The Spirit Intercedes: If God Is For Us, Who Is Against Us?
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
July 26, 2020 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here. This is the third in a series of three teachings on this topic in the July 26th service.]
Jesus and the Apostle Paul dedicated their lives to the struggle to transform human consciousness and society. They looked like failures as they hung on their crosses, and yet they have changed the world as much as anyone in history. Why? Because they continue to open a door to the Spirit in our heart, they open a gate to a sacred way through this world, they put us in touch with the highest power in the universe, and millions have believed them enough to follow and find the truth of what they taught.
Jesus said that the realm of God is like a tiny seed that grows into a great tree, or like a grain of yeast that leavens the whole dough or like treasure buried in a field worth giving all we have to gain. It is the highest law and power in the universe, and it will grow to transform the world if we let it work through us.
The Apostle Paul said that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes … We know that all things work together for good for those who love God… If God is for us, who is against us?”
Paul suffered as much as John Lewis and C. T. Vivian and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He was jailed and beaten and in danger much of the time, yet he was convinced that nothing could separate us from the love of God and the transformative power that God’s love represents.
We are here today because people like Lewis and Vivian have staked their lives on what Jesus and Paul taught, and found it to be true.
A Jewish legend says that there are thirty-six faithful people in every generation, both Jews and Gentiles, and because of those thirty-six holy ones the world continues to exist.
Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not so important that many should be as good as you, as that there be some absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump.” (from “Resistance to Civil Government”)
So the urgent question facing us each is, how can we be one of the grains of the realm of God that leavens the whole dough? How can our individual life or our church or community be a mustard seed of God’s realm that grows great enough to transform a society hell-bent on self-destruction? How can the Spirit of the universe help us make the personal and social transformations we need as quickly as we need to make them?
If God is for us, who is against us? The Spirit has been interceding and preparing humans for this day from the beginning of time. Every inspired stroke of paint or word or musical note, every prophet and saint, every faithful loving parent who laid down their lives for their children, every social revolutionary who pushed society closer to democratic ideals, every ethicist who promoted the Golden Rule and compassion for the most vulnerable, every enlightenment to a new stage of consciousness has prepared us for the evolutionary leap we need to make now to oneness.
Among the Spirit’s intercessions has been the inspiration to form institutions to pass along traditions of wisdom and models of living, including ways of opening our hearts and minds to transformation and organizing ourselves to transform the world around us.
These institutions still exist, but part of today’s crisis is that the global church has been undermined by corruption and abuse so there is a gulf between it and the people who could use the Spirit’s guidance and power. Just when we need it most, this great resource has been rendered much less effective.
So one of the most important tasks for the remnant that still finds the church useful is to rediscover, redefine and retranslate our tradition’s practices and resources so that people who are alienated from it can find what they need.
It will be easier for people outside the church to understand what this institution offers that could be of use to them and to society if they can see it modeled in our lives.
The beautiful thing about this is that we do not have to become someone we are not, we need only to enter more purposefully into our place in life to cultivate our own heart and mind of Christ and transform the part of the world we can reach into the realm of God.
I think often about a parishioner I knew many years ago, a 96-year-old widow in a nursing home, blind, deaf and unable to walk. Dorothy had been a teacher, but now her life was confined to a narrow, dark silence where she lay in pain most of the time. All she wanted was to go to heaven to be with her beloved husband.
One day Dorothy asked if I knew the most important word in the English language. “Compassion,” she shouted. She explained that she tried to have compassion for every person who worked at the nursing home who came within the sphere of her awareness—she tried to cooperate and say a kind word and be patient and loving.
We can serve the Spirit and help transform the world no matter how pained or confined our life may be. We need also to let the words of John Lewis keep ringing in our ears. He said,
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”
He said, “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.” (Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change)
The Spirit of the universe interceded in human history through the actions and words of John Lewis and through Dorothy in the nursing home, both of them moving us toward the beloved community of God’s realm on earth.
Let us listen to how the Spirit wants to intercede through us, how it wants to change the world through our changed lives and through our congregation….