Harrowing Of Hell
July 30, 2023

Embraced by Love: The Intercession of the Holy Spirit

Lisa Ozaeta

To watch the sermon click here.

Good morning.

Today, let me tell you what I know about love.

When I was being interviewed for the position of Associate Rector, there was an interview panel of 5 people. We sat in the Fireside room. Each person had a list of questions that they asked me. We talked about my spiritual journey. I got to tell about how my mother was a huge influence in my life. We talked about my education and professional history. The interview lasted a couple of hours. Parishioner Camille Hayward asked one of the last questions. And she asked, what is the one thing that you want the kids of Epiphany to know. My answer was as fast as it was easy. I said, I want them to know how much God loves them. I want that for all of us too.

I love this passage in Romans. It talks about the … inescapable love of God. We read today one of the most comforting passages in the Bible …it says, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? The answer is that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We cannot be separated from the love of God because God is love. Love is not just something God does; it is who GOD is.

Paul is telling the Romans about the qualities of God’s love. As he is explaining how much God loves us, He says that both the Holy Spirit and Jesus intercede for us. I love this so much. I love thinking about the Trinity interceding for us.

As a person who works at a church, I get a lot of prayer requests. I start each day with a list of people that I am praying for. Most of those prayers and intercessions are for people’s pain and suffering. I pray for people when they go to the hospital or when a loved one is sick. I pray for broken relationships and scary times in people’s lives.  It is an important part of intercession. It is how we hold each other up in God’s presence. It is the way that we can ask that no matter what a person is going through, they know and experience the love of God. There is an assurance and a strength that we get knowing that God’s love for us is bigger than anything we are facing.

When I think about how the Holy Spirit or Jesus intercedes for us, I think it is the same. There are times that we are in the depth of struggles and need the intercession of the Holy Spirit because in our pain, we don’t even know how to pray.Paul tells us that in these times, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. . . with sighs too deep for words.

You may ask, why do we have to suffer in the first place? Instead of interceding for us, couldn’t God just prevent the suffering? At Epiphany, we talk about this all of the time. A fundamental aspect of God’s love is that God’s love does not co-opt human freedom. If it did, it would not be love. Humans must have the opportunity to choose their actions. Unfortunately, that choosing creates a world where suffering exists. And while God does not step in and take back our freedom, God’s love is expressed in a this really incredible way…by interceding for us.

That blows my mind. Let’s look at that a little deeper. Romans 8 says that creation itself groans under the weight of suffering. The pain we experience is not isolated to humanity alone but extends to all of God’s creation. Amidst this groaning, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf with sighs too deep for words. I love this. I feel it in my bones. This is not “hey, I am here to pray, but I am not sure what to pray, can the H.S intercede for me.” This is a translation of our pain into prayer by God himself.

It is visceral. Maybe you have been there. I have been there. Coming out as gay is pretty traumatic. Not for everyone. But it was for me.

I was in Oklahoma. I was older when I came out, because frankly I did not know that gay was a thing when I was growing up.  I know that sounds crazy…but that is a different story…not for now. My life was set. I was professionally successful, I had four children.

There really wasn’t time or place for me to come out as gay. I was pretty sure this was going to wreck everything. I was overwhelmed and stuck. I was afraid that I would lose my kids. I was afraid of how my mom would react. I was worried that I might lose my job. I was absolutely certain that I would lose the place that I had carved out for myself in my community. I had this deep realization that I couldn’t pretend to be something that I wasn’t and go back to life as it was. I also could not figure out how to go forward.

I can remember crying on the floor of my shower with loud sobs and heaving shoulders. My tears filled the drain. And when the sobbing stopped, there were deep sighs. There were no more tears and no more words…

just deep sighs.

from my bones out… too deep for words

This is when the Spirit intercedes for us. She takes the groans from our depths and transforms them into a prayer to a loving God. The Spirit’s intercession is the expression of God’s deep empathy for us signaling his entanglement in our pain and sorrow.

Through intercession, the Holy Spirit brings healing to our pain, hope to our despair and strength to our weakness. Her intercession wraps us in the love of God when nothing else will do. And when I had no words and no vision for the future, I had the Holy Spirit whispering assurance of God’s love. I didn’t know how the world would respond to me, but I knew that I could not escape God’s love. The Holy Spirit’s groaning was the salve to my spirit.

But, the amazing thing is that this intercession is not just when we are in the depths of sorrow. While I do pray a lot for the scary things in people’s lives. I also get to pray for the wonderful things. Intercession extends to praying for a new baby or a graduation or a restored relationship. The intercession is the same.  It is celebrating God’s ever-present love in this person’s life during these good times.

I like to think about intercession as a discourse of love.  When I pray for you, it is a conversation of love borne out of love. When Jesus prays for us, it is a discourse of love borne out of love. 

I think about when you are new parent. Or maybe grandparent because you have slept more… and look at your new baby that you love more than you ever thought possible. There is this precious shared moment between parents when you each love this baby beyond comprehension, and you talk with each other about your joy and love for this kid. The conversation varies over the years, but centers around dialogue like, isn’t she great? Man, I love this kid. Me too. Yeah, she is pretty great. I know she is worried about that thing, but she will figure it out. Man, I sure hope she knows how much she we love her.  I know you have had these conversations. I have had these conversations.

God’s love for us is so much more than the love we have for our kids. And when we talk about the intercession of the holy spirit or Jesus, I think about the Trinity having this conversation of love about us. I can just hear Jesus saying, I sure love her. And the Holy Spirit responding, yeah, me too. I hope she knows how much we love her. I imagine a cacophony of love being shared among the Trinity for us.

So, what can separate us from the love of God? Nothing.

We experience this dialogue of love when we are suffering and when we are rejoicing and even when we are just absent minded.

We don’t think about this intercession or how the Trinity talks about us in love very much. But, I actually think that our goal should be to live with more awareness of this. People write affirmations on their mirrors that say, I am enough. I am complete. I am loved. What if instead of having to tell ourselves that, we could listen to God say that to us. How I want to eavesdrop on the conversation that the Trinity has about me.

It is not a conversation of disappointment or recounting failures. It is a conversation of love that says if I am for you, no one can be against you. You are mine. You are loved. You are whole. You were created for one purpose – love. I love you and want you to know love.

May we all eavesdrop a little more.