the moment when words escape us and we find ourselves sighing or groaning...  Ohhhhhhhh!!!  In moments of great pain or suffering... Ohhhhhhh!!! 

And that groaning... that deep sighing... it comes from deep within us--from a place where the Holy Spirit of God lives and moves and causes us to long and to sigh.  And it serves as a sign that we have this Spirit, and along with it the power to be the change we long for. 

In fact, the one thing that I want us to hold on to today---the key to our conversation this morning--is this mysterious and important truth:

When words are not enough to make your world new, try sighing in the Spirit instead. 

Our conversation partner today is the Apostle Paul, who wrote half of the New Testament, including the letter we'll be reading from today--the letter to the Romans chapter 8:22-27:
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 
26 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 through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
What exactly is Paul trying to say here?  

The overarching theme of this passage is simply our life in the Spirit.  Paul believed that the Spirit of God permeated all of Creation, including us.  When we are awakened to the presence of the Spirit as we draw closer to Jesus, we find a new connection to God, and a desire to do God's will.    

In fact, Paul essentially states here that it is the Spirit that makes us capable of walking in a way that is pleasing to God.  

Further, Paul believes that the Spirit of God connects us to Jesus in a powerful new way as we are able to recount Jesus' life, death, and resurrection as our own.  And this resurrection is nothing short of the beginning of a new creation--an expression of the kind of new humanity that Jesus demonstrated.  

But we're not yet what we will be, as the Elder writes earlier in the letter.  As we follow Jesus, we are becoming more and more like him, which means we are becoming more and more like our true selves--the kinds of people that God dreams for us to be.  

And just like with any new beginning, any new creation or new birth---there is the pain in the transformation, pain in birth.  In fact, Paul likens the longing that we feel, that all of Creation feels, the sighing and groaning that the Spirit is generating are labor pains that precede life.  

The end of one thing--the pain of that ending--is, in fact, a new beginning.  And there are often no words to express this pain, this longing except through groans and sighs.  

Which brings us back to our big idea today:  

When words are not enough to make your world new, try sighing in the Spirit instead. 

Can I share with you something beautiful and fascinating about sighing for a second?  

Sighing starts out as a normal breath, but before you exhale, you take a second breath on top of it. Whether you realize it or not, you do this about 12 times an hour, and even more than that when you’re stressed or anxious.

The physiological purpose of sighing is to inflate the alveoli, the half-billion tiny, delicate, balloon-like sacs in the lungs where oxygen enters and carbon dioxide leaves the bloodstream. But sometimes, individual sacs can collapse. 

In other words, if you don’t sigh every five minutes or so, these alveoli will slowly collapse, causing lung failure. When alveoli collapse, they compromise the ability of the lung to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The only way to pop them open again is to sigh, which brings in twice the volume of a normal breath.

But after all, is said and done, the emotional aspects of sighing remain a mystery.  

Here's something fascinating, however, and this speaks to what we've been talking about this morning.  

We know that if we don't sigh, we won't thrive physically.  

But we also know that if we aren't sighing over the brokenness of the world, over our desire to be better, to live bigger... we won't thrive spiritually.  

And those longings inside of you... those desires for a better world... your broken heart over the state of things in your life and the world around you...  here's why those longings should give you hope: 

Because the presence of the sighing Spirit within you demonstrates that God stays with the broken world all the way through to the end... and on to a new beginning.  

Those sighs and groans are evidence of the Spirit in your life.  And even though you may not have the words to express your longings... even though you may not have the answers to all of the hard things that are going on in your life or in your world... The Spirit of God does.  

So here's the deal... 

Don't let your longings lead you to despair.  

Don't let your longings lead you to be argumentative with those who see the world differently. 

Don't let your longings lead you to become overwhelmed and immobile.  

Do let your longings lead you to a place where you are leaning more and more on the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life and in the world around you.  

Because when words are not enough to make your world new, try sighing in the Spirit instead.  


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