March 17, 2019

I was very aware of my breath last week while in Seattle. The Next Church conference I attended was located at Seattle First Presbyterian church, and my hotel was located 3 blocks away from the conference, and straight up a steep hill. After each day of the conference, I would walk up the hill to the hotel. By the time I got into the hotel lobby, I was huffing and puffing a bit. One evening a hotel employee asked me, “Did you just go for a bike ride?” I said, “No,” and let out a big sigh, as I wasn’t really sure what else to say in response.


Today’s passage talks about sighs too deep for words, and how the Spirit of God intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray as we ought. What does the Spirit of God and sighing have to do with us?


Prior to today’s section of scripture, Paul writes a lengthy discussion regarding flesh verses spirit. He basically says there are 2 ways of living. For a person who lives by the flesh, the human being is turned in on himself or herself, and the person becomes the center of all values, living a life of self-idolatry. In contrast, one who lives by the life of the Spirit is free from self- idolatry and is instead a life connected to the Creator through the power of the Spirit of God which dwells within. For those of us who live by faith, who live in the Spirit, the Spirit of God is our connection with God in a very real and personal way- in part type of communication device with God.


Verses 26-28 speak of this communication between spirit and God. The Spirit helps us in times of struggle and weakness. In those times when life is overwhelming and all we can do is sigh, the Spirit intercedes for us and relays our sighs and groans to the One who made us. And, if the Spirit of God resides in us, then God can search our hearts and minds and knows what is needed. God knows what makes us tick It is a symbiotic between God’s Spirit in us and us.


In verses 28-30, which I think tripped up John Calvin back in the 1500s, I believe Paul means that, although all circumstances of this life are not good or joyous for us, amid all these things, God’s purposes prevail. Those who are called (the people of Israel) and the children of the promise including Gentiles (us) are conformed into the image of the Son and part of one big family. Through the Spirit, all things work together for good for those who love God and have the divine breath of God within them.


The word for Spirit used in today's passage, “Pneuma” pneuma, means “breath,” and in this case, “breath from God.” We still hear this Greek word in the word “pneumatic”, “Filled with air”, and “Pneumonia” a disease which affects our lungs and how we breathe air in and out. One of the Hebrew words for God’s Spirit is “Ruach.” In the beginning, God breathed life into creation through the Ruach, the divine wind or breath. It is a very personable and close way for Creator to bring life into that which was created.


I have an Illustration which reminds me of the Creator breathing life into creation. When our son Sam was 2 or 3, he often had difficulty going to sleep. Sometimes one of the things I would do to help him sleep would be to crawl into bed with him and stroke his back. I clearly remember one night in particular when I crawled into bed with him, stroked his back and he finally fell asleep. Then for a while, it was so peaceful, I just stayed there, lying face to face with him. And as he breathed out, I was breathing in, and vice versa. We were breathing back and forth, breath to breath. As his Dad, I felt as if I was breathing my life and love into him. Well, the Spirit, which dwells in us, the divine breath of God was breathed into us in the beginning of our own creation. God has breathed life and love into us as well.


According to this passage, that divine breath in us which is also the Spirit is connected to when we sigh. When I got up to the hotel and was out of breath and had nothing to say, that big sigh was a prayer to God, channeled through the Spirit of God which dwells in me- It was my way of saying to God, “Well. I’m not as young as I used to be.” God experiences those sighs too deep for words, those groans of the spirit. Ever wonder how to pray? Are you sometimes hesitant to pray to God because you aren’t sure what to say? A sigh too deep for words is enough.


How does this symbiotic relationship work, exactly?


Pastor John B. Mc Garvey shared the following story. “One day our church copier broke down. I’m not mechanically minded, so I called the copy repair shop to see if they could tell me what the problem was and if maybe I could do something about it. I quickly discovered, however, that I didn’t even know how to describe what was broken. I didn’t know the name s of the parts or what was specifically wrong. I just knew the copy machine didn’t work.


So the repair shop sent out a technician. While working on our machine, he also called the shop. Unlike me, he knew how to describe what was needed. He used words I didn’t understand or know how to say, but the person at the shop understood. The parts were ordered and soon the copier was working once again.


My need was met because someone came and communicated to headquarters words I could not express. Paul teaches us in Romans 8 that this is what God’s Spirit does for us. When we don’t know how or what to pray, and we only sigh, the Spirit knows precisely what we need and prays in a language God perfectly understands.”


It was a sigh that escaped my lips when I received a call last Mother’s Day at 7 in the morning informing me that my mother had died. That deep sigh spoke words of loss and grief to God as I began my journey through the Valley of the Shadow. It was a sigh that escaped my lips again when my wife informed me of the horrific shooting in New Zealand on Thursday night. That sigh was a prayer to God, asking for humanity to stop looking at the “other”, the one who is different from us, as a threat and responding in violence. 19th-century Russian priest John of Kronstadt wrote, “Prayer is the breathing of the soul.” And I would add sometimes prayer is just breath itself.


This passage also tells us how close the spirit of God is- but a breath away. That is why Paul goes on to say in verses 38-39, “For I am convinced that neither 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 be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


That is why the choir sang, “We are not alone for God is with us, and love is with us now, through all our days, always, forever and ever.”


So, the next time you sigh, remember it is so much more than just as the dictionary defines it, “To exhale audibly in a long deep breath, as in sorrow, weariness or relief.” (American Heritage Dictionary, 1977) Every sigh we breathe is a prayer, is connected to the very breath of God breathed into us when we were born, and reminds us that God is but a breath away. Amen.

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