Pentecost 8 July 26, 2020
413, 529, 651, Worship Supplement 2000: 785 [Alternate: 396]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (ESV)
“Creation has been groaning” (v. 22a). That’s an interesting picture Paul paints in our text, isn’t it? He is picturing all of creation as “groaning together” in pain. And not just any pain. Our text says specifically “the pains of childbirth” (v. 22). Now, I’ve never had to go through the pains of childbirth before (obviously!), but all you moms know first hand what it is like. Maybe you can relate to this text better than the rest of us. The point Paul is making is that all of creation is suffering from a pain that is violent enough and overwhelming enough to make it cry out in agony.
If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the world around you lately you will know that this is a good description: Creation IS Groaning. And it’s not just creation. As our text says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan” (v. 23). In other words, we human beings share in the “pains of childbirth” that the whole creation is enduring. From the continuing battle against the spread of COVID-19 and it’s devastating effects on our country, including the economic crisis that has resulted; to the storms, tornados, flooding, and earthquakes that seem to be regular occurrences in our country and around the world; to the tragic murders, violence, unrest, and racial tension within our country that never seems to go away…and we haven’t even touched on the political struggles and polarization that continues to divide our county! It’s obvious Creation IS Groaning. And we are groaning in pain along with it.
It makes you want to bury your head in the sand and not even want to hear or watch the news. It’s bad! And it seems to only get worse and worse. It makes you wonder, “Is there’s any good news?”
Yes, there is! There is the “Good News.” The “Good News” found in Jesus and His Word. That’s what you are here for today, isn’t it?
When we look around us, and look within us, at all the “bad news” we see it can be overwhelmingly depressing. It can make us feel like there’s no solution, no hope. No way to make a difference or turn the tide of evil and darkness that seems to be engulfing our nation and our world. It affects us and it afflicts us. Just because we are believers in Christ, it doesn’t make us immune to it. In fact, Paul specifically is talking about believers when he says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly…” (v. 23a). That’s a reference to believers—those who have been given the Holy Spirit.
And, to a certain degree, it is good if we are “affected” by the bad news we see and experience around us. It can stir up compassion within us, leading us to speak up and take action. In this same book of Romans, Paul by God’s inspiration tells us that we should, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) We should mourn the loss of any and every life. We should be angered when we see abuse or injustice. We should be appalled and saddened by violence, hatred, and killing.
But we are also not to be in confusion or despair. We know that the cause of all this is sin and the curse that sin brought upon both humankind and creation (see Genesis 3). We don’t despair because we know the cure.
The cure is found in Jesus—and only in Jesus. He is not just the One who taught us and showed us how to love our neighbor as ourselves, no matter the ethnicity, skin color, or social or economic standing. He is not just the one who taught us and showed us how to respect, honor, and obey those whom God has placed in authority over us. He is not just the one who inspired the Apostle Paul to write later on in the book of Romans, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:7-8,10)
If that’s all Jesus did, He would have still been the greatest man who ever lived. But He was even more than that—more than just our perfect example of how to live and truly love. He is our Redeemer! He is the One who saved us from our sins by His cross and gives us something to truly look forward to.
Our text reminds us—in fact the main theme of our text is not just that we and creation itself “groan” in “birth pains,” but that we and creation itself also eagerly await our final redemption and full restoration when Jesus comes again. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (v. 22-24a).
If all we do is look around at all the “bad news” we see hear and experience we will be driven to depression and hopelessness, and we’ll likely just end up being paralyzed by fear. Paul, in the very first verse of our text reminds us instead to remember to “look up!” “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v. 18). Wow! That is quite a statement! Because the “sufferings” we experience here on earth can seem so oppressive, the glory of heaven must be incredible! In a similar verse in 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us of this true reality, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
How can Paul say that the “afflictions” of this life are “light”? The tragedies of this life are not “light.” Disasters and life-threatening, life-altering diseases are not “light.” Violence, brutality, rioting and killing are not “light.” Racism is not “light.” Abuse is not “light.” How can Paul say that? It almost sounds offensive to anyone who is going through an extremely difficult time, or is experiencing a tragedy or loss in their life!
He says our “afflictions” are “light” and “not worth comparing” because, first of all, they are “but for a moment” (2 Corinthians 4:17) and “are temporary” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Secondly, compared to the “eternal weight of glory” in heaven they are “light” and not even worth comparing. We need to shift our focus, as Paul says, “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
We need to be reminded of this—especially when the news we see around us is so bad. We need to have our eyes lifted up and our minds and hearts turned toward the reality of heaven regularly. That gives us an “eager” joy (v. 23). It gives us “hope” and “patience” (v. 24-25). I read a great quote from a Lutheran Bible scholar that put it this way, “We walk toward that unseen but certain world [heaven] with the resilient steps of men whose future is so sure and great that the present burden of our secular knapsacks seems no weight at all. That is what Paul means by ‘patience,’ this waiting for God’s time with the athletic stamina of certain hope.” (Martin Franzmann, Romans, p. 151)
What are we going to do in the meantime while we wait? While we are still here in the midst of a painful, “groaning” creation what will we do? What do we do? Jesus again is the answer and the solution. Because Jesus is the One who changes hearts through the “Good News” of the Gospel. He is the One who inspires and empowers us with the desire (the “want to”) and the ability to do the truly good things He desires from us:
We need to be reminded of this. We need Jesus and His Spirit to strengthen our faith and our hope to produce in us the patience we need to persevere. We need to hear and read for ourselves this “Good News.” We need to share this “Good News” and spread the love of Jesus! And so we close our sermon today with this short prayer:
Hear our “groans” of pain, dear Jesus, heal us and help us, and comfort all those who have suffered unspeakable loss. Come back quickly to rescue us and take us home to be with You. We pray this in Your name as we trust in You to keep all of Your promises. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.