The Actions of the Holy Spirit

Lesson 21 –

Romans 8:22-27 NRSV

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.

Background
Romans is a letter written to Christians who lived in Rome. Rome was the hub of the Roman Empire, much like Washington, D.C. for the United States. This book is a strange one, however. In one breath, the writer condemns people for sin, and then in the next, says “nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.”

This chapter specifically emphasizes the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ, the present sufferings that will be nothing compared to the future glory, and the power of the Holy Spirit to lift us up where life has carried us down. In your own devotional period, read this chapter with this focus: What kind of world do I live in, and what do I need to make it through?

Today’s lesson will focus on the actions of the Holy Spirit.

Read the scripture out loud together.

What’s happening during this passage?
Paul, the writer, acknowledges that the Earth has been struggling. Not only the Earth, but the people ourselves who have “the first fruits of the Spirit.” We are struggling as we wait for redemption. The writer attempts to persuade the audience that if you have the kind of hope that is logical, it is not hope. After all, “who hopes for what is seen?” Hope requires patience and belief in something unseen. In all of this, the Spirit helps us. It serves as an advocate for our “weakness.” It intercedes when we cannot pray as we ought. The Spirit goes before us and helps translate our needs to God.

Why is the Spirit necessary?
Today is Pentecost when we celebrate the beginning of the Church! On this day, the Holy Spirit came to the house of believers and empowered everyone. Acts 2 tells this story:

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Everyone who was around was blessed by the power of the Holy Spirit. It transcended age, gender, ethnicity, class status. The Holy Spirit is the original Equal Opportunity Lender. It stops by to support any and all who are in need. One of the things that the Holy Spirit did in Acts 2 was translate everyone’s words so that they could hear each other in their own language. No one had to change who they were; the Holy Spirit instead operated like a mini-translation device you might see at the United Nations.

What’s necessary for the audience of Romans?
Remember, this letter is written to people who live inside the very belly of the beast! If Rome was like Washington D.C., then the audience of Romans can be likened to anyone who has ever had a critique of the United States. That extends to people like Malcolm X (whose birthday was a few days ago on May 19!), Fannie Lou Hamer, Pastor Leonard Black, and so many other freedom fighters. When you are part of a persecuted group, you have to find ways to encourage yourself and others.

The writer of Romans acknowledges this. We are reminded that the whole creation is groaning,” and that we are “waiting for adoption.” We hope for something we cannot see. This is bound to disorient and even discourage us. But the writer promises that the Spirit will help us in our “weakness.” It’s important that Paul acknowledges the pain and hurt of the community. To ignore the struggle would be a grave misstep.

Even in our pain, the Spirit can be a support. If we do not have words, the Holy Spirit intercedes. And God knows what we intend to say because of the Spirit’s translation.

What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?

Connection to Today’s World
Last week, McDonald’s workers engaged in a coordinated strike against the corporate offices. Their loudest demand was for a $15 minimum wage floor. Currently, the fight for $15 encompasses many different labor forces, including hospitality, retail, fast food, and other industries. According to many reports, even $15 is not a sufficient rate at 40 hours a week to successfully rent a one bedroom in this country. Workers around the country are repeating the refrain that “$15 should be the floor, not the ceiling.”

Currently, many workers can expect $7-$8 per hour to do grueling essential work! Nashon Blount (pictured here) was making $8.50 an hour until his most recent raise of $9.20. He earns about $1,200 a month working full time, without health insurance, sick days, or vacation.

Across the nation, workers in multiple industries are being buoyed by the Spirit and each other to speak out about dangerous and manipulative working conditions. It takes a major risk to speak out about the “groans” among creation, but the Holy Spirit intercedes and empowers us all to fight for what is right.

Journal: Have you ever felt like you didn’t have the words or strength for something, but somehow you found it? What was that like?

Closing: Listen to “I’m Gonna Sing Till The Spirit Moves,” sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

 

I’m gonna sing ‘till the Spirit moves in my heart
I’m gonna sing ‘till the Spirit moves in my heart
I’m gonna sing ‘till the Spirit moves in my heart
I’m gonna sing ‘till Jesus comes

It was grace that brought me
It was grace that taught me
It was grace that kept me
And it’s grace that will lead me home

I’m gonna pray ‘till the Spirit moves in my heart
I’m gonna pray ‘till Jesus comes

Can’t you feel the spirit moving?

I’m gonna shout ‘till the Spirit moves in my heart
I’m gonna shout ‘till Jesus comes
I’m gonna sing till my Jesus comes

Prayer:
Dear God, You never leave us without an Advocate or a Comforter. Our connection to the Holy Spirit is one that sustains us.
We are witnessing the great groan of creation. We are surrounded by the occupation of Palestine, the manipulation of workers even in a pandemic, an ongoing health crisis and inequality in vaccine distribution, climate crises, and racism. There are so many other things that are challenging and squashing us.
But we know the Spirit will intercede when we cannot find words to talk about it. When we are too hurt and stunned to utter words, you know what is on our hearts. You don’t need us to be perfect, you just ask us to be present.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

WORKS CITED
https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/intros/romans.cfm
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/05/mcdonalds-workers-are-striking-for-a-15-minimum-wage/
https://www.vice.com/en/article/k7885a/mcdonalds-workers-will-strike-for-dollar15-an-hour-in-15-cities

 

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