October 13, 2019 | Sonja Gerstenberger
Passage: Romans 8:18-28
All right, so as adults, we wait, too, right? We wait for the bus; for dinner to be ready; to get back the big test or paper or project; for our favorite team to win; for acceptance letters, job offers, retirement; summer break; in the school car line; to open Christmas presents; for kids to brush their teeth and go to bed. Sometimes we wait with patience and sometimes not so much. And the early church waited for Christ to come again, just as we wait for Christ to come again.
There was a clear sense in Paul's early letters that he thought this was going to happen in his lifetime. In this particular letter, the Romans, Paul emphasizes waiting in hope of the glory that will come and the freedom that that will bring. For people who could remember firsthand accounts of Christ alive through stories shared by the people they knew, Paul wrote these Romans to encourage them to continue to live in the spirit, to not lose hope.
And we as people who live far removed from the immediacy of Paul's time, it can be hard to imagine what it must have been like to think Jesus could just show up at any moment, like he did after the resurrection. We could be walking along the road and suddenly realized we were talking to Jesus. We stake our lives on the fact that Jesus will return, and God's kingdom will come in its fullness. But I know I don't always have a sense that that could happen any moment.
But still, we live in hope and wait with patience.
Maybe sometimes a little too patiently, so patiently that we don't have an immediacy of the need to share that message of hope with the world around us. So patiently that the work of the church seems like yet another task to do on our to do list, rather than an invitation to participate in God's work in the world. So patiently that our day to day lives aren't enlivened with the hope and promise of Jesus. We hear the word and feed on Christ in the Lord's Supper, and then we leave Christ safely in the building six days of the week.
Yet, we are people of the promise and we stake our claim on hope. Our waiting cannot be without urgency. The imagery Paul uses for creations waiting is profound. Groaning in labor pains. That is an urgent waiting. Now, labor pains aren't something everyone here has experienced. Not everyone has had their body overcome by such pain that they emit reflexive guttural groan. Some may have witnessed labor, whether it was a spouse, a child, a sister, a patient, or perhaps it was an animal -- a pet, a farm animal.
And I have to acknowledge that there are some among us who might have longed to experience childbirth. Yet this is the image Paul uses in his letter to the Romans to communicate the longing of creation to be set free from its bondage to decay. And there are certainly days that I can relate to that kind of longing. I'm reminded of a scene years ago of little bodies crouched against the wall in the school hallway while a siren sounded. A tornado happened to pass by while I was visiting my son's school. It was right after the tornado in Joplin, Missouri, and it had leveled the community, including the high school. So there was a sense that this really could be destructive, not like our usual Iowa sense of "everything's gonna be OK, it's just another tornado."
As a parent, I was terrified, waiting for it to pass, hoping it wouldn't hit the school. The relief I experienced when it was over was tremendous. A year later, I heard stories of teachers and children at Sandy Hook Elementary crouching in terror. The danger much more imminent. Waiting, hoping. And the realization that for these teachers and children, the relief didn't come. And we consider the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to us.
That's gonna be some kind of glory.
Can our waiting be punctuated with the kind of urgency that longs for the sufferings of the present time to pass that we might live in God's glory? As Western Christians, we don't experience the kind of persecution Christians and the early church did, but we're not immune to suffering.
We're not immune to waiting and to the world in decay. If we're truthful, we long for the redemption of the kingdom of God. And we wait in hope.
As Paul describes, God's very creation waits in hope to be set free from this bondage to decay like the size and groans of a laboring mother -- creation cries out in pain, longing for an end to famine, decay and disparity. We long for an end to a world where the bloated bellies of some longed for nourishment and others bloat with overabundance. We wait for the all clear; for the diagnosis; for the pain to end; for the job to come; for acceptance.
A laboring mother cries out in pain and sometimes becomes impatient, "is this baby ever coming?" Some give up out of futility: I can't do this, I'm too tired. It's taking too long. And like the nurse or midwife who presses her forehead to a laboring mother to tell her, "just one more push, you can do it." God sends the spirit to help us in our weakness, interceding with size too deep for words. As a mother waits for the birth of her child, we wait for the deliverance from the present suffering to future glory. And like that mother we wait in hope. Hope that we cannot see. Hope that saves even as we wait. And that's hard. But that's what hope is.
Hope is the gift of the spirit that anchors us in Christ's promise and draws us into the certainty of God's future. We wait patiently for God's future, where pain, death and separation from God and from each other will be no longer. Where children no longer huddle in terror; where illness does not ravage bodies; where there is not constant pain; where all have shelter, clothing, food and love. Where we are not the sum of our successes and failures. We are not our mistakes and we are not our worst impulses. By our adoption through Christ, we are made members, the family of God, heirs of the kingdom. We live in the present reality and the future hope. And we are not alone. God, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, abides with us interceding when we do not have the words. In Christ God came to earth, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, protecting the vulnerable, and standing beside the outcast. So we do not live in fear of what might happen, but in the assurance of what has. In Christ God defeated the powers of sin and death, giving himself on the cross and rising to new life. We have hope of new life ... a hope of new life that has the urgency of anticipating something amazing. And in that hope, we are invited to join in the kingdom of God. Right here. Right now.
To participate in the healing, reconciling work of making the kingdom of God known. Creating community that bears one another's burdens, waits with one another in times of crisis and celebrates when the crisis has passed. Community that joins together to take up our rakes and help clear debris at Reiman Gardens, caring for creation and our neighbor. Community that surrounds young people with the assurance of God's love, cherishing them and their uniqueness. Community that stands with those who fear rejection or prejudice based on their race, sexuality, gender identity or immigration status. Creating community that reflects the kingdom of God, while we wait in hope for its fulfillment. We ourselves who have the first fruits of the spirit, have been given these gifts not to hoard them for ourselves, but that we might proclaim the coming of God's kingdom to the world with anticipation and urgency. In a world of pain subject to decay, it's easy to be weighted down by our brokenness and become apathetic in our waiting.
Yet we know this is not the end, there is resurrection and new life. We have a beautiful message to share with the world. God's kingdom is coming. The present times will pass away. The suffering of today is nothing compared to the glory to come. Come join us as we wait. Feel the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life and take part in the coming of the glorious kingdom of God. Thanks be to God.
September 21 through November 24
Self-Control [Christ the King]