A Groaning Glory
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation--but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In 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 through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God.-Romans 8:12-27 Read the whole chapter here.
At the end of that Scripture that Beth had read, we had two groans. One was a groan of creation. Another was our groans. It ends with the new NRSV switches from 'groan' to 'sighs'. The Greek word has groan but for some reason they went with sigh. Any of you that watch dramas on TV, who is the master sigh-er in a drama? Think a minute. He's on Friday nights. Marty and I got into it in the winter and watched all 11 seasons of the show. Hallmark did three shows of his called "Jesse Stone". It was three movies and I thought oh boy, I'm gonna record these because I like him. After 20 minutes of the first story, I couldn't watch anymore because he was a depressed retired detective. It was one sigh after another. He sits a desk in New York City, PP1 it's called. Tom Selleck.
Tom Selleck in Blue Bloods. If you ever watch one of his Blue Bloods show, count how many times that he sighs in one hour. Whenever he gets perplexed, or whenever they have a situation that they have to deal with, the first thing that he does is give a big deep sigh. That's what life, in essence, does to us, doesn't it? We get these perplexing realities of life. We face things that are overwhelming to us. It leads us to groaning. Groaning about it from mild groans to real deep groans.
When we moved here in 1992 and lived with Marty's folks for a year before we could buy a house, every time Marty's dad, who was retired then, every time he sat in a chair, he groaned. And he groaned when he got up from the chair. And I was going to myself, why groan? Well, it didn't take many years after that to understand why he groans getting in and out of a chair. This text for years and years and years I never understood. What Saint Paul meant by creation groans. He says creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of God who subjected it in hope that the creation will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation Paul says has been groaning in labor pains. Together all of creation grows awaiting for us who have the first fruits of the spirit, groaning inwardly for the redemption of our bodies.
Some years ago it finally dawned on me what Paul was talking about. Marty is a wonderful master flower gardener. Our yard has just tons of beautiful flowers. This year we planted something different. She planted hollyhocks on the side of our garage, various colors of them. These hollyhock bushes are huge. This morning, I pulled out one of Marty's flowers that is in full bloom. Now if full bloom, it's showing its glory. It's showing its greatness. But what's going to happen to this in a few days? It's going to start withering, isn't it? It's going to start discoloring, isn't it? It's going to start fading. And if that flower could talk, you know what it would say is no, no I don't want to lose my glory. I don't want to lose that beauty that I have. I don't want to fade away. You would want to keep the glory that it has until finally is shriveled and brown. It would go from beautiful to brown.
I think what Paul means by creation groaning, in other words, creation knows the greatness that it has. It knows the beauty that it has and things happen to that beauty that makes it fade away. It's an inward groaning. I don't want that to happen. You see it in athletes. That 10-part Michael Jordan series was a fantastic series. You could see him struggle with the aging and diminishing. It happens to us, doesn't it? The diminishment is what we lose out on. Things that we automatically have taken for granted start fading away. So we go from the glory of our lives to a fading reality. So Paul says, we know that the whole creation has been groaning. And not only creation but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our body. In other words, our spirits have been redeemed. Our souls have been set free. We are created for eternity in our relationship with God. In Jesus Christ we have a oneness that is there that is never going to end. We love the joy, the peace, the good, the blessings, and the relationship that intimacy that we have with Christ. Paul says the thing that we struggle with is to get this body redeemed because it's fading away. It's shriveling up. It's diminishing. Sickness comes. Disease comes and ultimately the body dies. Paul says if I could get this body redeemed, my soul is fine but I can't get this body redeemed.
So what happens throughout life is that we face conditions that make us groan, don't we? Sometimes horrible conditions, sometimes massive strokes, sometimes heart attacks, sometimes cancer, unrelenting cancer. So what do we do with that? I'm going to give you two things this morning. There is a core of Christians, I call them hyper-Christians, who say well when you're in that groaning condition when you're in that situation of life, that is not going to change. What you need to do is to pray hard. Get people around you to pray and to pray and to pray. Believe and have faith in God. Whoever says that this mountain be taken up and cast into the sea and does not doubt in his heart but believes it when he says it will happen, it will come to pass. Take that verse and believe it, 100%, and your condition is going to be cured. If you believe hard enough if you get enough people to pray for you hard enough. But what happens? Sometimes the person ends up dying, don't they? That is called triumphalism. You triumph over the disease. You triumph over the condition. Triumphalism, that's what that group of believers is called. Then when it doesn't work out, where's God? What happened to my God? Why didn't he come through with what we prayed for? We believed so hard, why didn't he come through for us? Then we get disenchanted and disappointed. We back off from God and lose some faith. That's the one side.
The other side is called fatalism. Some years ago I had a small church. One of the members of the church had a home on a lake. Every spring they would stock that lake with fish: bass, some walleye, perch, sunfish. The neighbor of this church member was a single retired man. His wife had died and he'd go down and fish. Every time I was there he would always go down on the shore and do some fishing. So I'd go down there from time to time and just chat with him a little bit. Maybe hopefully get a new member. One day he caught this bass that was about 16-18 inches long and the limit on bass was 14 inches. He was a catch and release, so he threw it back in the water. Then he caught a small perch about 6 inches, took it, and threw it in his net to keep for a little bit later. Then he caught this walleye, about 20 inches. And I said oh my gosh, what meals you're going to have out of that! He took it and just put it back into the water and let it go. A few minutes later he caught this sunfish that was about 8-9 inches big and he threw it in his net to keep. Finally, I just couldn't resist and said hey what are you doing throwing all these big fish away and keeping these little ones? He looked at me and said I only have a 10-inch fry pan. I wanted to scream you could cut them in half! Limited thinking right? Fatalism.
So sometimes we get these conditions of cancer and sickness and we say to ourselves oh it's God's will. What happens I'll just let it be. Resignation and we don't do any praying, we don't do any believing. We just simply accept the condition for what it is. Sometimes we get stuck in that limited thinking. Where it doesn't matter. Stuck thinking leads us to where nothing, no miracle, no sign, no proverbial slap in the face, nothing can open us up to manifest another reality for us. We limit God. We limit ourselves. We limit the people around us from what could really take place. We just get into this frame of mind that this is the way it's going to be. Kind of like Eeyore, okay. And Winnie the Pooh, a fatalistic attitude. When God wants us to believe, God wants us to loop. Acceptance yet hopefulness.
Sometimes life is so heavy, so broken. There are days right now with 140,000 dead Americans where I get overwhelmed. But Paul says we got the Spirit who comes into that with us. It doesn't mean it's going to be triumphalism and get us out of it. That's not what Paul's about. What is it that we get the presence of the Spirit to see us through it. What did Paul pray for three times? It says three times he prayed for something to be removed. In 2 Corinthians 12, what did he pray for? To be removed a thorn in the flesh. What did God say to him? Sorry Paul, you're not getting it removed because my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness. You're not going to get out of it, but what you're going to do is learn about intimacy with me. My grace is what you're going to discover, something more than as if you were healed. That's what he gives them. Something more than as if you were healed. The healing is not the main thing. It's the presence of Christ. It's the oneness that we have in the intimacy of that struggle that we learn more about our relationship with God. Another Greek word to consider would be for the opposite. So that when we face those life situations where we feel so fatalistic with them: this is going to do me in. What am I going to do here? I feel so all alone. This is my burden to bear. Paul says God sends the Spirit into that weakness into that helplessness into that brokenness along with us. To be with us in it and not only that but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs that are too deep for words. Unspoken groanings. I can't tell you how many times in my years of ministry and being with people I didn't know what to pray for except the groan.
Sometimes life is so heavy, so broken. There are days right now with 140,000 dead Americans where I get overwhelmed with the laws. But Paul says we got the Spirit who comes into that with us. It doesn't mean it's going to be triumphalism and get us out of it. That's not what Paul's about. What it is is that we get the presence of the Spirit to see us through it. What did Paul pray for three times? It says three times he prayed for something to be removed. In 2 Corinthians 12, what did he pray for? To be removed a thorn in the flesh. What did God say to him? Sorry Paul, you're not getting it removed because my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness. You're not going to get out of it, but what you're going to do is learn about intimacy with me. My grace is what you're going to discover, something more than as if you were healed. That's what he gives them. Something more than as if you were healed. The healing is not the main thing. It's the presence of Christ. It's the oneness that we have in the intimacy of that struggle that we learn more of our relationship with God.
You know this groaning glory, the glory is not something that happens to us after we died. It will, but the glory happens now. It's a now glory. The glory is now, you've died already. You have died already when Jesus says if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. How many times a day do you have to deny yourself? How does it feel to deny yourself? How do you feel inside when you have to give up your rights? I know I'm right and I'm going to keep arguing until I win. Is it worth it? In other words, when Christ comes into our life, that's a death that we die. That's the main death of our lives is that death when Christ comes into our lives. We deny ourselves, take up His cross daily. Take up the dying daily. Whenever they saw a cross at the time of Jesus it meant death. So for him to say that we take up our cross it means that we give up ourselves for the other person. It doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong. What's more important is the relationship of love that's there. Do you realize how hard it is sometimes with family members to not say certain things? Wouldn't you love to just whip it out sometimes, let them have it? Because I know I'm right. But what do we do? We die to ourselves in order to give it Christ. Then the physical death we die is a physical death, nothing more. Your soul, your spirit, that's a oneness that is absolutely eternal, the love, the joy, the peace, the good. This thing within us, that is Spirit. That's what lives forever. The body can go. That's why Paul says he yearns for the redemption of the body. Because I know what I have yesterday, today and forever.