When Words Fail

Our service this morning is hosted by Trinity United Church, Rev. Sydney Elias presiding.

Order of Service
* Welcome and Call to Worship
* Prayer God of the past, present and future, we marvel at the wonder of your creation. We praise you for the blessings of this season: for gardens growing, birds singing, sounds of joy in times of play and for restful moments. Such good gifts all around us remind us of your faithfulness to us. You promise us a life beyond anything we can hope or imagine; a kingdom marked by grace, love and justice for all. In Jesus’ name, by the power of the Spirit breathing within us, we praise you for your loving kindness and the hope it brings to each of us. In this time of worship, focus our thoughts on you and your call upon our lives. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
* Hymn: O God beyond All Praising VU 256
* Scripture reading: Psalm 119:129-136 (Tina Coutts)
* Anthem Fill A Me Up (The Chancel Choir from May 21, 2018)
* Scripture reading: Romans 8:26-39 (Tina Coutts)
* Hymn: Spirit God, Be Our Breath MV 150
* Sermon: When Words Fail
* Hymn: May God’s Sheltering Wings MV 214
* Benediction a capella performance of Fill-a Me Up! – by Pepper Choplin

Monarch Music 10/2807M – Copyright 2002 by Lorenz Publishing Company. by The Chancel Choir of Trinity United Church under the direction of Gord Allgeier ISRC# CABMN1800014 I Giorni, performed by Chris Clarke. Composed by Ludovico Einaudi, published by Warner Chappell Music IT NA S R L CMRRA# 01467868 ISRC# CABMN2000030

Romans 8:26-39

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes[a] with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God,[b] who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit[c] intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.[d]

28 We know that all things work together for good[e] for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.[f] 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[g] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

Psalm 119:129-136

129 Your decrees are wonderful;
    therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
    it imparts understanding to the simple.
131 With open mouth I pant,
    because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    as is your custom toward those who love your name.
133 Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
    and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression,
    that I may keep your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
    and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears
    because your law is not kept.

When Words Fail

Romans 8:26-39

As a minister, I have journeyed with many through life’s joys and sorrows. I have laughed, I have cried, I have been hopeful, and I have despaired. Through it all, there were times when I felt inadequate to respond to what was happening within and around me. There were many occasions when I felt that I should offer a prayer, but struggled to do so. I still sometimes do not know how to pray as I think I should. When bad things happen to those I love, I often feel that my prayers are inadequate. I feel the same way in my prayers for an end to violence in all forms, and for everyone to be treated with equal respect and dignity. Quite often, I struggle to find the words to express what I am feeling.  

How about you?

Have you ever had a situation where you wanted to pray but just didn’t know what to say? Maybe when you look at the violence and wrongs in the world around you, you feel so overwhelmed that it is hard to know where to begin with a prayer. Or perhaps you have a loved one who is near the end of life, and you want them to hang onto life for as long as possible, but you also know that your loved one is suffering and the quality of life is not there. In such situations, it can be hard to know for what to pray. Or maybe you are dealing with a relationship that is falling apart, and you are conflicted about what you want for that relationship. How do you pray? And what of those times when you are just frustrated, confused, weary; tired of praying because it feels like your prayers are going nowhere – those moments of despair when you even question you faith.

In such moments, Paul’s words speak to us,he writes: “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8: 26,27)

Sighs too deep for words! The last few months have been a time for a lot of that: a lot of sighs too deep for words. As we watch, often with much fear, the upheaval and uncertainty caused by COVID 19; as we see the deep pain of those who have lost loved ones or friends to the virus; as we witness the despair of those who have lost their only means of income;  as we respond with anxiety to every sign of illness, fearful that we, or our loved ones, might be victims of the pandemic; it has been a time of much sighs too deep for words.

Over the past few months, we have seen in sharp focus, the ugly and painful reality of racism and privilege: the many recurring instances where lives have been devalued and eliminated because of their race. We have seen the collective pain and anger of those who are from the groups that are affected, and of others whose consciences have been awakened. The last few months have been a time of much sighs too deep for words.

And here is where Paul gets it so right; he says: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought. But that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” What was going on in Paul’s world and in his life when he wrote that? Paul lived in the time when there were relative peace and stability across the Roman Empire that lasted for over 200 years, but that peace was built on the back of brutal oppression, conquest and slavery. He understood, as well as anyone, what a tragic and broken world in which we live. The unspeakable tragedy and brokenness are such that we run out of words for the prayers we pray, and even the Spirit of God is reduced to sighs too deep for words. Paul acknowledges that sometimes it’s all too much for us. I can identify with that. Maybe you can too.

Here Paul is nakedly honest about life and our struggles. He knows that the world is broken, but he also knows that it’s beautiful. He acknowledges his own weakness and sense of helplessness, but he is never without hope. He writes these words that acknowledge that there is a limit to our prayers, that there is a place beyond which we can no longer give voice to what we feel, but we are not abandoned. When we are overwhelmed, he says the Spirit is present – sighing with us and for us when we run out of words.
Sighing with us and for us when we are weighed down with uncertainty and fear.
Sighing with us and for us when change is slow and painful.
Sighing with us and for us when we grieve the loss of a loved one.
Sighing with us and for us in the aftermath of a diagnosis or a divorce or a layoff.
When it all just becomes too much, the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

It’s a comforting portrayal of God’s love and understanding that encourage us when our spirits seem to be empty; when we feel like we are left to face our difficulties all alone. It’s a reminder that God cares for us even when we aren’t aware of it. When we are overwhelmed and confused and sighing in frustration or grief or fear, or whatever the reason; we don’t need to worry about getting the words or thoughts right for God to understand. God finds us, and God’s Spirit is as close to us as our very breathing. It helps to remember that even when we don’t feel or even know if we believe, the Spirit of God is still there, surrounding us and breathing God’s love and peace and compassion into our aching and empty souls. God is there transforming our wordless sighs into deep prayers which God receives. There is always a connection between God and us; and in those times when all we can do is sigh, the Spirit provides both the connection and the content of our communication with God.

The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And if the Spirit is sighing in prayer on our behalf, then that says to us that a sigh can be a good enough prayer for us too. Prayer isn’t always about words; sometimes it is a sigh, sometimes it is tears, sometimes it is laughter. Whatever it is, God hears our heart. What praying requires of us is an openness to God’s gifts of grace, a willingness to surrender to God’s will, and the courage to trust the Spirit of God to lead us where our minds, weighed down with worry and care, cannot take us.

I invite you to join me in an act of prayer, one that may be unfamiliar to some of us. If you don’t mind, open your hands to God as a sign of surrender to God’s amazing love and care for you. Let them be as a sign of openness to all the challenges and possibilities that God offers. Now close your eyes; breathe deeply, bring into focus a situation where you want God’s love and care to be known. Maybe it’s a relationship, a personal problem or struggle; maybe it’s a health concern or an attitude or behaviour that you can’t get under control. Perhaps you can’t even define what the problem is; you just know that something isn’t right. You don’t have to tell God how to act, just allow yourself to be with God.  Sigh if that all you can do, Cry if you need to. Let it come from your heart.

Trust the Spirit of God to lead your where your mind, weighed down with worry and care, cannot take you. Trust the Spirit to breathe new perspective, new hope, and new life into your situation.

We are never alone.

Thanks be to God.


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