“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Holy Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people according to the will of God.”
I remember the first time I read this passage. I thought to myself, “I’m not weak so I don’t need the Spirit’s help. How can someone not know how to pray, Jesus tells us multiple times throughout Scripture doesn’t he? Just use your brain, I thought rather arrogantly.” In my second year of seminary I met the priest and theologian who would become my PhD supervisor and my true mentor. I remember sitting down to talk to him about what I wanted to do for my PhD and then he asked me about being ordained as a priest. I said, “oh no way, not in a million years. I’m not good with people, I hate small talk, I don’t want to deal with people squabbling over the minutiae of everything.” Over the course of an hour we combed through the Scriptures where he pointed out to me leader after leader who felt ill equipped to lead God’s people.
I said, “but I don’t feel ill equipped, I just don’t want to deal with this stuff.” He replied, “your dismissive arrogance is masking your fear of engaging in the messiness of life with other people. Do you not think that God sees that fear? Do you not think he knows that fear is in your heart, hidden away too deeply to speak in words.” God has called you here as a seed he’s planted, but to open to your full fruitful potential, you have to learn to hold all your ideas about who you are, about what you have, about what you’re going to do, lightly. Don’t cling to these things so tightly that you prevent the Spirit from reshaping and reforming you not in accordance with your own will being done, but as Paul says in Romans today, with God’s will being done.
In our reading from Romans today we hear that all of us are weak because we don’t know what God’s will is for us. We pray, but because of so many factors - often our fears and anxieties, the ideas we hold about our worth and value or what we perceive as a lack of, the egos that we build that serve as defenses against feeling vulnerable, our complacency because things seem to be going just fine, our indifference because we think we alone can get things right, our resentments and frustrations - because of these and other things, we simply don’t pray for what it is that we should. We’re actually often blind or deaf to why and what for, God made us (hint, it’s not to revel in our own accomplishments and possessions).
So God in fact gives us his Holy Spirit who takes not just what is in our minds, but the longing of our hearts underneath all the defenses we put up - the deep longing of our hearts to find hope, love, validation, purpose, meaning, peace and rest. The Spirit takes all of these things together of our hearts and intellect - confused and contradictory as these things can often be - and patiently peels back our defenses so that we might see and hear God’s will and respond to that rather than to what we think is good for us.
Paul, speaking to a Church in Rome where people would have been facing persecution, and to those of us in pews who often face our own challenges and struggles against loss, disappointment, jealousy, envy, bitterness, self control, against the desire to use others or to condemn them, against our own frailty and loss of capacity, says, “if God is for us, who is against us?” No one else can judge or condemn us. No one else’s judgment ultimately matters so don’t focus your hearts or intellects on these things first, seek first the Kingdom of God and what you need will be given to you. No one and nothing can separate us from the love of God: not going through tough times, or even horrible time, not even the loss of other people, no ideology, no government, no war or violence or conflict, no natural disaster - nothing in all of creation, nothing that God made, nothing that has been distorted by a fallen creation - not even our own inability to reason and think and feel correctly, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Seek this one, this Lord Jesus Christ, let him grow that little seed planted in your heart, open yourself up to his tending by praying for his presence in your life, by reading through his self revelation in Scripture and finding yourself in the people before him, listen to your brothers and sisters in the church and hear their needs and desires and concerns. Be open and not closed off to really hearing these things and the Holy Spirit will remake you, refine, strip away, burn off, strip away your old ways. Opening up to God requires vulnerability. It requires not presuming that you’ve got all the answers. It’s, as Matthew’s Gospel puts it, to sell all that you have in order to see, know, dwell in and be reshaped by God. It’s to seek your value, your worth, your place and purpose, and the love of God rather than investing so heavily in the things of this world. Risk investing everything you are and everything you have in God, in serving him through whatever challenges or trials you face now, for it's in him and not in your own capacity and control, where the bottomless richness of life exists. AMEN