■ Erin Armstrong / Contributed
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” (Romans 8:22). The Apostle Paul writes these words to the early church in the city of Rome—people he had not met, but felt drawn to build up in their faith and community. They were living in the shadow of the empire, under the rule of emperors increasingly paranoid and frightened by the small group voicing a radically different way of being. The mass persecution had not started yet, but danger and uncertainty loomed on the horizon. Paul writes to this community to offer them comfort and hope that the way of Christ was in the process of being birthed in the world.
“We do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26b). In the inexplicable way that history seems to be cyclical, we find ourselves once again in a world characterized by division, paranoia and uncertainty.
Like the early Christians, we see signs of a world torn apart: children dying in schools, cops being called on people for simply being, and xenophobia and racism run amok. We lift our voices in lament, crying out for a different way. We long for voices that will tell us that these are merely labor pangs, that God is in control and something new and better will come out of it. We might not have the exact right words for it ourselves, but we trust that the Holy Spirit knows what we have in our hearts and communicates to the Godhead.
But sometimes, we miss part of the point of praying. Yes, we know that God hears our prayers and acts out of love. Yet, prayer should also move us to act out of love too. When we see the pain of the world, and have no words, the Spirit not only moves for God, but the Spirit moves in us. We are inextricably part of the “hope not yet seen,” and helping glimpses of that hope come into focus. We are also being born anew in the process of the world coming into God’s fulfilled vision. Prayer propels us forward, giving us strength, vision and clarity of action.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). Hope and prayer are among the strongest tools for people of faith. Yet, if those tools don’t help us to act on behalf of our neighbors and the world and give voice to God’s hope, then we are giving into hopelessness that nothing can change.
When we refuse to act, we let the powers of the world separate us from one another, and from God. The early church knew this and continued to preach, teach and heal the brokenness they saw without fear of the repercussions. They were filled with the Holy Spirit.
May hope that God is in control give us the same spirit of action. May the Church today be as bold as the Church of the past—proclaiming a God of love who rejects the fear and hatred of the powers of the world. My prayer is that same God will breathe the Spirit of hope and make us a part of the new life God is ushering into existence.
Pastor Erin Armstrong is the Senior Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA), 191 S. Columbia St., Hemet. Worship is at 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. every Sunday. Visit www.trinityhemet.org for more learning, worship and fellowship opportunities.