Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Silver Lining: Romans 8:12-25

Here's the manuscript I went into tonight's service with (with two changes- this one is single spaced and everything highlighted in red was highlighted in yellow on my copy).  I'm getting more comfortable preaching so I tend to "go off book" a little more often than I did at first.  I still read a little more than I would like to though.
It never ceases to amaze me how G-d can take my stumbling tongue, my youthful words and use them to touch people.  Praise the Lord for His mighty power!

Romans 8:12-25
As I read and prayed through this text repeatedly in preparation for writing this sermon, I kept being drawn to the parts about suffering: if you live according to the sinful nature you will die, our present suffering, bondage to decay, groaning as in the pains of childbirth.  Perhaps it’s because if I’m not careful, I can be a little bit of a pessimist or perhaps, and equally likely it is because when I read this passage I hear in my head the voice of a dear friend of mine who was fond of quoting verse 18 to me in King James Version in her deepest southern drawl. Without the southern drawl, it would sound like this:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.

If you can imagine that in a southern drawl, maybe you can get a slight idea of why it sticks so firmly in my head.   The two of us served on a mission team together many years ago in Africa, and being in Africa, sometimes times were tough: we were missing our own beds stateside, we didn’t have flush toilets, or hot running water (most days there was cold running water though), it was rainy season so our clothes almost never got dry, and there were great big huge dinner plate sized moths.  Not every day was easy, but when things got tough we’d remind ourselves that our present sufferings weren’t worthy to be compared with the glory that was to be revealed in us.
Or perhaps the parts about suffering stick out to me because when I read them there is a little piece of me that goes “wait a minute!?! Suffering?  Really?  I thought the battle was won, Jesus came, died, rose again, forgave us of all our sins and now we have to suffer?  This can’t be right.  Paul must not know what he’s talking about!  I think if we are really honest with ourselves, we have all had moments where we’ve stopped, even just briefly to say “wait a minute.  That’s not how I thought this trusting the Lord thing was supposed to go.”  Perhaps it was when you lost your job or your house.  Perhaps it was finding out you  or a loved one had significant medical concerns.   Or maybe it was when a relationship didn’t go the way you had hoped or planned that it would.   Or a loved one died long before you thought it was time for them to go. Or perhaps when one of you children wandered away from everything you’d tried to teach them. Everyone knows what it’s like to suffer to one degree or another.  It’s not something we can compare or measure, but it is something we all know.
Thankfully this passage doesn’t leave us in a place of suffering.  It tells us that suffering will indeed happen, but along with that there is hope.  Hope of a glory to come and a hope of liberation.  If we go back to the beginning and wade through the first section about our sinful nature, we can see that our obligation is not to live according to the sinful nature.  In fact, if we do live according to our sinful natures, we will die.  Rather, when we become Christians, the power of the Spirit of G-d helps us to put to death the sinful nature and adopts us as sons and daughters of G-d.  
There is something special about being someone’s son or daughter.   If you have a father who was or is present in your life in a positive way, you know what it’s like to be able to cry out “Daddy!” or an equivalent there off.   This text uses the Aramaic term “Abba”, which translates to father or daddy or papa or whatever else one might call their father figure.   If you didn’t have a positive father figure in your life, think about your mother or mother figure and how comforting it was to be able to call out to your Mother right when you needed her the most. 
How many of us have watched a child learning to walk or ride a bike and then seen them fall?  If their parents are there, that’s where they turn to, to their Daddy or Mommy who scoops them up in their arms and comforts them before helping them  try again.  They don’t scold them for not getting it right the first time or the second time or the tenth time or the hundredth time.  They are simply there with their strong arms, ready for when their son or daughter needs them again.
That’s the kind of relationship we have through the Spirit, to G-d, our Father.  We are his dearly loved children.  And even when our earthly parents fail, which they so often do, we know that G-d will never fail.  No matter how many times we fall, no matter what kind of mess we get ourselves into, G-d will always be waiting there, with open, loving arms, ready to comfort us and set us up to try again.
Since we are children of G-d, we are brothers and sisters to Christ, in a spiritual sense, which means we are co-heirs with Christ, and, according to verse 17, if we share in his sufferings we will also share in his glory.  This is the glory that our present sufferings are not worth being compared to.  I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to inherit anything significant, much less incredible glory.  I’m one of six children.  When my parents are called home to glory, whatever is left after all 6 of us have made it through college, and we’ve cared well for our parents, will likely be divided amongst us.  But I’ve heard of people inheriting family fortunes.  It changes their lives.  Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. 
A number of years ago a movie called “Princess Diaries” came out.  In the movie a fairly normal teenage girl, living with her widowed mom who is an artist, receives word that she has inherited the country of Genovia. In the space of 5 minutes she goes from being a normal teenager living a normal life to having to consider whether she wants to accept this massive inheritance or not.  This inheritance, should she choose to accept it, will change her life.  
The inheritance that we, as children of G-d and coheirs with Christ, are set to receive is far greater than a county, even Genovia.  Psalm 50 tells us that our G-d, our Father owns “every animal in the forest, the cattle on a thousand hills, every bird in the mountains and the creatures of the field.”  It’s far greater than anything that we could possibly comprehend.
This inheritance is the glory that our present sufferings are not worth being compared to.  But to get to the glory, we first have to share in Christ’s sufferings.
In the next section of this passage Paul uses a powerful metaphor to explain our suffering and the fullness of glory that we will experience.  He uses the metaphor of the pangs of labor and childbearing.   Let’s read that section again.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

I have never been pregnant, therefor I have never given birth to a baby, so I can’t relate completely to labor pains, but I was present when both of my younger brothers made their entrances into the world, and I did grow up on a farm.  As I got older, I was given the role of “alpaca midwife”, assisting the females in our herd in their yearly task of bringing new life into the world. 
In early June of this year I assisted at a particularly difficult birth.  The baby was large and not in the ideal birthing position.  The labor had been long and very difficult.  As the cria began to make her entrance into the big wide world the mother alpaca began to scream.  She screamed and screamed as we repositioned the baby and assisted her little girl into the world.  As soon as we had the little girl and were beginning all the activities necessary immediately after a birth, the mother began her gentle, calm humming again, as if nothing had pained her enough to warrant screaming just a few moments earlier.  From my limited experience with humans and my experiences with animals, I imagine that this was what Paul was talking about.  After all, Paul was an unmarried man, so I doubt he had much more experience with childbirth than I have had up to this point in my life.
We are waiting in eager expectation for the glory of G-d to be revealed, for our liberation from the bondage of decay that sweeps across our world.  We long for the day when there is no more sickness or decay or death.  No more ware, no more children being abused, no more mothers crying over babies that never saw the light of day, no more people starving.  That is the world we long for.  The weight of the suffering of the world we live in often  weighs heavily on us.  It makes us uncomfortable and we groan and cry out for it to change.  It hurts.  It feels like it will never end.  We groan inwardly and sometimes even outwardly, but there is nothing we can do to change it.  We can’t speed up the process.
 The baby always comes when it’s ready.
If Paul stopped writing there, there would be little hope, little encouragement, but he doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to give us the silver lining in this world of suffering and pain:
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

The silver lining in this passage is the fact that we can hope, that we have hope in the return of Christ.  We have hope in the fact that we are co-heirs with Christ, that there is a glory to come, and inheritance far greater than we can imagine. If we already had it, we would not be able to hope in it.  If we could imagine it accurately, it would not have the same appeal as an unimaginable inheritance of glory.
Did you ever sneak around before Christmas and to figure out what you were going to get ahead of time?  When you thought no one was looking you peaked under mom and dad’s bed or in the closet or wherever you thought they might hide the gifts.  You saw it.  That thing you had been hoping for all year, or at least all of the last two weeks.  The object that your parents told you Santa might bring if you were really good.  You found it.  You knew it was coming and would be there Christmas morning.  But then something happened.  Some of the excitement left Christmas.  You woke up Christmas morning and went to unwrap your gifts, but it wasn’t as exciting as you had hoped it would be.  You already knew what was inside that brightly wrapped package.  You were happy, but there was no anticipation.  No hope that it would be there because you already knew for sure that it was there.
If we could imagine the full glory of our inheritance we wouldn’t have near as much to look forward to.  Some of the excitement would leave.  We’d just be putting in time here, instead of hoping, waiting expectantly for our adoption as sons and daughters and the renewal of our bodies. 
When things get tough, when we feel the weight of our suffering, when we do battle with our sinful natures, we can cling to the silver lining that there is hope and that we can still have hope because we cannot fully grasp the glory that is to come.   We can wait patiently, or at least try to be patient, (when I’m hoping for something really hard, I have a hard time with the patience thing.  You should have seen me as a child on Easter morning.  Patience was not my strong point) as we eagerly hope for the glory that we one day be revealed in us, co-heirs with Christ Jesus.

1 comment:

sarahcg said...

Love this. And Romans 8 in general. And you. Thanks for sharing.