Flourishing Creation: Pentecost Humanity

Flourishing Creation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  22:27
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22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise 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. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

One of the ways our family has sustained ourselves through the season of COVID-19 quarantine and the disruption of normal life is for the three of us to get out of town in little bursts. Over the past year, we’ve rented AirBnbs on the east side of the state, we’ve stayed with family and friends, we’ve ventured out to the San Juan Islands and taken long drives together. The movement is most of the time enough, enough of a change of scenery to help us get our heads clear and come back to the difficult work of sustaining communities amidst this pandemic.
My son Asher is 6. He finishes kindergarten this week! Can you believe it!?!
And as we’e travelled a little, stayed a little, rested a little together, I’ve watched this little person grow up and learn more about himself. He is a joy to watch — his enthusiasm, his imagination, and his tender heart.
As he grows up, I can begin to see that tenderness as it translates into longings and desires. He has ideas, things he wants to do, and he’s learning how to make them happen. Drawing and building and narrating — it’s all tied to his heart, his hopes, his longings.
One thing that has struck me of late as we’ve adventured a little bit and seen new scenery is the way Asher starts to long for home after a night or two away. There is this sweet, tender part of him that starts to long for his own bed, his toys, his home, even if he’s having the most amazing adventurous time elsewhere. His heart longs for home. Sometimes this comes across in words spoken. Other times, it’s in the soft welling up of tears. You can see it in him, in this tender place — a desire, a groaning, a longing to be home.
We’ve reached the end of our Flourishing Creation series that we’ve walked through this spring season. Today, we celebrate Pentecost and with it, the hope for the flourishing of God’s creation as we, the humanity given domain over and stewardship mandates upon Creation. Over the last several weeks, I’ve asked you to look out into creation to see the glory of God, to witness God’s presence, to be struck by the grandeur of the natural, created world. And today, we turn our eyes inward, to ourselves, to see the promise of creation lived out in humanity.
At the same time, we sense the longing. The tender desire to return home. To find ourselves again. Because while we appreciate that God has made humanity, placed in this world as stewards, and given us what we need — while we appreciate this, we recognize the disparity between what is hoped for and what is, what we long for and what the world is like, what being human costs and navigating that pain.
Would you say that humanity is flourishing in creation? Perhaps you would. We have advanced to a point in the human story where we are able to heal many diseases, solve many struggles, intervene in many places of pain and suffering like we have never before. We flourish in the face of adversity.
And yet, humanity struggles. We fight. We see it in the racism that plagues our nation. We see it in the deep divisions and hatred that play out in the Holy Lands. And if we look into the Scriptures, on a day like Pentecost, we think of the band of disciples, fumbling their way forward in the aftermath of Jesus’ ascension and their longing for the Spirit to come.
Today, we’re looking not at the familiar Acts 2 passage on the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but rather at Paul’s encouragement to the Roman church as they learn what it means to rely on the Spirit’s presence, the hope that is not found within, but a hope and longing that speaks to a deeper belonging in the Spirit and as God’s people.
The Text
Let’s explore today’s reading a bit, as it illuminates the hope of the Spirit and the longings of our hearts, as we resonate with the Roman church’s situation.
Romans 8 is a whole chapter on what it means to live in the Spirit of God, the Spirit of life which is found in Jesus Christ. There is life, and then there is life in the discovery and abiding in God’s presence which connects and knits us all together with creation, in the Spirit.
Preceding our passage, there is a long discussion of the interplay of human flesh and God’s spiritual gifts that are meant to bless and call into flourishing all humanity. The church faced suffering, hardship, longing. I don’t want to equate my 6 year old’s longings for home too directly, but for Asher, this longing in his body is a glimmer of the longing we all feel for a true home and a coming home to be in our bodies as the Spirit has blessed us and made us to be. We have become heirs to a home of God’s making, here on earth, longing for it to be made whole and renewed in the love of God’s Spirit.
And so we get to vs 22 and hear that all of creation is groaning along with us, like in labor pains of birth. The longing we feel is painful, aching, groaning. While we know the birthing process leads to new life, we also know that it is not easy, it can be violent and disruptive, and so very much akin to the groanings we witness as humanity works through the suffering and struggle of our age. We groan at the wars that plague our world — for the violence and division in Gaza. We long for a return to life in safety as we wonder at how long our world will be plagued by disease which preys upon the vulnerable and the poor disproportionately.
And it is with this groaning in us that we also catch glimpses of what could be, what is possible, what may come of the birth we are processing.
In my work, I am privileged to sit with many of you and others and hear your stories and desire and longings and pain. It is sacred ground to stand upon and sacred space to hold. And in the stories, in the memories and the hopes for the future, I hear this groaning of humanity, this longing for things to be made new and for a home to be found. Oftentimes, the words are not directly spoken, but behind the stories is the cry — how long O Lord! — a cry that rises out of this desire for and belief in the hope of God.
Vs. 24-25 remind us that we are a people of hope. And hope is not found in what is manifested in front of us. For Asher, hope is the longing of home and his place of refuge. For our community, hope looks like the longing for the yet to be realized return to full community and connection with one another after a year of separation. Hope looks like liberation — liberation from the bondage of sin and liberation from the oppression of sexism, homophobia, racism, and the plethora of other oppressive systems which hold power over humanity. Liberation is not needed when all are free — liberation is a mark of hope in a world where someday, liberation need not occur.
And so, as Paul says, “we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it in patience.”
To practice Pentecost, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, is to wait in hope and patience. We wait for what we cannot see and yet anticipate and live in to its presence as it surprises us and shows up amidst our longings.
We’re reminded, we don’t know how to conjure this up ourselves. We don’t know how to pray as we ought, as vs. 26 reminds us. Rather, we are met by the Spirit, who prays for us, who moves through us, who quickens our hearts and ignites the Pentecost fire in us in a way we cannot do ourselves. There is a reliance here — we need God’s Spirit, we call for it and long for it to fall upon us. For we see how well we can accomplish the restoration and renewal of all creation on our own (not very well) and we anticipate the way the Spirit is able to do much more than we could ever imagine.
I love the image in vs. 26, as well, of the Spirit interceding in sighs too deep for words. Spirit is translated as Pneuma in the Greek and Ruah in the Hebrew — both words synonomous with breath. The Spirit is the breath beyond words, the presence beyond manifestation.
Back to my son, for a moment. His tender heart longing for home often doesn’t find ways to articulate itself in clear sentences or coherent verbal explanations for how he’s feeling. But you what does communicate in a deeper way — his sighs, his tears, his snuggles, his affect.
I, myself, am a bit of a “sigher.” It is a family trait. While I have the capacity to speak many words, often I find myself sighing out a deep breath when the words don’t come, the feelings too complex to put to nouns and verbs. Sighs are what is left when the words fail.
It is this very breath that the Spirit moves in. These sighs that are too deep to be fully articulated in language. These are the longings of the heart, made real, made breath.
As a people who long for the flourishing of creation and the restoration of all things, our imagination and hopes are limited if we lean only on human ingenuity and bootstrap action. Instead, this is a space where, to discover the true flourishing creation we are meant for, that we are to lean on the Spirit, to sigh and let the Spirit sigh in us.
So what does this look like? On this Pentecost Sunday, what does it look like to receive the Spirit and let the Spirit guide us deeper into the work of restoring creation to the point of flourishing? Can humanity flourish with the Spirit’s presence, here and now?
One of my biggest struggles is that I get stuck in my head, ruminating over things I hope for or worry about. I can mull and mull and spin and spin.
What it looks like, for me, as I attempt to move beyond this rumination to the hope of the flourishing of life is to remember and engage the one who is there with me. What I mean is, while its pretty often that I act as though I am alone in my desires, there is such beauty and power when I remember that I have a partner in these longings — the Spirit. This is prayer. To sit and hold all that I long for and invite the Spirit as partner to sit with me, to intercede and listen and speak into my concerns.
This happens individually, but it very much also happens communally. Where there is division and animosity, it is often that we have not invited the partnership of the Spirit to be in the conflict, in the discussion, in the movement toward growth. But communities built upon the Spirit’s power are communities that learn to work through the discord, to find a place to dance in our difference, the work of God compelling us forward as a people who can collaborate and mutually support each other’s gifts, no matter how different they may seem or how divergent our perspectives may be. The Spirit knits together community.
Honestly, I don’t believe we would have been able to manage this difficult year of being apart from in person gatherings if not for the work of the Holy Spirit to knit us together. It’s just too hard to do it ourselves. We divide, we get distracted, we find another path to follow. But thanks be to God, the Spirit has continued to encircle us and draw us back to one another, as a people committed within the bonds of the Christian covenantal community with one another.
So — today, I encourage you, seek the Spirit in your longings. Perhaps you resist this invitation, not trusting that the Spirit is there or that the Spirit would welcome you. To this, I encourage you to remember — God is good, God loves you, and the deep desires we feel, the longings of our hearts, they come from a deep place in us that knows the way home, that knows what beauty and goodness can be. God has given us those desires, those longings, those hopes. God has made us to love, made us to serve, made us to create and bring about flourishing around us. It is the work of the Spirit to assist us, not get in our way. So I encourage you to find the light of Pentecost in your own lives today and know that it is the breath, the Spirit of God, in you that is calling you towards this new life.
Finally — it is the Spirit who breathes upon our community, our world. What is on offer is the opportunity to breathe with the Spirit, to participate in the Spirit’s work of enlivening and calling all creation to flourishing. This is our work, as the church, as the church first received that call on Pentecost. And this is the hope of our world — that the one who breathes in us is breathing through the strife and turmoil of our world to make all things new.
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