Romans 8:18-27 (New International Version)
18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not 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. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
We have lived in our current home for almost one year. And though we have been here for almost a year we still have a room dedicated to those items that have not found a home of their own; the things that are still in boxes. Many of those boxes are filled with my seminary books. And it has been my intention for some time to build a book case to put in our living room to provide a resting place for those books to start to collect dust.
So Sonya found a picture of a book case that she liked and I drew up some plans, bought some lumber, and started building it on our back porch. And I tried to use the structure of our back porch to help me form those important first 90 degree angles in the frame of the book case by using a post in the middle of the porch as a guide for a corner. I had attached two 2×4’s to the bottom and two 2×4’s to the top and my top and bottom 2×12 shelves before I realized my error: I had framed right around the post supporting the middle of my porch.
Have you ever gotten so mad at yourself, yet you couldn’t stop laughing at yourself for what you just did? I was so mad, but I was giggling to myself the entire time. All I could do was let out a big groan and start taking out screws.
Groaning is something that we do when we don’t have any other options, when we just need to let it out, and when it hurts. Groaning is something that we do when there just aren’t words to say what we are feeling. Groaning is something that we do when things just are not as they are supposed to be. Today I want to look at our scripture from Romans 8 and look at three things that Paul writes are groaning because they are not as they were intended to be. I want to look at creation, our bodies, and our relationship with God to see how we might go about trying to help these things return to the point that God had intended for them to be.
Our scripture for today begins with suffering. Paul writes that “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” I don’t think that the things that the Roman Christians were suffering from were all that different than the things that we struggle with today: persecution, misunderstandings, poverty, famine, and greed, just to name a few. The Christians of Paul’s day and Christians today suffered at the hand of non-Christians as well as at the hand of other Christians. And we also suffer because of our own poor choices. The cause of suffering, as you probably already know, is difficult to pinpoint. But we all share in our suffering and as hard as it is to hear, we all cause suffering.
But Paul says that our present suffering isn’t worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us or some translations say to us. Paul is saying, Yeah, we are suffering now. But just you wait. Something better is coming. Something that is worth waiting for.
And that is why I say in my title that we are eschatological people. The Eschaton is the time when Jesus comes back to rule his creation and restore what once was pronounced “Good”. We as Christians long for the day when all things are made new again, when there will be no more sorrow, when there will be no more tears, pain, and suffering. We are eschatological people awaiting the day when God sets things right again.
However, I wouldn’t say that our scripture for today is simply about trying to escape from the problems of this world and scurry off to heaven. I think that when we read the writings of Paul and the other New Testament authors, we find that we are being called not only to wait for heaven, but to help bring heaven to earth and live as a part of the kingdom of God here and now.
This is how I understand the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus prays, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Followers of Jesus are not simply supposed to wait for the kingdom of God in heaven, we are to help God establish and expand his kingdom here on earth. That is why we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, work for peace, and love our enemy. We are eschatological people, but we are living in the 21st century. And we are called to live as a part of a kingdom unlike the kingdoms of this earth.
I believe that is why Paul says that creation is awaiting the children of God to be revealed. Here Paul is using the term “children of God” to refer to the people that we know as Christians. And I believe that creation is awaiting the children of God to be revealed because it is the children of God that are called to bring about change in the world, to help usher in the kingdom.
So how is God’s intermediate kingdom here on earth supposed to look? I think we get an idea of that by looking at what is groaning in Romans 8. The things that are groaning need to be addressed so that we can come closer to achieving what God had in mind for creation.
Paul writes, “20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
Creation has been decaying for some time now. And it all began with a simple act of defying God. In Genesis 3 we find the story of Adam and Eve. Because they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”
Cursed is the ground because of you. Creation began groaning with the fall of humanity and it continues to do so today. And if Paul thought that creation was groaning in his day, we can hear her crying out today. We have depleted the earth of its natural resources, polluted the soil, water, and sky, and we have robbed our less fortunate brothers and sisters in the process. We have paved over God’s creation, moved to the cities, and forgotten about what God has provided for us. Groan away, creation. Groan away.
I believe that heaven will look like what God had intended the earth to look like when he originally created it. The end of times is said to be the time when God makes a new heaven and a new earth. I believe that new earth will look like the Garden of Eden. We will live off the land, the lion will lay down with the lamb, and we will see what God saw when he created the heavens and the earth and said, “It is good.” And we will give God the glory all the day long.
So what are we called to do as Christians? I believe that for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven that we need to try to reverse the trend of environmental exploitation. Not simply for the sake of the earth, but for the sake of other human beings and our relationship with God.
I believe that one of the best things that we can do to care for the earth and for ourselves while growing closer to God is to plant a garden. I live in town and we are blessed with a good piece of land. We built a raised bed garden in our backyard to grow our own vegetables. By growing our own food we prevent the burning of fossil fuels that a large scale vegetable farm would have used in the planting, harvesting, and shipping of the vegetables. There is no doubt in my mind that we are helping to use creation as God intended it by growing our own vegetables.
The benefits of growing your own vegetables also include helping us connect with God. When I first planted our garden, I would go outside with my iPod blaring music in my ears. But lately I have gone out without any kind of music other than the music God has provided: the wind blowing through the trees, the birds and the squirrels nesting in those trees, the dogs barking, the neighbor kids laughing. I am experiencing creation in a way that God intended it to be experienced. I dig my hands into that soil, which is one of the most amazing inventions of God ever because of its ability to give a seed life, and I know that there is a God and that he is indeed good.
We laugh sometimes when we hear about little kids that are asked where milk, eggs, meat, and vegetables come from and they answer “the store.” I think that is not as funny as it is sad. Those things come from God. Children that are so removed from the farm that they don’t realize how much we rely on God’s goodness for our daily sustenance are going to grow into adults that take the gift of life for granted.
When our food comes from the store rather than from God, we fail to realize the delicate balance and life cycles that go into growing and producing what we put into our bodies. If it doesn’t rain, the corn, wheat, and grass cannot grow. If we don’t have these grains and forages then we cannot grow cattle, pigs, turkeys, and other meat animals. If we don’t have grains and forages, we don’t eat at all. When we connect with the processes that go into making our food, we connect with God on an entirely different level. And since I will never have livestock on Springhill Rd., I grow vegetables. I’m not saying that you need to do the same, but I am saying that in doing so, I connect with God in a new way.
Creation is groaning because of what we have subjected it to. I believe that by taking small steps, like planting a garden, we can experience God in a new way and experience God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven in a small way. We are eschatological people living today.
The next thing that needs changing that Paul finds groaning is our own bodies. He writes, “23Not 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 groan all of the time. If I have been standing too long, I groan as I sit down. If I have been sitting too long, I groan as I stand up. Getting older hurts, and I know that it is only going to get worse before it gets better.
But that is the good news, it will get better. Paul says that we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. Again, we are eschatological people. But we live today.
Unfortunately we cannot fix all of the problems that we have physically. My 89-year-old grandfather won’t be signing up to run in a marathon anytime soon and neither will I. But I do believe that we are stewards of our bodies and as eschatological people living today, we should not only look toward the future redemption of our bodies, but also take care of what God has entrusted us with today. And I don’t mean to make this sermon into a guilt trip for people to watch what they eat and to exercise more. Believe me, if over eating is a sin (and I believe it is), there are no sinners greater than myself here today.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
Here Paul is talking about sexual sins, but the same relation can be made with all that we do with our bodies (Paul does this earlier in the chapter concerning food). Our bodies are a temple for the HS because the HS lives within us. We belong to God, yet we don’t always reflect that with the way we treat our bodies.
As I have said, I am as guilty of this as anyone. I eat too much and exercise too little. I put things in my body that God probably never meant to be consumed. Urban legend says that a Twinkie has an indefinite shelf-life. That can’t be good for you. Yes, we wait for the renewing of our bodies. But until then, as eschatological people living today, we care for what God has given to us, for our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
The final thing that I want to address this morning that groans is the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in verses 26-27, “26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
That is reassuring to me, to know that the Holy Spirit, which resides in you and me, prays through me and for me when I don’t even know what to pray for. The Spirit intercedes, or jumps in, to pray for us according to God’s will.
Why is this necessary? Because we don’t always know God’s will, do we? I don’t. Paul asks later in Romans, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” I have problems understanding the mind of my wife, the person that I am closer to than any other person alive.
For instance, it was early February of this year. Sonya’s birthday is on the 6th of Feb. And she tells me one day that she would really like a certain CD. Excellent, I take that as a hint for a birthday present. So I go out the next day and buy it.
A couple days later I walk into our home and I hear music coming from the radio…and it is the same CD that I had purchased for her and had intended to give it to her on her birthday in a few days. She had bought one for herself.
As I said, if I can’t understand the mind of my wife, whom I am closer to than anyone else in the world, how am I supposed to understand the mind and the will of God? That is why the Sprit intercedes on our behalf. We don’t know God’s will and when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us, groaning.
But one day, our relationship with God will be restored to a place where we will be able to have conversations with God on our own. We talk about being in full communion with God. Maybe we will not know or comprehend God’s mind fully, but we will know God fully. The God that sometimes seems distant from us and mysterious will be here with us in the flesh.
As eschatological people living today, we await the day when we have full communion with God and we continue to speak to God through prayer using the help of the Holy Spirit.
When I framed my bookcase around the post in my back porch, I groaned because I knew that was not that way that things were meant to be. But with a little effort I could correct some of the mistakes I had made along the way and enjoy not only the finished product, but I enjoyed the time spent working on it. We are groaning today because things are not how God had intended them to be. But with a little work to correct the mistakes we have made along the way, we can enjoy not only the day when God sets everything right, but we can enjoy working beside our savior and our brothers and sisters for the kingdom of God. We are eschatological people living today.