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Until the Children of God…

Easter 4 Common Lectionary Year B (Earth Day)

Romans 8:14-23

©2018 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

“All creation is waiting with eager longing
until the children of God are revealed,”
or as an old English translation from the 15th century puts it,
“to come into their own.”

To grow up, to reach our full potential,
to be fully who God created us to be,
to fulfil our telos our destiny, as God’s beloved, children,
inheritors of an eternal divine DNA.

For centuries this image of Paul
has inspired various commentators
to speak in terms of creation waiting for humanity
to acquire some spiritual wisdom.
It was more often than not interpreted
as a somewhat ethereal vision,
barely grounded (literally) in earthly reality at all.

But something has changed in these latter days,
these most recent decades,
where the imprint of human activity
upon the face, and even the arteries of the earth,
has become apparently oppressive,
destructive,
even disastrous.
Perhaps the earth is no longer longing,
but is now dreading
the moment when the human children of earth,
in claiming their birthright,
succeed in stripping, mining, consuming,
polluting, all that earth has offered.

That may well be,
but Paul wasn’t talking to us as children of earth,
but to us
as the children of God on earth.

Paul had no clue about the ecological crisis
that grips our generation.
He had no experience of vanishing icefields,
wayward weather patterns,
global water crises, gripping South Africa,
and indigenous communities the world over,
or the forced migration of millions because of political or ecological disaster.
But he knew enough about
the crises of justice,
the grip of existential fear,
the terror of persecution
based on skin, language, religion,
the inequities that cause some to starve
and others to wallow in wealth,….
He knew enough
to know that the earth as he knew it
was in trouble.

So, why then,
if we really tune in to the tone of Paul’s letter,
does he sound confident, and hopeful?
Why does he mix ‘groaning’ with
this unmistakable note of expectation?

I think there are two reasons.
For the first,
there is a clue right there,
in Paul’s language.
He is not using the language of despair,
the groaning of illness, decay or death,
but the language of birth’s labour.

The groaning of earth is the yearning,
the straining, the working through
of labour pains,
the focussed intent pacing, pausing,
breathing, straining,
hard work of bringing forth
New Life, new hope, new possibility.

Now, Paul, like most 1st century males,
didn’t know much about labour
first or even second hand.
That’s women’s work.
So why this imagery?
This is where a RP post suddenly deepens,
because Paul was once a Pharisee,
a reader of Scripture.
He knew the brooding breath of the Spirit
over the amniotic fluid of creation;
he knew the breaking of the waters of Egypt
to birth a new people through Exodus;
He knew Hosea’s children of redemption and promise;
He knew Micah and Jeremiah’s poetic
utterances of God’s labour pains to birth a renewed people
from the death of exile;
He could list off all the Bible’s impossible births
of Moses, Esau and Jacob,
of John the Baptist, and even of Jesus,
each one a herald of life’s victory over death.
He knew that the vocabulary
of God’s creation and redemption,
is swaddled in the language of labour, of birthing.
God’s creation is not merely by a word,
but the groaning intensity of a woman in labour.

So Paul, caught up in trial, arrest, imprisonment,
seeing the choking threats of empire
against the tiny spring crocus of
the Gospel of the Risen Jesus,
pulls out from the heritage of millennia
the vocabulary of God’s
straining, birthing recreation, once again.
As sure as labour brings birth of new life,
he declares,
so, surely will this groaning time,
birth God’s New life again.
For Paul, there is no if,
just a resounding certainty that the Creating,
Birthing God has “got this.”

But there’s a second reason for his confidence,
and his irrepressible joy;
and he can’t wait to share it with that community in Rome,
and with us.
It is that we are the children of this labouring, mothering God!
What God has done in Jesus, God is doing in us.
And creation is straining,
waiting like the grandfather outside the delivery room door,
to see the children of God
for who we are, for what we are born to become!

For if we are children of God on earth,
If we are made in God’s image, as Genesis 1:28 says,
then we are created, birthed, called
to tend, to steward, to cradle the newborn,
and the careworn earth.

To be a child of God fully “come into our own,”
is to be willing
to pace, to strive, to endure the contractions,
and the pain, to groan,
in order to birth the newness and renewal
of creation that God longs for.

Oh there is so much to be done!
But Paul will leave that to us to figure out
as we live into the confidence of our identity
as God’s children of earth.

Can we grasp this confidence Paul has,
as we face into the agonies of a world that groans?
Can we claim our birthright?
Can we live out of this divine DNA
to labour for a world of life and hope?
of love and care?
of justice and peace?

If you take nothing else from Paul’s letter today,
take his confidence,
his never-doubting assurance that
everything, tiny or huge, that we do
to care for earth, as God’s children,
is of ultimate value and worth,
because it was precisely for this that we are born!
To touch the earth lightly, to use it gently,
to nourish the life of earth in our care.

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