Proper 11a, Sunday , July 13, 2014

July 21, 2014

The Aches and Pains of Creation
Romans 8:18-27

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

I’m not an avid reader, but I am a voratious listener of books. I acquire them either from the library or from an online book service called I recently listened to a non-fiction book called Astoria which was about a trading enterprise that John Jacob Astor envisioned around 1810. His intention was to create a global trading network that involved acquiring furs from the American northwest and shipping them to China where they could be sold for exhorbitant prices. While in China they would purchase spices and silk which were products he could sell for exhorbitant prices to the Europeans and Americans.

It was a large plan, and in theory a good idea, but it’s not a pretty story. Getting across the North American continent in those days was a treacherous undertaking – as was the journey by sea around the tip of South America. Astor sent one expedition overland and another one by sea, and they both made it, but the men who survived the journey were pretty much suffering from what we would call PTSD by the time they got there.

Had his global trading network materialized we might be sharing this continent with another nation called Astoria, but that didn’t happen. John Jacob Astor went on to generate huge wealth off his various enterprises in New York, but his northwest enterprise failed. It’s an odd chapter of American history, and it’s a story that portrays some of the aches and pains of creation. Between the suffering that the explorers underwent and the suffering they inflicted on the Native Americans that book wasn’t what you might call – easy listening.

But hearing that story made me want to know more about the history of our nation, so now I’m listening to a book entitled: The People’s History of the United States – which isn’t a book the kind of book you want to take to read on the beach – talk about the aches and pains of creation. The first chapter documents the plight of the native Americans who Columbus first encountered in the Caribbean Sea. Columbus had promised the king and queen of Spain to bring home gold and spices. About all the natives had to offer were really nice bird feathers, but that didn’t stop Columbus from trying to extract some gold from them.

There was a bit of gold on the Island of Hispanola, which is the Island we know of as Haiti & the Dominican Republic, and Columbus instituted a brutal system of mining that decimated the population. Between outright slaughter, slavery, disease and suicide – the native population of those Caribbean Islands was cut in half within two years after the arrival of Columbus – and the story get’s worse.

The aches and pains of creation.

Chapter 2 documents how the slave trade operated, and that about did me in. I’m only about 2 hours in to this 34-hour book. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to listen to the whole thing or not. I’m sure I’ll have to sprinkle in some fluffy detective fiction to my listening mix.

Human history is riddled with unfathomable suffering. And much of that suffering has been created by other humans. Christianity isn’t the only religion that has blessed bad behavior, but it has done it’s share of damage to the human family.

As Paul willingly suffered the consequences of his faith in Christ in a world that demanded obedience to Augustus Ceasar – I think he had a far different vision of the church than the empire-building and slave-blessing institution that emerged over the next few centuries.

Although even in his day, Paul wasn’t unfamiliar with misdirected faith in Christ. Paul was a compulsive letter writer because the churches he started were filled with people who didn’t know how to behave. You’ll find encouraging words in his letters, but you primarily find him providing advice on how to resolve conflicts within those young churches. Paul wrote perpetually because there were these ridiculous situations that needed to be addressed. You can read in 1st Corinthians how the Lord’s supper had become a situation where the people who got to the assembly first got full and drunk before the late comers arrived and found nothing to eat or drink. And of course the late comers were the people who had to work the longest hours.

Paul wasn’t naive about the nature of the early followers of Christ, nor was he flawless in the advice he shared, but he held out a good vision of who we should be. And he had hope that God’s Kingdom would one day prevail in this world.

His theological formula isn’t perfectly accessible to me, but the overall image that he provides in today’s passage makes some sense to me and gives me hope.

I find his concept of the world groaning in labor pains prior to the arrival of Christ to be really powerful. It’s an image that points to the way in which something new arrived in this world in the life of Jesus Christ, and through Christ we have this opportunity to become the adopted children of God, but he also speaks to the way in which this process of becoming incorporated in to the family of God is not yet complete.

I know this to be true for the world as a whole – I also know it to be true for myself. I have a sense of being fully accepted as a child of God, but I also know that I don’t fully accept all of the rest of you as my brothers and sisters. I want to be a good member of the family, but I’m still watching out for myself. I don’t want you to get in to my stuff.

But I also know how good it feels to share and to care for one another. Going to camp last week was a good experience for me. When I was asked by the director of last week’s Jr. High Ozark Mission Project Camp to be their construction coordinator – I knew it would be an experience of trying to put a puzzle together without all of the pieces, but I also trusted that I would find it to be gratifying, and I did.

The way OMP works is that kids come from different churches along with an adult driver for every 3 or 4 kids, and everyone is put in a family group that ideally involves people from different chuches. So each family group is made up of an adult driver with 3 or 4 kids that have never met each other prior to arrival at camp, and they are sent out to work on the yard or home of someone they don’t know. It is very much an experience of stepping in to a new family, and often it becomes a very rich experience. Sharla got recruited at the last minute to replace a driver that had a family emergency, and I think it’s accurate to say it wasn’t just a memorable experience for her – I think there was some richness to it as well.

I wasn’t in a family group, but I worked with different family groups who were trying to figure out how to build wheelchair ramps, replace fencing, or to build steps. It was pretty challenging, but it was very gratifying as well. I think it gives you hope when you do something helpful for other people.

We are all touched by the aches and pains of creation. We probably all contribute to those aches and pains as well, but we have also been touched by the redeeming love of Jesus – who revealed to us that this world is not ultimately ruled by tyrants. We aren’t all on our own to look out for ourselves. We are one family, and there is one God who loves us all and wants us all to love one another.

Aches and pains aren’t all bad. I came home from camp with some new pains and some familiar aches and they served to remind me how good it feels to work for someone other than myself. And while Paul makes an appeal for us to wait with patience for the new day that will come, I don’t think he is telling us to sit still and wait. I think it’s a lot easier to have patience when you keep yourself well occupied, and there’s a lot of good work we can be doing. It’s not within our power to fully establish the Kingdom of God on earth, but we can make this world a more hospitable place for someone, and when we do that we are both providing and being provided with a taste of the first fruits of God’s kingdom.

There are some ugly stories out there of the ways in which people have failed to share Christ in a Christlike manner, but there are some beautiful stories as well. Our calling is to learn from the past and to go forward as those who have hope for a better day, who wait with patience, and who work with diligence to serve God and our neighbors.

Thanks be to God for our calling, our hearing, and our doing.


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