Sermon for 8 Pentecost, Year A
Based on Rom. 8:18-25
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"Labor Pains and Hope"
In our second lesson today, the Apostle Paul sees the whole creation involved with humanity's sin and fallenness. In keeping with Genesis 3:17-19 and 5:29; the Apostle acknowledges that when Adam and Eve sinned, God then put a curse on the earth. Even though Adam and Eve were guilty of the sin, the earth had to suffer the consequences of humankind's sin.
On the other hand, he also envisions the future redemption of both the creation and humanity. Paul also acknowledges that the complete reversal of the curse and sin is true when it comes to redemption. In our text today, and elsewhere, such as Colossians 1:15-20; Paul sees the whole of creation as well as humanity being redeemed by Jesus Christ. So, just as the entire creation "has been groaning in labor pains," and human beings "groan inwardly" because of sin; in a similar manner, all of creation, including humanity, waits and hopes for the completion of God's redemption. Cosmic and human labor pains shall eventually lead to a future, redemptive hope.
This groaning of the whole creation along with our inward groaning, is a truth which exists all around us. That's why we sing these words in one of the church's hymns: "Change and decay in all around I see." The marks of sin are everywhere, both inwardly and outwardly, throughout creation. The world is one where beauty fades and loveliness decays; it's a dying world. Scientists, ecologists, environmentalists, even many ordinary citizens continue to cry out their prophetic and not-so-prophetic litanies concerning the death and destruction of creation.
As Benjamin Browne points out: "In Aberfan Wales, an enormous pile of shale and the residue from processing of coal were dumped for decades on the side of a mountain. On October 22, 1966, the four-hundred-foot pile began to slide and gather momentum until the two-million tons of slag crashed into the village engulfing the school and the miners' homes. One hundred and forty-four persons were killed in this crash of waste."
"One thousand acres of the famous Ponderosa Pines in the mountains of the San Bernadino National Forest died in 1970 from the polluted smog blown in from Los Angeles, eighty miles away. Lake Erie became a dead body of water foully polluted. The cost of cleaning Lake Michigan, at times almost a cesspool, was once estimated in the billions of dollars."
Here in Alberta, many environmental and agriculture experts, as well as some farmers, are concerned about the increased amount of prime farm land in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, which is being sold for urban development. In a recent development, there has been heated conflict between the oil and gas industry and one farmer-rancher in particular, which have resulted in violent incidents. Moreover, alienation between the farmer-rancher commune and the larger community ended in the tragic death of a teenage girl. In addition to this, some of our rivers, like the Saskatchewan, for example, have become plagued with pollutants. Add to this the radioactive fallout from places like Chernobyl; the testing of nuclear weapons; the further destruction or deterioration of water, land and air on global scale, along with growing waste management issues, climate changes, overpopulation and a host of other environmental trends, and it becomes quite easy to picture an apocalyptic-like scenario.
So it is, that, because of our sinful state, humanity along with the whole creation suffers and groans. On account of our sinful state, both humanity and the whole creation have to live a painful, struggling existence; one in which there are many questions and unresolved problems. However, in this present state we are not to resign ourselves to utter despair. Thanks to what Jesus Christ has done for us and the first fruits of his Spirit we are given hope. In hope we look forward to the future when God will bring into completion our redemption and the redemption of creation.
According to William Barclay: "the Apostle Paul draws a great picture in which he speaks with a poet's vision. When Paul was drawing this picture, he was again working with common Jewish ideas, well known at that time. He talks of two ages, the present age and the future age of glory. Jewish thought divided time into two sections, this present age and the age to come. This present age was wholly bad, subject to sin decay and death. Some day there would come The Day of the Lord."
"It would be a day of judgment when the world would be shaken to its foundations. Out of it there would come a new world. This idea was not unique to Paul and his letters, it is also found in the Hebrew Bible in texts like Isaiah 65:17, where God will create new heavens and a new earth. In addition to this idea however, and in close relation to it, Paul creatively alludes to the creation as having a consciousness when he says: "creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God." In other words, creation, like humanity, is aware of God's future redemption, and like humanity, longs for it."
"From this then, the Apostle goes on to develop the idea of human longing by linking it to hope. One of the great truths for Paul was that the human situation is not hopeless. He saw humanity's sin and the sad state of the world; but he also saw God's redeeming power; and the end of it all for him was hope. Because of that, to Paul life was not a despairing waiting for an inevitable end in a world encompassed by sin and death and decay; life was an eager anticipation of a liberation, a renovation and a re-creation wrought by the glory and power of God. To Paul life was not a weary, defeated waiting; it was a throbbing, vivid expectation."
For the Apostle, and for the Christian, the struggles of this present time are always endured with the future in mind, and the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams. Even though the future seems frightening and dangerous for many, we as Christians can look forward to the future because God has given us hope.
According to Albert Stauderman: "Mariners' charts in the 16th century outlined rather crudely the shoreline of Europe and Africa, but in the Atlantic, where few had ever ventured, were statements like "Here be dragons" or "Here be demons that devour people." Being unknown, the area seemed dreadful and frightening. We also seem to fear the unknown. But every living person is proceeding constantly into unexplored territory. No one has ventured into tomorrow, but we'll all be into it in 24 hours. Our light is not bright enough to see what it will bring, but our faith is sufficient to make us go unafraid."
In fact, it is precisely because God has given us hope that we can go into the future; if we didn't have hope, then would life really be worth living?
One psychiatrist once asked 3,000 people, "What have you to live for?" He was surprised to discover from their answers that most of them were living for the future. They were waiting for something to happen. They were waiting for holidays, their children to grow up, for a promotion, for retirement and other things too.
Since God has given us hope, we wait for a new and better future. God has promised us that we are an important part of that future. That's why it's so important for us to have hope even in our present situation, which often seems so hopeless to many people. If we have hope in our present situation today, we can and will proclaim and share this hope in the world. The hope that God gives us does make a difference; in our thoughts, in our words, in our actions.
That's why many people still bring children into this world. That's why many people care so much about peace with justice in this world. That's why many of the Christian churches are prophetically speaking out against political, economic and social injustices in our world. That's why many people are involved in the responsible stewardship or management of the world's resources. That's why many people continue to worship and celebrate the presence of God in their lives and in this world. That's why many people continue to create beautiful works of art; make brilliant discoveries in the sciences and creative inventions through technology.
Ultimately, God gives us hope to face and cope with the most foreboding of all life's realities ~ namely, death. We can face and cope with our death and the death of our loved ones, for it gives us the hope that we are saved by Jesus Christ. God has given us the future promise of glory, liberty, adoption, and redemption of our bodies. That allows us and frees us to live each day to the fullest. For all of this and more, we, along with the whole creation eagerly long and wait, as did the Apostle Paul before us.
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