Pentecost 7, July 19, 2020
A few years back, I heard a comedian say that “You know you are getting old when you cannot get in, or out of, a chair without groaning.” You know what I mean? It is a proven fact that since I turned fifty, I “ugh” a lot more. A lot more. Many of us, as we get older, notice how we creak, crack, grunt, groan, and ache more.
Paul, in the text today, tells us all creation is groaning. You can’t miss it. You see it all the time. All creation is groaning, waiting to be restored and made new. And what do I mean by this “groaning”? Earthquakes shake. We know all about that in Oklahoma…we had a lot of them here until the oil folks stopped doing…something. Hurricane winds blow. Tsunami waves crash. Volcanoes explode. Fires, droughts, tornadoes and floods add to its groans. And remember, we now have something called flash droughts. Creation is groaning. It has been since sin ruined creation. I will get back to that.
Our country, our culture, all of humanity really, they are also groaning, too. The groans of humanity join the groaning sounds we hear from creation. Wars, murder, poverty, division, and now a pandemic are seen all over. The fabric of our society is torn, and the foundation of the family structure is breaking apart. Humanity is groaning. Creation is groaning. There is a LOT of groaning.
In our text today, Paul assesses the situation, having heard the same groans we hear. He calculates the health of the world and God’s people. He compares our suffering to the future that God has waiting for us. And you know what? Paul figured out that the future glory we will have with Him far outweighs the groaning and suffering we deal with now. He even determines that the groaning we go through now may have a purpose.
In case you have not read much of Paul’s life and experiences, he had to deal with quite a bit. He knew what it was to groan. When Paul wrote our text for the day, he was no Christian in name only. In 2 Cor 11, he told us some of the things he dealt with, that he had been in prison, flogged, beaten, shipwrecked and stoned (No, not that kind), he had gone sleepless, clotheless, and hungry. We also know how Paul paid the ultimate price, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Tradition tells us that Paul was beheaded in Rome, around the year 67 A.D.
Now why do you suppose that Paul would endure such suffering? Why did he put up with all that? Why didn’t he just quit? Well, he knew the glory that awaited him. After his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was granted a special vision of heaven. Paul discusses this vision in 2 Cor 12. He caught a glimpse of paradise, the paradise that awaits God’s children. But the point is, Paul went through some terrible times. Yet, he did not give up on God, because he knew God would never give up on him. And he knew that while there is suffering here, those trials are not permanent. He knew that his permanent home was going to be in heaven. (We talked about this last week, right?)
We know suffering, too, don’t we? We all have had to deal with times of pain, sadness, anxiety or distress. Especially here in 2020, right? Paul knew how everyone suffers at some point. He wrote, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves…. groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons…” I don’t know if you all realize this but when Adam and Eve first sinned, they did not just destroy perfection for people with God, and introduce sickness, worry and death to people, but their sin also infected, corrupted, all creation. Before the first sin, there were no earthquakes, no thunderstorms, no tornadoes, no hurricanes, no grassfires, no mudslides, no hail, no killer bees and murder hornets, and no pandemics.
After sin, the ground was cursed; God told Adam “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (Gen 3:18). Creation is groaning now, waiting to be restored. But Paul includes in these verses of chapter 8 the first hint that amidst the groans, some happier sounds might be on the horizon. He brings hope into the picture. He uses the word hope six times in the text. God’s last word to us is not judgment, but hope. Creation’s groaning has a purpose. Our groaning is a response to suffering. Hope is on the way.
Allow me to illustrate: 30 years ago, Biosphere 2 was a scientific experiment to create a man-made environment on earth that might be re-created to sustain life on Mars. The scientists created a rain forest, as well as ocean, tropic, and desert environments. Eventually, they observed that the trees growing in the biosphere began to fall down. The problem? In this manufactured environment, there was no wind, and without the stress of wind, the trees did not grow strong roots, or they didn’t go deep enough.
Our suffering and groaning in this life can strengthen our faith and draw us closer to depend on God in our weakness, as we wait for the future glory that He has promised us. As Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. . . . But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:18, 25).
Paul knew that his trials, his thorn in the flesh and all he had to deal with were not permanent. We know our struggles are not permanent either. We know a day will come, not a day that we will die, but a day that we will go from this life to the life that awaits us in heaven. Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection have won for all His children eternal life, salvation, and all the blessings that go with it. The glory Paul writes about will come; even though we do not see it yet, we are confident of it. In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory.” We will see Jesus in His glory. We will.
For a description of heaven, a hint at what is to come, here is one in Revelation, “Never again will they hunger (The saints, the believers); never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And as Paul said in the text, “For in this hope we were saved.”
This hope we have, this knowledge we have, is more than worth our present troubles. We all know, or will know, those hours, those days, those months or even those years where we find ourselves in the struggle to deal with pain and sadness. But we should never, NEVER, give up. For we are the redeemed children of God. We are forgiven by Jesus Christ’s sacrificial work when He died and rose for us. Our debts are paid. Paradise awaits us. And we are never alone. Jesus is always with us. We can endure anything, my brothers and sisters, we can endure anything, even 2020, when we know what lies ahead, for Jesus is our Savior.
I like history. In reviewing history, we find some amazing statements. Charles Duvelle, director of the U.S. Patent Office said, in 1899, “Everything that can be invented, has been invented.” In the days of silent movies, H.M. Warner, chairman of Warner Brothers said, “Who wants to hear actors talk?” Gary Cooper said, “Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in history. I’m just glad it will be Clark Gable falling flat on his face and not me.”
Jesus made many amazing statements too, but these are TRUE. Like this one, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Everything Jesus says is true. You have the hope Paul talks about. May His gifts to us enable us to cope with our struggles, knowing our groaning will end, knowing our place with Jesus awaits us, knowing we have hope, and knowing He is with us ALWAYS.
In Jesus’ Name.