Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

In desperate moments, the human soul raises the following question: Whom should I call?

The Hidden Treasure
JESUS MAFA. The Hidden Treasure, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn.

July 30, 2017

Second Reading
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Commentary on Romans 8:26-39

In desperate moments, the human soul raises the following question: Whom should I call?

It is indeed applicable to call Romans 8:1- 39; the 9-1-1 of every Christian believer because the entire chapter is indeed a prayer template, one to be used at any given moment by all those who believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

In Romans 8:26-27 Paul returns to the first characteristic of humanity’s hope elaborated in Romans 1-11. The transition of the human soul into what Paul calls, “in Christ,” through baptism, is guaranteed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit whose sole responsibility is to continue absolving, praying, regenerating, and forgiving the human soul torn between the life in the flesh and spirit. Therefore, in moments of human desperation and on the crossroads of life, God’s breath is always at work, whispering, directing, and sustaining hopeless lives (Romans 8:26-27). The Advocate promised by Jesus in John is consistently operating within the interior of believers, propelling them to new heights in seasons of sliding backwards.

In compelling faith terms, Paul offers Christian believers a solid ground for their confidence in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The inarticulate moans or groans of the Holy Spirit are not oriented to the human conscience but they are directed to God on behalf of a believing faith community. This is comforting to Christian communities because the intercession is for individual believers in the worshipping community who are incapable and devoid of the language to communicate effectively with God. The reality is that human beings run out of words, especially in moments of sickness, death, hunger, poverty, and whenever life confronts us with pain.

In some way, Paul is asking the question: “Do we know how to pray and what to pray for when we are on the crossroads of life?” The answer to this question is that no one knows, and therefore we rely on the Holy Spirit. Whether we teach people how to pray or not, Romans 8:26-27 is a call to believe in the intercession of the Holy Spirit — this truth is no longer held in most denominations. As a result, the Holy Spirit is treated like an artifact in a museum. What a blessing and an encouragement to know that the Holy Spirit prays for Christian believers. This should not be a surprise to pastors and lay Christians because the Holy Spirit is Jesus himself and we know that Jesus had a track record of prayer life and miracles, as recorded in the Gospels.

Similarly, church leaders and lay Christian leaders should be moved to pray because the disciples of Jesus were moved to pray. On the crossroads of life, especially in Matthew 26:38 and following, Jesus set an example in Gethsemane and prayed to God. I am confident that when Paul wrote this part of the letter; he had vivid memories and imaginations of Jesus at prayer and so he exhorts Christians with these deep spiritual words in verses 26-28. It is crucial for church leaders to know that in times of deciding on tough issues of faith the Holy Spirit is always at work: interceding, and testifying for the church before God. Our response should be belief in what God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will do on behalf of the church. Without the Holy Spirit, the journey of Christian perfection becomes a daunting task and so Paul, the Jewish convert to Christianity, uses his religious upbringing which was on the imperfection of the human family. Thus, Paul implores the Holy Spirit to invade the human being who longs to be in a faith relationship with God.

Because of the inability of persons to perfect themselves, God in providential fashion provides the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s creation plan. Many theologians have misunderstood the word predestination, but in this chapter, Paul uses the concept in reference to God’s original intent: the salvation of humanity. In other words, salvation is not ours but rather, it is located in God’s five-fold plan, which is: “called, provided, acquitted, justified and glorified.” (Romans 8:30). Thus, the journey of Christian perfection is conceived by God stretching from conception to eternity.

In our loss of language in terms of what to say to God the Holy Spirit has direct access to God; the communication that happens between the two spiritual realms is done on behalf of a believer. What Paul implies behind these verses is that the human being is incapable of comprehending God’s power and therefore they fail to appreciate God fully. Even when we fall short of acknowledging and comprehending God’s power the Holy Spirit continues to intercede for all believers.

This is a mysterious role. The function and work of the Holy Spirit remains opaque to many people, including clergy. It is probably true that in moments of our human pain and our prayers; the Holy Spirit sighs within us, through us, and for us, enabling us to have peace of mind, soul and heart. It is this calmness of heart, mind and soul that needs to be taught to all believers who find themselves in doubting moments, especially when walking through the valley of desperation and challenges.

The last verses of Romans 8:28-39 bring to a close Paul’s gospel message and the place of the Holy Spirit. This seems to be an envelope structure where both the Gospel and the Holy Spirit overshadow the Christian believer in ways that can only be perceived through faith. As objects of God, human beings are meant for salvation and what that does is to unleash the believer into salvific actions into the world. With salvation secured, the believer is called into action and that action includes love, kindness, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, and humility. These are what Christian teachings call the “fruits of the Holy Spirit,” as Paul teaches in Galatians 5. Having been prayed for by the Spirit, the Christian is called to live out a spirit-filled life. The entire chapter functions as the 9-1-1 of a Christian and every believer could use Romans 8 as a prayer template because the language Paul uses are indeed a Holy mystery. Thus, being in the Holy Spirit is similar to being in a winning battle whose victory is assured (Romans 8:31-39).

All humans experience frustrations, life challenges, ministry mountains, tragedies, and moments of desperation. Yet, the Apostle Paul assures us that God through the Son and the Holy Spirit has guaranteed victory, and that all can be assured the Sovereign Lord will not let them down. What is called for among all believing Christians is faith, trust, and obedience in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. These three are divine attributes that make the Pentecost a reality and allow it to be an everyday experience.