"Conjuring the Eternal Love of Jesus"

Date Sunday May 20, 2018
Service The Day of Pentecost
Text Romans 8:22-27
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Love God! Love People! Change the World! #3"

     If the Holy Spirit has come, then Jesus has gone. At least he has gone in the physical sense. For 40 days after his resurrection Jesus came and went among his followers. Then, he ascended into heaven. Perhaps as they watched him go, the disciples remembered what their Lord had said before his crucifixion. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will come to help them remember and understand Jesus’ words and deed, and to empower them to share these truths with others.

     And so, 50 days after the resurrection, on the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blows through the house where the followers of Jesus are gathered, a mighty wind that dances on heads like tongues of fire, empowering people to speak in other languages so that all might hear what God has done in Jesus Christ.

     In the promise of the Spirit before his death, as well as its arrival at Pentecost, Jesus is communicating a truth to those first disciples, a message beyond the border between eternity and earth. Mennonite Pastor Isaac S. Villegas describes it beautifully. “…the truth is that he (Jesus) loves them – that he will always long for them, that he cannot imagine his life without theirs, that his soul groans with sighs to deep for words at the thought of them. Jesus reassures his beloved friends that in his absence the Paraclete will deliver his love notes to them, words written on their hearts.” The reassuring message is that in his absence, it’s now the Holy Spirit’s work to bear witness to Christ’s truth – to conjure in us the eternal love of Jesus. (1)

     WOW … to conjure in us the eternal love of Jesus … what a beautiful idea that is! Perhaps that’s what Paul was describing in his letter to the Christians in Rome, particularly the 8th chapter. (It happens that Romans 8 is a favorite of mine; for years I’ve been saying I want to memorize portions of it, but that’s still on the agenda.)

     In Romans 8 there are many references to the eternal love of Jesus and the believer’s life in the Spirit. The Spirit, we are told, moves in and out to two equally true realities. As commentator Audrey West notes, on the one hand, our adoption papers (as God’s children) have been served; we have a place in the family of God and are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus. “Already we have tasted the fruits of the Spirit”, she writes, “the life-giving, life-altering reality of living within God’s embrace.” (2) But, on the other hand, although the adoption is sure, life is still characterized by suffering, not only for us but for the whole creation.

     Just this week I’ve noticed that truth in the eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, where glowing red lava is engulfing homes, vehicles, businesses and toxic gas is filling the air. The photos have an other-planet quality. I’ve noticed the “on the other hand” nature of life in the school shootings; another one this week has left the loved ones of the 10 people who died in a state of overwhelming grief. We too experience the  fear that grows out of threats of violence, a possibility that touches all of us in its randomness. Suffering is obvious in debilitating illness, which members of our congregation have faced, that leads to death. And, harmony is disrupted by unresolved conflict and resentment that tears apart relationships. Yet, amid all these challenges, there is hope.

     Paul compares the situation to a woman in labor, and Commentator Audrey West further describes it: “This is hope as a woman in labor hopes: breathing through the pain, holding tight to a companion, looking ahead to what cannot yet be seen, trusting that a time will come with this pain is but a memory.” (3)

     Think of it this way: the labor pains have started - the process of redemption has begun. Nine months have passed, the baby is present and ready, but not yet born – God’s saving action in Jesus has taken place, but it is not yet fully realized, so, there is suffering to endure. Soon the child will be welcomed, and the suffering will recede into the background -  the full effects of God’s saving actions in Jesus are a future hope which, once realized, will erase all that has preceded it.

     Even though Paul is confident that “the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18), he acknowledges that while we wait, we (and all of creation) suffer in ways large and small. Therefore, hope may waver.

     That’s why the message of Pentecost is so important: the Holy Spirit has been given to us, and when our hope falters (the labor pains are overwhelming), the Spirit hopes on our behalf, strengthening us, praying for us, giving voices to what we cannot articulate. Please notice that the passage does not say that we are empowered to pray, but that the Spirit actually does the praying, interceding for us. That’s how much God loves us.

     Just think of what that means. Commentator Arland J. Hultgren writes that when our prayers seem inadequate, when they seem to be halting and so much is left out, the Spirit is boundless, active and gracious, picking up where we need help. (4)

     One of the reasons I find that so hopeful is that it not only applies to prayer for ourselves, but for other people too. Often we want to fix lives, make a situation better, and we can’t – either by what we say or by what we do. Instead of turning away, or giving false hope, we can trust the Holy Spirit to pray for the other, and then to guide us to be a loving presence.

     Writer Sam Wells say that in such cases those who are hurting will know – and we will too – a love that “is as strong as death.” That phrase is found in Song of Songs, the book in the Bible that is a love poem. Pastor Wells suggests that this line (love is as strong as death) is the most important line in the whole Bible because it alludes to the question the Bible is trying to answer. Is love as strong as death? (5)

     Or, to return to today’s images: as we wait for the full effects of God’s saving actions in Jesus to be born, while we struggle in an imperfect world, filled with imperfect people, where suffering is a reality and hope is shaky, is love as strong as death?

     The resurrection of Jesus is the proof that the answer is that love not just as strong, but stronger. And, the coming of the Holy Spirit is the on-going supplier of hope; it conjures in us the eternal love of Jesus. Once again I say … WOW! AMEN


(1)   “Living by the Word” by Isaac S. Villegas, Christian Century, April 25, 2018, pg. 23

(2)   “Commentary on Romans 8:22-27” by Audrey West, www.workingpreacher.com

(3)   Same as #2

(4)   “Commentary on Romans 8:22-27” by Arland J. Hultgren, www.workingpreacher.com

(5)   “Faith Matters: Is Love Stronger” by Samuel Wells, Christian Century, April 25, 2018, pg. 35