Yearning and Destiny
Scriptures: Romans 8:18-30; Isaiah 65:17-25
In a book called The Spiritual Life of Children, Robert
Coles does interviews with children all over the world about their understanding of God, and one of his interviews is with a 10 year-old girl named Margarita. Margarita lives with her mother, two older brothers and four younger sisters in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Margarita's father had died previously, and her mother was seriously ill with tuberculosis. During these interviews Robert Coles invited Margarita to share her thoughts about God, and Margarita responds by pointing to the famous statue of Jesus, with his arms outstretched overlooking the city of Rio. Then she says,
When I look at Jesus up there, I wonder what He is thinking. He can see all of us, and He must have an opinion [about us]. I try to talk with Him. When I am most upset, He is all that I have. My mother is sick. She still works in Copacabana [as a maid in a hotel], even though she coughs, and she bleeds. She is all we have-and Him [pointing to the statue]. A lot of time I ask Him why He does things like this [pointing to her poor neighborhood]. . He must see what we see, Copacabana and Ipanema (wealthy parts of the city)-and then this place. Mother used to tell us we'll go to heaven, because we are poor. I used to believe her. I don't think she really believes herself. She just says that-it's a way of shutting us all up when we're hungry! Now, when I hear her say it, I look up at Him, and I ask Him: What do You say, Jesus? Do you believe her?
Later in the interview she says,
When I'm at my lowest, and I look into the future and see us all alone, with Mother gone, I want to scream. I get angry at Him. I go and tell Him off: 'Why are you going to take her? What has she done to deserve death? Don't tell me-as the priest does-that she'll go to heaven! All of us here can't eat off our mother's life in heaven!
Then at another point in the interview she says,
I shouldn't blame Jesus! I do, though, sometimes. He's right there-that statue keeps reminding me of Him-and the next thing I know, I'm talking with Him, and I'm either upset with Him or I'm praying for Him to tell me why the world is like it is (pp. 90-91).
I would say that Margarita is a pretty articulate 10
year-old. And she has a good point. In fact I think the apostle Paul would agree with her. Romans 8:22-23: [Slide 1]
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 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.
This morning I want to share four perspectives which come
from Romans 8 and are key for Christians living in the world today. Here is the first: [Slide 2]
The natural reaction of Christians to the world as it is
should be anguish.
That's what Margarita felt, and I don't think she is alone. According
to Paul, we who have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit also groan inwardly when we see the world as it is. I've had church members say to me, "Pastor, I can't watch the news anymore; I get too depressed." I say we should get depressed. Every time we see the images of dead and injured people carried away from a bombing or a mass shooting, every time we hear of children dying from hunger or preventable diseases, every time we hear of someone killed because of their race or their religion or their sexual orientation, or because they wear a police uniform, our hearts should cry out, "How long, O Lord?" The natural reaction of Christians to the world as it is should be anguish.
But that is not the end of the story. Now let me go back to verse
19-20: [Slide 3, click 1]
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, .
To understand these two verses we must go back to the story
of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis chapter 3, after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God said to Adam,
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, "You shall not eat of it," cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.
When human beings turned their backs on God, the whole creation was subjected to futility. The creation was messed up because of human sin.
Look at the case of Margarita. Margarita cries out to God,
"What has my mother done to deserve death?" I don't know the details of her life, but I suspect Margarita's mother had done nothing to deserve death. She is dying because she lives in poverty and has tuberculosis and cannot get adequate medical care. Her suffering is the ripple effect of a fallen world, and now that fallen world is slamming into Margarita.
But that is not the end of the story. Now we continue
through verse 21: [Slide 3 click 2]
. in hope [here is the turning point] 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.
When human beings turned their backs on God, the whole
creation was messed up. So when the relationship of human beings to God is restored, the creation itself will also be set right. The coming of Jesus into our lives affects not only us but the whole creation.
Which brings me to perspective number 2: [Slide 4] The natural reaction of Christians to the world as it is should be
anguish and hope.
There is a new creation coming!
Meanwhile, however, in this life we must live between
anguish and hope. How do we do that? Romans 8:26: [Slide 5] "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."
Which brings me to perspective number 3: [Slide 6]
The natural reaction of Christians to the world as it is should be anguish, hope, and prayer.
A famous theologian named Karl Barth once said, "To clasp the hands in
prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world." I love that quote. To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world. To pray is a statement that evil in this world will not have the final say. Hate, prejudice, poverty, injustice, suffering-these things shall not have the last word. God will have the last word, and that word has already been spoken in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Which brings me to the fourth perspective: [Slide 7]
The natural reaction of Christians to the world as it is should be anguish, hope, prayer, and purpose.
This come through in the last three verses of our scripture
reading. Starting at verse 28 Paul says, [Slide 8]
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born within a large family.
These verses can be easily misunderstood, especially the part about
predestination. The idea here is not that everything in your life has been predetermined. The idea is that God has a destiny for you. God has a purpose for your life, and that purpose is to be witnesses of God's new creation even as we wait for it. That's what it means to be conformed to the image of God's Son in order that he might be the first born within a larger family. It means to be witnesses to God's new creation. When we comfort those who grieve, we bear testimony to the day when God will wipe ever tear from our eyes. When we feed the hungry, we bear testimony to the day when all God's children will sit at God's banquet table. When we house the homeless, we bear witness to the one who goes to prepare a place for us, and when we share with others the good news of God's love for us in Jesus Christ, we bear witness to the day when that love will be shown throughout the whole creation.
Toward the end of Robert Coles' interview with Margarita,
she says to him,
But if I'm really in low spirits and not thinking of Him-thinking of myself, and worrying about what will happen to us, what will happen next to us-it's then that He takes me by surprise, completely. I hear Him and He'll say: "Margarita, you are looking too far ahead. First, try to get to the evening, the sunset; then try to get to the morning, the sunrise." When I hear Him, I feel calmer. Oh, I'm not totally persuaded. Listen, who knows what can happened between the time the sun goes down and the moon comes up-never mind the time between the sun setting and the sun rising! But hearing Him gives me everything to hold on to. I think I go walking to try to find some strength, and just when I give up, He's there (p. 94).
Margarita lives between the coming of Jesus and the coming
of his Kingdom, and so must we. [Slide 9] We must live in this time with anguish, hope, prayer, and purpose, knowing that the very things we yearn for, the very things we pray for, the very things to which we bear witness, are in fact our destiny.