20 Jul 2014
“… that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) (+)
The story is told of a little boy who was waiting for his mother to come out of the grocery store. As he waited, he was approached by a man who asked, "Son, can you tell me the way to the Post Office?" The little boy replied, "Sure! Just go straight down this street a couple blocks and turn to your right." The man thanked the boy kindly and said, "I'm the new pastor in town. I'd like for you to come to church on Sunday...I'll show you the way to Heaven." The little boy replied with a chuckle. "You're kidding me, right? You don't even know the way to the Post Office!”
As church we always need to keep in mind that we’re dealing with mystery here. A lot of times it’s more like wandering than using a GPS. Religion as a group and faith as a person is so much more than just following directions. Even the little boy outside of the grocery store knew that. There’s a definite element of discovery when it comes to interacting with God. The Bible has a fondness for saying that God makes all thinks new. Things never seem to stay in the same place when God is in the story.
I invite you to Bible study this Tuesday to hear more about this kind of thing. The words on the page stay the same, but God keeps saying new things through them. This Tuesday we’re going to pick-up where we left off in First Timothy. You can read the passage for yourselves. It’s 1:12-17. Three times in those few sentences we hear “I am grateful to Christ Jesus,” “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Then suddenly the fourth and last mention of the name is Jesus Christ. People who know a lot more about the Bible than I do say that when Christ comes before Jesus it emphasizes the glorified Jesus, and when it’s the other way around it’s supposed to highlight the humanity of Jesus.
Why the unexpected switch? Probably because of the final line of the paragraph: “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” That sounds like church language, and it probably comes from the worship of the very earliest church. But surprisingly these are not words intended for Jesus. They’re words about God the Father. And so that we’re clear about this when we’re reading the biblical text, the author gives us the glorified Christ Jesus, Christ Jesus, Christ Jesus and then switches at the very end to one last Jesus Christ. The humanity of Jesus is being emphasized rather than His divinity. Even though First Timothy is a later New Testament writing, it still hasn’t got to the point of being comfortable with saying Jesus is exactly similar to the King of the ages, the immortal, the invisible, the only God. This is not to deny Jesus’ divinity or His place as the Son of God in the Trinity. This is to try and get across the slow wandering of our understanding of this mystery of who Jesus is. Directions don’t really work here.
Long after the last word of the Bible was written, the Spirit was still working through the people of the church to help us better understand the mystery of God. Our faith didn’t fall whole and complete at the feet of the apostles. It evolved over time as we wandered in the faith. First Timothy didn’t even know how to put that mystery into words, but it was there. It was forming. That’s what Paul is talking about this morning when he speaks to us about the Spirit interceding in our lives “with sighs too deep for words.” This is a phrase that monks and mystics love, but it’s also a part of everyday Christianity. We can all sense the mystery of God, but we can’t always find a way to express it. That’s the sigh of the Spirit talking to our souls. That sense of mystery and journey should always be a part of religion and faith. If faith becomes just following the directions, if the mystery of God disappears, we have to ask ourselves if that makes sense. Could the all-everything God in our lives be dull and boring? Souldn’t there be something more? Shouldn’t there be the Spirit interceding in our lives “with sighs too deep for words”?
I remember when I was in Grad School. My thesis advisor was also an undergraduate advisor. He was telling me about one student who had come into his office earlier in the day to plan her schedule for the next semester. She was from a Spanish speaking country. Her English was fluent, but in the house Spanish was her first language. She wanted to take a Spanish class to fulfill some requirement. The class would have been an easy A for her, but the professor told her that she didn’t come to college, her parents weren’t paying a lot of money in tuition, for her to sit through a class and learn nothing, even if she could get an A. She was there to learn, to challenge herself, to grow.
Religion and faith are like that too. Times like this are our chance to pay attention to those “sighs too deep for words.” Bible study is our chance to try and figure out those “sighs too deep for words.” Even watching in horror as civilian planes are blown out of the air and endless war continues in the Mid East, even then there are those “sighs too deep for words. ”Maryanna Foster sent me an email this past week about an 82 year old barber in Hartford who every Wednesday brings his chair, his clippers and a car battery to power it all to a local park. There he gives free haircuts to the homeless, and all he asks for is a hug. That sort of Christian charity too lets us feel those “sighs too deep for words.”
The passage from First Timothy that I talked about earlier is a sign that the Spirit continues to lead us forward. That never stops. It’s taking place right now. It takes place in us. And those “sighs too deep for words” are those moments of mystery and wandering that make all things new, that laugh like the little boy outside the grocery store at the mere idea of straightforward directions. Let us pray that we find the time to find God who calls us with “sighs too deep for words.” In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo