The Rules of Hope

Scripture:  Romans 8:22-27

Something I am fairly certain I have said in the past, that you might remember about me is that I love to play games.  As a family we have a lot of games and we play them together quite often.  On several occasions when talking with someone and I mention how much we like playing board games, the person will claim they do not.  Often in this situation the reason given for not liking games is that they are boring and they take too long.  It has happened more than once when I ask a bit deeper as to why they feel this way the reason given is for how long it takes to play Monopoly.   Which tells me the person is playing Monopoly wrong, because a game of Monopoly should rarely last longer than 90 minutes or so.

Monopoly is one of the most sold board games ever, so there is a decent chance that you have played it.  There is also a decent chance you did n    ot play by the rules.  There are a lot of common ways people get the rules wrong for this game.   For instance by the rules, when someone lands on an unbought property and they choose not to buy it, the property immediately goes up for auction.   This ensures that all of the properties are bought up quickly, yet a lot of people are clueless that auctions are part of the rules of Monopoly.   Then there is a rule that people often add to the game, which all money paid to the game through fines and cards goes into the center of the board.  Whenever someone lands on free parking they get all of that money.   That free parking rule, is not in the rulebook.   Yet, a lot of people have always played it that way.  When played by the rules often by an hour and a half one player will have consolidated most of the money in the game under their control and win.  Often people think Monopoly takes a lot longer because they have not played by the rules.

Not playing a game by the rules can change the experience and understanding of the game.   The same thing can happen with scripture if it is not considered in its full context.  That can certainly happen with this morning’s scripture.  By just reading this one small section  We might have the tendency to draw complex conclusions about how the Holy Spirit works in the spiritual realm, we might be tempted to float complicated theories about the triune nature of God, or we might want to just throw our hands up and say it is all too complex to understand.   Many people so much wiser and smarter than me, have used this scripture to tackle some big, heady, and complex subjects like the nature of the Holy Spirit and the inner workings of the trinity.  Just like not playing by the rules can dramatically change the feel and flow of a game not considering the full context of the scripture can cause us to miss the more fundamental point the scripture is making.    This morning’s scripture might seem confusing at first, and might seem to be focused on theoretical, theological concepts.  However, when put in context this is a scripture about why we can have hope and how the Spirit can help us have hope.

Today in the church calendar is Pentecost, which is the day that we celebrate that the Holy Spirit was given to the first disciples.   This was to fulfil the promise that Jesus made to the disciples that after he left the Holy Spirit would come, and we believe that the Spirit continues to work within in the lives of all who follow Jesus to this day.  The issue for us is that in the entirety of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is only mentioned around 93 times-with the vast majority of those instances being in the book of Acts.  When we take the scriptures that might inform us about who the Holy Spirit is or what the Holy Spirit does in our lives, we are left with even less to choose from.   One of those scripture selections is this morning’s.   The problem for us is that the book of Romans is often not a good fit for how we like to approach scripture in our modern era.  We tend to like to have smaller scripture readings, but Romans does not divide out well.  The whole letter was written by Paul to be a systematic argument that is based in philosophical rhetoric and builds upon itself.  All of what we have designated Romans chapter 8 is kind of one complete thought, and our scripture reading from this morning is pulled more or less right from the middle of that thought.  Considered on its own this scripture does seem to deal with complex issues such as the relationship between God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus the Son-but that is not really the focus of the greater section.  We can get a fuller understanding of this scripture when we put it back in its context.

To find this fuller context, we need to go backwards in Romans 8.  There are two major points made that shed a lot of light on this morning’s scripture.  First, one of the key topics this section of Romans seeks to address is defining our relationship with God.  The first key verse is 8:16, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit we are God’s children.”   The assertion that Paul makes is that through Jesus we are fully reconciled with God so that we literally become part of God’s family and we are co-heirs to the kingdom of God.   The second major point is found in 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.”  This is an acknowledgement that there will be suffering in life.  In this morning’s scripture Paul continues to develop the idea that suffering is something that is part of life.   He goes as far as saying all of creation is suffering and uses the image of child birth, arguably some of the most intense pain there is to endure, to describe the suffering that we can encounter in life.

These two major points give us the backdrop to better understand this morning’s scripture.  Sometimes it feels like the world is on fire.  This was true in the first century when the scripture was written, and it is certainly true now.  Growing income inequality, the constant threat of terrorism or gun violence, ongoing genocide, and the constant threat that regional conflicts might become global conflicts make us ask when it is all going to hit a breaking point.   Even ignoring the big picture, on a personal level we will have hardship.   We will all face times when the future feels uncertain, when it seems the bad break keep piling up, and good news is hard to come by.   And yet, we belong to the family of God.

This morning’s scripture is a reminder that our present troubles do not compare to knowing to whom we ultimately belong.   That is the point of verses 22-25 of this morning’s scripture.   It is a reminder that no matter how bad things might seem to us, we know the future will be so much more than our current reality.   This is a great reason to have hope.   In the darkest of days, it is a light that can pierce through the shadow that surrounds us.  Even when our present troubles and sufferings seem to be all that we can focus on, we can hold onto the hope that we are belong to God, that we are children of God.  Even though we cannot grasp what that means in the moment, it can give us hope none the less.  As Paul wrote in this morning’s scripture, “But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

We can and should have hope that there will be a day that things are better, but honestly when we are in the midst of it that is a distant hope at best.  When everything feels out of sort and it has not been our day, our week, our month, or even our year then knowing that in an abstract future our troubles will be gone is of cold comfort.  For that reason it is good that this morning’s scripture reading does not just end at verse 25.  Unfortunately, verses 26 and 27 is where this morning’s scripture gets especially confusing as it talks about how the Spirit intercedes for us.  Trying to parse out what is being said here is where we can get lost in the weeds really fast, but once again the fuller context helps us out because verse 27 is not where Paul stops the thought continues on and is further developed throughout chapter 8.   This goes on until we reach the final thought in the matter in Romans 8:38-39 which states, “For I am convinced, that neither death, nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be ever to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I think this conclusion gives us the proper context to better understand this morning’s scripture when it states “the spirit helps us in our weakness.”   In the midst of the problems of life we may not be able to focus on the bigger picture, we may lose sight that we are a child of God, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Our problems can seem like a complicated knot that is so tangled that we cannot even begin to figure out where to start.   It is in these times that the Spirit intercedes for us.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit does.  One of the ways that the Holy Spirit works in our lives is that the Spirit is the light that breaks the darkness, it is the rainbow that brightens the storm clouds, and The Spirit is the ever present reminder that we are not alone.  Because of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can remember that no matter what we are going through, nothing will ever separate us form the love of God.  It is the Holy Spirit that reminds us that we are God’s children.   It is the Holy Spirit that refuses to let our hope die, and when we seem to be running on fumes it is the Holy Spirit that lifts us up.   As followers of Christ we are promised the Holy Spirit and the Spirit works in our lives, in our most personal thought, and in the depths of our hearts to remind us of the great love of God through Jesus Christ that adopts us to be God’s children and never ever runs out on us.

Frances Jane Crosby, better known as Fanny Crosby, understood what it meant to have this reminder of the Holy Spirit in her life.   Crosby was no stranger to suffering.   Due to the inexperience of a doctor and a medical mishap when she was a baby she was rendered blind for her whole life.  This disability did not prevent her from living life though.  She married and gave birth, but her daughter died in her sleep shortly after child birth.  So she was no stranger to grief and loss.  Throughout her life she was a prolific song writer including hymns.  Working with a friend she wrote one of her best known songs.  I am not sure if she was trying to paraphrase the main point of this morning’s scripture but she did a decent job when she wrote: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.  Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.  Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.”

That is the main take away that we can get from this morning’s scripture.  Because of the Holy Spirit no matter what we go through in life, we can have a blessed assurance that we are saved, purchased by God through the blood of Jesus.  We are part of God’s family and this is our forever reality.  The Holy Spirit can and should be a source of hope in our lives.   It is the Spirit that enables us, no matter what we endure to be able to proclaim “This is my story, this is my song praising my savior all the day long.”

This morning’s scripture can be a confusing one and to properly understand it really requires the full context.  I do encourage you to consider reading the entirety of Romans chapter 8 as a full unit.  I especially encourage you to do so if right now is a particularly trying time in life.  If this is a time in life when you feel especially worn down, especially tired, or especially at the end of your rope then the message of this morning’s scripture in its full context is one to come back to.   The message of this scripture is that we always have a reason for hope.  More over this morning’s scripture reminds us that in our darkest hours the Holy Spirit itself intercedes for us and will remind us in the way we need it the most that we have a blessed assurance.  So may you hear the leading of the Spirit, may the light of hope break through, and may the Holy Spirit remind you on this day that there is nothing  in all of creation that will separate you from the love of God.



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