* a sermon preached at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on May 24, 2015 *
Text: Romans 8:18-38
Pray with me this morning:
Consume us, Holy Spirit.
Lead us, and go with us confidently
into the future that you are calling us,
And be with us in the midst of our uncertainty.
I’m reading a book by Rob Bell called What We Talk About When We Talk About God. In it, Bell’s aim is to give an expansive view of God that accounts for many different ways of speaking about and understanding God. In the first chapter, he diverts quickly into particle physics, talking about how the smaller and smaller we go from matter to atoms to protons and neutrons to quarks to bosons, etcetera, etcetera…scientists really can’t say with any degree of certainty why these subatomic particles behave like they do. In other words, once you get to a certain point in particle physics, the response, “I don’t know,” becomes perfectly acceptable.
And, you, like me, might be wondering what particle physics has to do with theology, and more specifically, what all of this could possibly have to do with Pentecost. Bell’s point is this: for so long, we have set science and religion over against each other, as polar opposites of the same line; and…we might be surprised to learn that science and religion have more in common with each other than we think or, in some cases, would care to admit.
Rob Bell says it this way: “I talk about all of this because when people object to the idea of God, to the idea that there is more beyond our tangible, provable-with-hard-evidence observations and experiences of the world, they aren’t taking the entire world into account. A brief reading of modern science quite quickly takes us into all sorts of interesting and compelling places where even the most intelligent, up-to-date, and informed scientists are constantly surprised by just how much more there is to the universe.”
Put simply, we don’t know all of the possibilities.
In my best ideas about myself, I’m enthralled by the abundance of possibilities. If I’m honest, most days, I’m skeptical of them.
And admittedly, this is a little bit how I feel about the Holy Spirit. I know what I’m “supposed” to think about the Spirit, and I think I know what the Spirit is and does, but truthfully, most days I’m skeptical of even myself. I find that the Spirit often defies explanation for me, thwarts my attempts to pin it down and put it in a box that can be named, described, and analyzed.
Lutherans, generally speaking, are one of the more academic branches of Christianity. There’s a reason our pastors have more books than any reasonable person should have. But just as a fun game, go ahead and ask your pastor if they’ve read all the books on their shelves. I think all of us here know the answer to that question… In general, Lutherans love to explain things. We’re rational thinkers, have a healthy grasp on the real and tangible, and trust in what we can explain, or at least, describe.
And so when I, as a Lutheran, run up against this thing that appears to be set against all of those things, I struggle with it. And I struggle with the idea that there are branches of my same Christian faith that profess to have this whole Holy Spirit-thing on lock down. People that believe that they have a true and plausible idea of exactly what the Spirit is and what the Spirit does.
I’m not saying that they don’t, I’m saying that I don’t, and I haven’t experienced what they’ve experienced, and I struggle because I have a penchant for trying to explain things, and this seems unexplainable, and maybe there’s something wrong with me…
And Paul, here in our reading today, seems so…sure of what he’s saying…
All things work together for good for those whom God loves…
If God is for us, who is against us…?
Who will separate us from the love of God…?
The Spirit intercedes for us…
Yes, Paul, but how do you know…?
And here, right in the midst of my doubts, and skepticism, and fears…is where I hear Rob Bell’s and Paul’s words with great comfort.
First, Rob Bell, a little later in his same book, “When I’m talking about God, I’m talking about a reality known, felt, and experienced, but one that cannot be located in any specific physical space in any tangible way.”
God…the Spirit…is felt…and experienced… We know…because we’ve felt…we’ve experienced it to be true. We trust that it’s true. Search yourself deeply… God knows I had to… I think that feeling…that trust…is in there somewhere…
And hear Paul’s words, “In hope, we are saved. And we cannot hope in what we see. But we hope in what we do not see. And through patience, we wait for it.”
I think we catch bits and pieces of this hope. We notice its occasional breakthrough. We feel its intermittent inbreaking.
Like the kiss of warmth from the sun on our skin.
Like the gentle fragrance that just floats past our nose.
Like the soft touch of a faint breeze that glances off our neck.
Like the calming peace that settles over our very being.
We observe this hope in brief, fleeting moments, and yet we wait for the day when that hope is no longer felt in fleeting moments, but is the very reality in which we live.
And this is the pregnant waiting that Paul is talking about. All of creation is groaning and waiting for the fulfillment of the hope that is the restoration of all things. And we hope, and we trust, that that resurrection moment is coming, and in fact, is at hand.
But in the meantime, in the moments when that trust is difficult, in the times when that hope eludes us, Paul reassures us, “The Spirit intercedes for us,” literally, in Greek, on our behalf, “with sighs deeper than words.”
Common imagery for the Spirit is that of fire and flame. And while I think that certainly conveys the consuming nature of the Spirit and the force and vigor with which the Spirit moves, honestly it feels like our world is already burning. From Cleveland, to Burundi, to Baltimore, to Syria, to Palestine, to right here in Chicago… Truthfully, I need a break from fire.
I need a stiff northerly breeze. One that cools, and calms, and refreshes, and rejuvenates. And yes, that resurrects. I need a strong gust that moves me from my place of carelessness and complacency with the way things are to a future that is pregnant with possibility and peace, not just for a few, but for all.
People of God, that Spirit is here. Raise your faces to the sky and feel it. Be moved to action by it. Be led into the future of this faith community by it, where “I don’t know” may be a perfectly acceptable response.
But go confidently with this Spirit, knowing that death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth……nor anything, else. in all. of creation. will separate you from the love of God in Christ.