Romans 8:12-27
Pentecost Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Having heard with the children the story of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, I want us to talk about what it means to be spiritual. You know there are a lot of people claiming to be spiritual but not religious. I guess that phrase means different things to different people, but the way I hear it is this: I am somewhat interested in the things of God, but I am not involved with religious practice with other people.

So the question I ask you today is .Can you be spiritual without being religious?. Can you be slightly interested in God, but unwilling to participate with other people in religious activities – worship, prayer, and service. How does one become truly spiritual? Is it not by practicing and growing in the Spirit?

I think we have a couple of generations of people around today who are scared of being too religious, as if being associated with the very religious makes one a fundamentalist, one with a rigid, narrow, and extremist point of view. This kind of attitude: .I’m right, God’s on my side, and everyone else join me or get out of my way.. And we all know what kind of damage can be done by the rigid thinking among Christians, Jews, Muslims, or any other kind of fundamentalist.

But the answer is not to be half-hearted or lukewarm about our faith. To be deeply spiritual, one must have spirit-filled and spend time with other people who are spirit-filled. Now most of us have not had or at least been aware of having a mysterious moment of being filled with the Spirit. Special language, tongues of fire. But when I speak of being spirit-filled, I mean a kind of spirit dwelling in you all the way through. A spirit-u-all, as in the Spirit is in your heart, in your mind, in your words, in your actions. The Spirit is in all of you – as in each of you and all of you. We Southerners can make a distinction here with the English language. There’s you and there’s y’all. Spirit in u and Spirit in y’all. Everything you are and everything you do is in accord with the Spirit of the Living God – individually and communally. This is the goal of a lifetime – Spirit of the Living God falling so deeply into us that we are molded and shaped by that Spirit.

Before we read Paul, I want to say one more thing about being spiritual. I can be very spiritual in my own eyes, as I sit and read my Bible and live privately. But how spiritual am I when one of you (my family or my church family) come crashing into my life with a need, with an irritation, or with your own sin which challenges mine. The measure of a spiritual life is how well we do then – in the middle of the strain of relating to others, in the middle of a temptation to act out of line with God’s Spirit. In those times of strain, are the fruits of the Spirit evident in our life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Our passage from Romans 8 is one which helps us to appreciate this Spirit-u-all life. Paul’s writing, especially in the Book of Romans, is thickly theological, so I invite you to concentrate. I have deleted the two most complicated verses from our reading in the powerpoint, verses 20 and 21, so we can better absorb the key verses about the Holy Spirit. Those of you who enjoy theological complexity – Richard and others – can find those verses on the bulletin insert.

Here’s a brief synopsis before we read the passage: Live for the Spirit because you are adopted by God. As God’s adopted children, expect to suffer with Christ, but know that this suffering leads to glory. Living of the Spirit and by the Spirit involves waiting, hoping, longing, groaning because all those things are part of this life, but the good news is that the Spirit is with you in every bit of it.

Read text

Hear now Eugene Petersen’s colloquial translation:

12-14 So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!

18-21 That's why I don't think there's any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. …22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

26-27 Meanwhile the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. The Spirit does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. The Spirit knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.

The Sisters of Peace had a wonderful outing last Saturday. We went in kayaks from Siesta to the tip of Lido and stopped for yoga before completing our journey. The positions were not hard but remembering to breathe steadily and deeply was. I was keenly aware of how unaware I am of my breathing and how shallow my intake of air.

You know that in the Bible, the word for Spirit in both Hebrew "ruach" and Greek, "pneuma" is also used to mean wind or breath. So as I worked on this sermon, I thought about how little awareness we have of the Spirit. The Spirit, the breath of life, is there, just as I am breathing all the time, unaware. But how much more depth of Spirituality can there be in my life, if I become aware of the wind of God in me and in you.

Listening to the Spirit is like listening for your own breath. It is a subtle thing. You might sometimes get fired up by the Spirit. You might sometimes feel tremendously buoyed by the Spirit when you are groaning and realize you are not alone. But most of all, the Spirit is there, waiting to be noticed, like your breathing. And the Spirit wishes to move more deeply into your spirit, so that your adoption becomes more full. So that you are living and acting as God’s child, not a wandering prodigal, kid on the street, who does not know where he belongs. You are created by God, and adopted by God. You belong to the Spirit. You are of the Spirit.

The more you are listening to the Spirit, the more you are tuned in to the needs of the world, but not to the values of the world. Spiritual people have the capacity to care for others, to sigh with them in distress, just as Christ’s Spirit does with us in our struggles. We don’t have trite answers for their problems. We just sit and sigh and pray with them.

That’s life by the power of the Spirit. You have the perspective that there is hope because God’s Spirit is here in the pain. You have faith that one day this moment of sorrow will be far exceeded by the joy of eternity with God. You have security and trust that life is more than we can presently see with our eyes, that some things have to be seen with the Spirit. Julian of Norwich, the first female to author a book, says .prayer oneth the soul to God.. Julian wrote about her amazing encounters with the Spirit of God in the 1300s.

Life for the Spirit is a life directed by hope, not fear. Life for the Spirit is a life directed by God, not me or you. So instead of prayer being primarily a list of requests, prayer is as Julian says, .to rest in the goodness of God, knowing that God’s goodness can reach down to our lowest depth of need.. This was said by one who suffered greatly. Life for the Spirit is full of gratitude and service to others. It is not a self-serving existence.

To be spiritual is to live of the Spirit, by the Spirit, and for the Spirit. That involves the discipline of seeking, suffering, and trusting in God. Everyone is seeking in some way – seeking pleasures, seeking power, seeking wealth, seeking to control and manipulate life. All that seeking will leave you ultimately unsatisfied. Seeking God is what is satisfies. I don’t know anyone who has managed to avoid suffering in this life. I know a lot of people who try to ignore suffering, mask it, or avoid it.

Losses are part of life – no level of plastic surgery will keep you from losing your youthfulness. No doctor will keep you from dying. Death is part of life. You will suffer – one way or another – so suffer with the Spirit. Seeking, suffering, trusting. You have to trust someone. So will it be the Spirit of the Living God? Or will it be some fallible human being, who will surely not deserve all that you place in his or her trust?

Choose the Spirit, you all. Every day, every hour, every moment, choose to one yourself to the Spirit. Be truly spiritual.