7 Pentecost Proper A11
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Romans 8:18-27 Sermon
July 23, 2017

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast. 

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal, With One Voice, & Lutheran Book of Worship):
TLH 1 "Open Now Thy Gates Of Beauty"
LBW 233 "Thy Strong Word Didst Cleave The Darkness"
TLH 454 "Prayer Is The Soul's Sincere Desire"
WOV 690 "Shall We Gather At The River" 


TEXT:  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints, in accordance with God’s will.”

            I would like to relate to you an incident that happened some time ago.  A policeman had been shot and killed during a liquor store robbery.  One of the officers called to the scene of the shooting happened to be police woman Jane Warner, whose own husband had been shot and killed in the line of duty as well.  The police detective in charge of the investigation asked Jane to go with him to break the news to this policeman’s wife and family.

            For Jane, it was a difficult decision for her to make, but then she remembered the person who had to break the news to her, and how hard it had been for that person to do the task.  So she agreed.  After all, she had been on the other side of things once, and she could probably offer some comfort and support that nobody else could.

            And so Jane went with the detective, and broke the news to this man’s widow.  Of course she was devastated about what happened.  She was shocked and stunned at first, and then she ran for Jane’s arms, sobbing woefully on her shoulder.  A flood of memories raced through Jane’s mind, and as she remembered herself in the same situation, she began to feel those same feelings and sobbed right along with this newly widowed woman.

            Jane regained her composure somewhat, and spoke to the woman softly, “I know how you feel.”  The woman pulled back and looked Jane square in the eye.  “Nobody knows how I feel!” she yelled.  Jane explained that her husband had been killed in the line of duty as well, so she knew how she was feeling.

            The woman looked at her again and responded, “You know how YOU felt, but you don’t know how I feel!”  And then it hit her.  This woman was right.  Jane knew how she felt, and that nobody else could have possibly known exactly what was going on inside.  She was right.  Nobody knew exactly what she was feeling.

            So, what are you feeling right now?  Are you tired?  Are you excited?  Are you angry?  Are you uncomfortable?  Are you sad?  Are you happy?  Are you content?  Or what are you thinking about right now?  Hopefully it’s the content of this sermon, but I don’t know that.

            Feelings and thoughts are interesting, as they’re the most private things about ourselves.  Our feelings and thoughts are ours, and ours alone.  If I were to take a poll and have everyone describe their feelings right now, I would imagine that I would get quite a variety of different answers.  That’s because our feelings and thoughts are as unique to us as our fingerprints.

            Even though we may try to convey our thoughts and feelings in various manners and ways, and we might try to describe them the best we can, still nobody can know exactly what we’re thinking or feeling.  That’s impossible; at least impossible for human beings.

            Our text for today however speaks a little differently here.  Agreed that no person can accurately know the thoughts and feelings of others, however God can.  And he does.  And that can be both a terrifying thing to the unbeliever, as well as a comfort to the believer.

            I would imagine that you’ve probably guessed by now, that we’re concentrating on the topic of prayer today.  And out of all the various texts in Scripture that deal with prayer, this one can probably give us, as believers, the most comfort and assurance of any text.

            One of the biggest problems people have with prayer, is not knowing what to say.  It is reported that Luther spent several hours each day in prayer—my goodness, I wonder what he found to talk about? 

            This problem of knowing what to say can be a real hassle to some people; and unfortunately, we find ourselves getting into some ruts with it.  Now there’s nothing wrong with us saying the common table prayer before meals, or the Lord’s Prayer, or Luther’s morning or evening prayer, or any of those prayers we learn by heart. 

            What is unfortunate, however, is that many people feel this is where our prayer life should begin and end.  And if you were to even suggest that they pray something different, then they would be lost.  Because prayer is something that they do simply because they’re supposed to, and oh they may dearly love to pray, but they might feel inadequate or unqualified, or they simply don’t know how to pray otherwise.

            For example, I heard once of a 60 year old man, who dearly loved his Lord and knew his Saviour; but his prayer before he went to bed was, “Now I lay me, down to sleep.”  He simply didn’t know what else to say, or how to pray.

            Well, it’s here where our text speaks some very good and comforting words to us.  It says, “We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans that words cannot express.”  And the text further tells us that God is the one who searches our hearts.

            I spoke at the beginning about thoughts and feelings, and how nobody else can ever quite know what they are, no matter how hard we might try to express them.  But then we look to God to whom our souls are bared.  Nobody knows how we feel?  Maybe in human terms, but we can be assured that God knows.

            I’d like you to listen to the words David writes in the 139th Psalm, the first six verses:  “O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me.  Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar.  Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.  Thou dost beset me behind and before, and layest thy hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.”  Now isn’t that the same type of thought that Paul is putting forth in our Romans text for today?

            God knows all.  He searches our hearts.  Nothing is hidden.  In one of our confessional service liturgies, we find these words:  “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…”  Now that’s a befitting way to begin a service of confession, because nothing is hidden from God.  Whatever we do, whatever we think, however we feel, God knows.  Whether we want him to or not, if we’re trying to hide something from him, or even if one doesn’t believe that God knows us and everything about us, still he knows just the same.

            For an unbeliever or a hypocrite, this can be a scary proposition.  Because if such an individual stands before God and thinks that he can keep secret sins stashed away in the cupboard someplace, then he’s got a very unpleasant surprise coming.  On that day, when one stands before God, he can be assured that his sins will find him out, guaranteed.

            Our Gospel lesson today from Matthew 13 speaks very well about such hypocrites in the church; those who put on a pious front, but inside are really unbelievers.  They are the tares, or weeds amongst the wheat, the wheat signifying the believers.  They grow along with the wheat, but at the harvest, they’re sorted out and burnt.  God knows who are the weeds and who are the wheat, and when God does the sorting out, it won’t be a pretty sight.  God indeed knows the hearts and minds and thoughts and feelings of all.  And this can be bad for the unbeliever.

            But for the believer, it’s just the opposite.  I’d like to quote again from the 139th Psalm, this time from verses 23 and 24, where David prays:  “Search me O God and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

            Do you see the difference here between the beginning of the Psalm and the ending?  At first, David acknowledged that God had searched him and knew him; and at the end, David is asking God to do the searching.  See the shift in attitude?  David at first acknowledged that God knew him, inside and out; and at the end of the Psalm, David asks God to do something about it.  Now, add this to our text for today where Paul writes, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”  Do you seethe proper foundation for prayer coming into focus?

            God knowing our sin is a fact.  However we need to see it as well.  We need to be able to see ourselves as God sees us.  And then we need to ask God to do something about it.  And he has.

            Because knowing Christ as our Saviour makes the world of difference here.  The terror that the unbeliever has with God knowing his sins, is actually a blessing for us.  For as our text says for today, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” 

            The sins that God knows, God promises to forgive for Jesus’ sake.  He comes into tour hearts and our lives and cleans house.  And receiving that forgiveness for Jesus’ sake is the foundation for our prayers.  We know that Jesus says, “No one cometh unto the Father but by me.”  And it’s through Christ that our prayers are heard and acceptable to God.

            God knows everyone’s heart and soul and thoughts and minds, whether they be a believer or an unbeliever; however God only hears the prayers of the true believer in Jesus Christ.  The forgiven sinner is the only person who can pray with the assurance that God will hear them.

            But finding the words or the right way to put something?  Remember I mentioned that God is the only one who knows how we feel.  We have the words of our text which give us some direction:  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  And considering the words of David’s prayer, “Search me O God and know my heart,” we have some good direction as to where to start.

            If we could picture our souls having one big door, then our prayer life must begin by having that door open.  God knows what’s behind it already; but for us to properly communicate with God, that door must be open, and be opened by us.  We can’t ask God to search us and know our hearts, nor can we ask the Spirit to intercede for us with a padlock across the door of our souls.  Our soul is what needs to do the speaking to God.

            And what language does the soul use for prayer?  Well, can you always attach words to your feelings?  Can you always express your thoughts with language?  Hardly.  Sometimes we’re feeling so bad that all we can do is groan.  Many times we’re lost for words altogether.  We’d have a life of frustration if we could only come to God in one form of language, with properly constructed sentences.  Words cannot always express what we feel or what we think, nor can words adequately convey the condition of our soul.

            Thankfully the Spirit intercedes for us.  As believers, we have God the Holy Spirit at work within us.  He works in us in many ways, one of which is to help us communicate with God in prayer.

            And what’s more, we’re told to pray.  We acknowledge God in prayer.  We confess our sins in prayer.  We give thanks to God in prayer.  And we pray for things to be done according to his will.  We don’t need to worry about how we say it, because the Spirit will intercede for us.  The actual words aren’t the important thing, but the thought behind it.

            The hymnwriter James Montgomery I believe did an absolutely excellent job of capturing the idea behind prayer and the Spirit’s interceding for us.  I’d like you to take your hymnals, and open up to hymn 454, which is our hymn of the day today.  Even though we'll be singing it soon, I’d like you to study a few of the verses with me now.

            “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed; the motion of a hidden fire, that trembles in the breast….Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near….Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try; prayer the sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high….Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air, his watchword at the gates of death; he enters heaven with prayer.”

            I could go through the whole hymn; it’s beautiful.  But you see how simple prayer can be with the spirit interceding for us:  a sigh, a tear, or even a glance.  And when the soul is unbarred and the Spirit is at work, we know that God knows and hears.

            Does anybody know how I feel?  Nobody on earth does.  But thankfully we have a God in heaven that does.  People may think that our emotions and thoughts and feelings are silly and stupid.  People may not understand why we feel the way we do.  People may not want to understand the whys and wherefores of our feelings and emotions and thoughts.  But God does.  He sent a Saviour to forgive us and a Spirit to intercede for us.  He will listen and he will understand.

            And prayer is of course connected with a promise as well.  In Psalm 91 verse 15 we read what the Lord says:  “He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”  Isaiah records these words for us in chapter 58 verse 9:  “Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here am I.’”  And finally we hear the words of Jesus in John chapter 15 verse 7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you.”  These are tremendous promises from our God who helps us pray and intercedes for us in the first place.  Prayer is powerful, and it works wonders.

            But most importantly, it works wonders for us in a spiritual sense.  When nobody else knows, God does.  When it seems like nobody else cares, God does.  When nobody else will understand what we feel, God understands.  When the only language we can speak is a tear or a groan or a cry, God needs no interpreter.  And the best part of it is, that he is always there.  He’s promised that he will never leave us or forsake us.  He’s always available, anytime.  God knows, forgives, and loves.  And God wants us to come to him, anywhere, anytime, in prayer.  He wants us to talk to him openly, honestly, and frequently.

            This morning during our prayer of the church, we will take some time for silent, individual prayer.  I hope that we can all take this time to unlock the door to our souls, and let the spirit intercede for us, each of us bringing our own petitions before the throne of grace.  And as we pray, may we receive comfort and assurance in knowing that God in his mercy has heard our prayer, for Jesus’ sake.