Waiting with Hope
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
July 20, 2014
Romans 8: 18-32, 35-39 & 10: 11-13 (CEB)
I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. 20Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. 23And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. 24We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? 25But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.
26In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. 30Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified.
31So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?
35Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written,
We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
We are treated like sheep for slaughter.
37But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. 38I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
11The scripture says, All who have faith in him won’t be put to shame. 12There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him. 13All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved.
This week, the kids and Grace and Fairview learned about imagining and building with God in the Workshop of Wonders Vacation Bible School. On the first evening of Bible Study at Grace, the kids did a science project where they learned about balance. Using ordinary objects, they built a balance and then tested out different objects to compare their weight and try and create balance. I want to replicate that project this morning as a way of considering Paul’s message to the Romans here at the conclusion of chapter 8.
So I’ve got my balance set up here. As you can see, it’s made out of ordinary objects, just like the kids did; a coke bottle and a yard stick. And then I’ve got some rocks and some coins to add to the yard stick and try and make it balance. (Add rocks and coins to each side of the yard stick until it balances.) Now, balance is good, and we spend a lot of time and effort trying to keep our lives balanced; a balanced diet, a healthy balance of work and play, and so on. But what Paul is describing this morning is a complete lack of balance, one that tips the scales so completely that balance seems a near impossibility.
He begins by telling us that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” And then Paul goes on to talk about the good that God does in the lives of believers. (With each step of God’s work, add one object to the scale.) God knows us in advance, and in advance, God has decided to conform us to the image of his son. Then, God called us, and those who were called were made righteous, and those God made righteous, God also glorified. As you can see, God’s work is pretty one-sided, isn’t it?
But the thing is, Paul understands that life happens. Even with God’s work in our lives, life isn’t ALWAYS good, is it? So Paul states the obvious question, “Who will separate us from Christ’s love?” And he goes on to list some of those awful things that happen in our lives. (With each force of bad, add one object to the other side of the scale.) There’s trouble, and distress, harassment, famine. There’s nakedness, and danger, and the sword. At times, all that trouble and distress really can tip the scales, can’t it? It can make life seem completely overwhelming. It’s like “sheep (headed) for slaughter.”
Yet still, this is not the end of the story. God doesn’t want our lives to be tipped toward the bad. God wishes for us great, wonderful, and abundant life. So when Paul asks if all these terrible things win the day, his emphatic answer is, “No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” And there’s the key. The love of Christ. Paul says it’s so strong that it wins the sweeping victory in our lives. (Place piece of tape over “good” side of scale.) Keeping the scales ever tipped toward the good. In fact, Christ’s love is so strong that even (Add more weights to the “bad”/untaped side of the scales.) death, rulers, things present or to come, powers, height, depth, “nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
All of this is the hope in which we live. Because the thing of it is, even though we see God at work in our lives and the lives of others through Christ Jesus, it doesn’t change the fact that there is still suffering in this world. This is a reality we know all too well. This week alone has seen ramped up fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians, not to mention a typhoon of significant magnitude striking the Philippines. Those disasters follow on the tails of great unrest in Iraq and Sudan, not to mention the problems in Syria, and continuing extreme gun violence here in the U.S. It’s scary. And I think we can all agree that none of those things is good. But Paul says “the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.”
So we wait. Paul compares this waiting to childbirth; painful and yet anticipatory. In this time of waiting, we are subjected to the very real challenges of this life, and it is difficult and painful. But Paul says that if we can wait through this present suffering, then we can fully experience the glorious freedom of life with God. Through Christ’s death and resurrection suffering is no longer passed on, bringing endless cycles of destruction and pain. Instead, God in Christ has absorbed and transformed our suffering, tipping the scales in our favor. Through him, the struggles we face can be transformed into endurance, character, and hope. God uses our struggles to bring us to spiritual maturity. And it is the promise of that great life that gives us hope, saving us from the present sufferings, and enabling us to wait with patience for God’s full glory to be revealed.
Still, it gets better! Because it’s not just that we have hope. There’s more because “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” In the face of our hardships, as we wait with hope, God’s very Spirit waits with us, helping us in our weakness. At the very moment when we are struggling to pray, and have no idea even what to pray for, just at that point the Spirit is most obviously at work. God is continually in communion with the Spirit that dwells in us, and when we are incapable of articulate speech, the Spirit pulls out of a groaning which cannot at that moment even be put into words. This is a prayer beyond prayer, a prayer that reaches from the very depths our souls, even beyond our own comprehension, but not beyond the comprehension of God, who Paul here calls the Searcher of Hearts. And if that’s not a reason for hope, I don’t know what is!
God hears our need as the Spirit intercedes on our behalf. God understands what the Spirit is saying even though we do not. God hears and answers the prayer which we only know as painful tossings and turnings of an unquiet spirit standing before its creator with the weight of the world heavy on its heart. The world is still groaning, and we with it; but God is with us in this groaning, and will bring it out for good. God is sovereign, but what we need to hear and know from this passage is that God’s sovereignty is always exercised in love.
It is easy to pray for health and safety; to pray for guidance and strength. But it is a different matter entirely to pray such that the Spirit groans within us, echoing the cries of the world. And yet, when we call upon the name of Christ; when we open ourselves to God the Father and the work of the Spirit in such a way, imagine what can happen! Christ himself did just that as he hung on the cross and cried out with the pain of the world upon his shoulders. And this is why Paul goes on to say, “in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” When we can submit to God as Christ did, when we can suffer for the sake of the world as Christ did, when we are marked out as God’s people not outwardly but in the secret prayers and loves of our innermost being, then we can be completely sure that God is in charge, that he can bring good out of whatever happens. And amazing things will happen! The scales will be tipped for the good. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” not by turning us inward in selfishness, but outward, interceding for us and for the world with “sighs too deep for words.”
Not too long ago, I watched a NOVA special on PBS about the Parthenon. As you are probably aware, the Parthenon is the pinnacle of ancient Greek architecture, and though it has been pummeled in war, shaken by earthquakes, and burned, a good deal of it still stands today. There is a restoration project in the works at the Parthenon, it has been going on for 30 years and will probably go on for another 30 at least; an ironic truth, considering the fact that the Parthenon was originally built in a span of only nine years. As I watched the show, I was fascinated by the techniques and methods used to design and build the Parthenon, methods beyond the abilities of even our most modern technology. But what amazed me most is that the Greeks designed and built a building of incredible beauty that has stood for nearly 2500 years. Their design, materials, and construction were all carefully considered; not only to create a beautiful Temple, but also to last through the ages. And that’s exactly what happens with the Spirit at work in our lives; it is the perfect combination of God’s righteousness. All those hardships that come at us are matched by the groan of the Spirit within us, and we are given the strength we need to overcome every weakness.
“All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved.” And “if God is for us, who can be against us?” Indeed, God will save his people, not despite their sufferings, but through and even because of them. If we can cling to this hope, and wait with patience, then we can also know God’s glory that is to be revealed. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”