I don’t know about all of you, but I love Pentecost. This time in the church calendar when we remember the Holy Spirit, our advocate. Sometimes we remember this season by talking about when Peter and the disciples received the spirit and spoke in different languages so that all the Jews visiting from all over the known world understood them and their words. Today, however, I chose to focus on a different reading, one from Paul in the letter to the Romans, one that I think is more relatable for many of us. Here, in this letter, Paul reminds us that the gift of the Spirit is not an individual thing, it is not even confined to just humanity, all of creation receives this advocate who carries our loud cries and wordless moans to God. It is a reminder that we are woven together in this work of God and this gift of the Spirit as we journey together toward restoration and renewal.
There is a connection all of us share with one another and with creation deeply woven into the text. It is a connection we cannot overlook. What our translations call groaning in the scripture comes from the Greek sustenazei, which means to moan together, to share in a common calamity. Not only acknowledgment that we all have a reason to groan, but that there is a kind of pain, an acute feeling that something is not right, shared between all of us. Again, in the text, the pains of childbirth are not restricted to one person, the Greek again points out that this is something all of us feel simultaneously with creation. We are all groaning together, and many days it is not hard to see why. Violence and death, pollution and disease, poverty and grief are things that can be seen in our lives and in creation itself. We need help. Our communities and our world are crying out, this is something that I think all of us can hear all around us. The good news for this morning is that God sees it too and is prepared to do something about it.
That something is in the Spirit, that something is in the restoration and renewal of creation itself! In the reading this morning, Paul speaks of the first fruits, these are the first fruits of the resurrected Christ, a restored and renewed piece of creation, a little sample of what is to come! Just as we groan together, we will be restored together, and I do not believe for an instant that this is just restricted to humanity!
In Romans and with the other writings of Paul, humanity cannot be plucked from the greater weave of creation. Humanity, each of us, is woven into the very fabric of the world around us. This might seem obvious but at the same time, look at all the ways we separate ourselves from each other from the world and even from our own bodies. In some philosophies and in the way we speak, we often see a mind/body division, that our souls are prisoned by the flesh. It is something for us to escape from, and we even read Paul saying the same. However, Paul does not separate these things, rather, they are both part of the greater whole of being human. Just like our bodies, we often talk about escaping from this world of pain and suffering to heaven where there will be joy and peace! We can seek to separate ourselves from this world. Paul does not seek to separate but recognizes how everything is part of the whole of creation. I feel we should do the same. In Paul’s view, there is no separation between the mind and the body, between me and my neighbor, between all of us and all of creation. If you would like, think of it as a weave as a web. Try to pluck just a single thread, just one piece and what happens? Every other thread gets pulled up with it, and so it is with all of us and all of creation.
Instead of connection it’s all about participation and what exactly what we’re participating in. What matters to Paul is whether we choose to live into a new age – a new creation being born – or cling onto what was before. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, another of Paul’s letters, he reminds us that “if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of a new creation […] [for] [t]he old things have gone away and look new things have arrived!” All of creation shares the same destiny of being made new after having suffered through the same pain, the same shared groaning that came from pulling away from God. In the beginning, God declared creation to be good, whether that is us, the creatures and plants, or the very cosmos all around! That has not changed. Rather than God abandoning creation due to sin, suffering, and evil, God instead seeks to restore all of it. God seeks to pull all of creation back. Christ’s resurrection is just the first sign of being part of this new creation, something to give us hope. The gift of the Spirit is this second sign, this advocate for our groaning and a nurturer of our hope.
Our hope, is it simply to go to heaven? Is it to escape and separate from creation? I sure hope not, at least, that’s not what God is doing! Resurrection and rebirth are what I see God doing all around us. When we get caught up in heaven as the final destination, we miss the beautiful birth of what all of creation has been laboring over for so long. The final destination is to come back here and to have all of God and all of heaven come too. Revelation speaks of this as the final word for the whole journey of creation, a new heaven, and a new earth where God will dwell with everything made by the divine hand. This world and all of creation will be made good again. Jesus hints at this because Jesus doesn’t just go up to heaven on Easter morning but instead parades around showing off to everyone and everything just what they can anticipate! Our hope then, what we are waiting for, is to be made new, to be a part of this restored creation where the divine dwells with us.
Now, I don’t want anyone to leave here today thinking this is some kind of passive anticipation, a kind of sitting around and waiting for things to just happen. As someone who just became a father in this past year, I don’t think anyone could describe childbirth as a passive experience. No one was just waiting around, not me, not the doctors or the nurses and certainly not Caitlin! Something new is being born, and we are to participate in the process! Our groanings, like the groanings of childbirth, are not forever. The Holy Spirit, this divine midwife, is there with us to hold our hands to sooth our brows and to carry our concerns to God. The Spirit is there to make a harmony between our activities, the labor of creation, and the will of our gracious and loving God. This restored creation is coming, it is being born all around us.
Our world is actively waiting for renewal! Look around, look at this land. Listen for its quiet melodies. Do you see the teeming life around you? Do you feel it groan and sing and call out? Don’t forget about all of you. Do you see the life, the songs, the groaning, and the joys of those people gathered around you? You should. You are all part of the weave. You all share in this creation together. What affects any one of you, what affects any part of creation impacts all of us. What is more, any part of creation that is restored, healed, and brought into harmony with God, brings the whole more into harmony. God does not abandon God’s creation, neither should we. Renewal is going on around us, and the Spirit of the Living God invites us to have hope and actively take part in this good work of the divine.
We are a people of faith; we are a people of this good creation. Let us remember God is here with us, sending the Spirit to be with us as we labor, as we plant and grow, as we strive and fail, as we live and die. All of this is in the weaving of God’s resurrection and restoration of what was into what will be coming. It is all part of a beautiful tapestry that God calls good at every moment of creation. Let us experience the Spirit and the Spirit’s work anew this morning. Let us leave this place ready to be in the harmony of the weave of creation and connect with the Spirit to give hope and life and love to all around us whether they be human or another part of God’s creation. Live into the journey that is happening, and while there may yet be groaning and anxious waiting for the new creation, go knowing that the Spirit is there with you every step of the way. Amen.