Romans 8: 9-27
©2021 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones
I begin with a confession
to you all, though some know it already,
I don’t like Paul much.
I read a book recently that puts Paul right where I would:
“out back in a pen with the louder and more sexist OT prophets….
an embarrassment… with his bad temper, his self-righteousness and anxiety..”
and tendency to use 30 words where 3 would do.
However, there’s a verse in today’s reading
that’s been written on my heart and memory for decades:
“I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory
that is about to be unveiled among us.
And all of creation too waits breathless with anticipation
for the children of God to come into their own.” (Romans 8:18-19)
By times this passage has given comfort;
that there is better to come, over the horizon from this present trouble.
At other times it’s been more like a kick in the pants.
“When are you going to get your human act together
for the sake of creation?”
As we sit here, and there and everywhere this morning
fifteen months into this pandemic;
as some of us have experienced fear, uncertainty
and stress, sickness, and complicated griefs,
we can relate perhaps more than ever before
to Paul’s “present sufferings”.
And also, as we finally begin to reckon with the horrific
legacies of white privilege, across the globe,
of colonial overreach especially here in Canada;
as we have finally begun as species to take notice of
creation’s groaning, caused in large part by our patently
having NOT “come into our own” as human caretakers of creation,”
like him or not,
Paul has something important to say to us today.
But if we just took the highlighted text, leaving aside all that wordy
stuff about flesh, spirit,
hope and patience,
slavery and adoption,
we’d think Paul is merely telling us
to get busy, to pull our socks up,
and by our own efforts,
to heal creation,
to deal with racism,
to eradicate poverty,
to end homophobia,
to disinvest from rapacious corporations,
to make reparations with those from whom our forbears robbed land, livelihood and dignity.
We’d have a “TO DO List” longer than we could accomplish in our life time.
We’d soon be exhausted, depleted, and discouraged,
at the enormity of the task,
at the strength of opposing forces,
and the feebleness of our efforts…
…and in so doing we’d miss Paul’s crucial point
that he’s making to “Church”
whether it be in 1st century Rome,
or in 21st century Greater Montreal;
that all this is not for us to do, all by ourselves.
Before we “get to do”
we’ve got to figure out who we are!
Which is where the Spirit comes in.
Ruach, God’s Creative Breath
burst on the scene last week with Pentecostal pomp,
fire and wind, speaking in tongues and a lot of general palaver,
but hers is not a one-and-done appearance.
Spirit is here for the long haul,
which makes Paul, and us ask,
“Now what“ for Paul means that
the Spirit of God in Christ
is the life force of everything
that Church, that the Children of God get to do.
Trouble is we often forget, don’t we?
And that’s why Paul does this wordy bit,
that Raphael read in his mother tongue,
about us not having received a spirit of slavery,
that leaves us in fear,
but we have received God’s Spirit
who confirms our eternal identity
as God’s adopted, forever, children.
We almost miss pivotal point, perhaps because,
never ever having been a slave,
the power of this contrast is lost on most of us.
Thanks to Charles Johnston of blessed memory,
and Rod LeRoy, Cedar Parkers
have become shockingly aware
of the plight of Talibé boys in Senegal,
who are victims of a contemporary form of slavery,
which robs them of their childhood, their health,
their confidence and ability to trust,
because their lives are lived in constant fear.
We all know that children, anyone,
who lives in trauma, or constant fear
cannot learn, cannot grow,
cannot feel safe enough to take the risks
of becoming that enable humans to
come into their own,
to grow into their true identity as humans
with a right to expect God’s goodness
to be birthed in and through them.
A spirit of fear pervades our churches,
it has been doing so for pretty much the whole
of my 30 plus years in ministry,
fear of institutional decline,
fear of running out of relevance,
fear of past sins of which we reap the whirlwind.
And this spirit of fear makes overachievers of us all,
as we come up with all sorts of TO DO lists,
strategies and plans “to save the church”
(which was never our call in the first place!)
Job # 1, according to Paul,
is to notice, to claim, and to adopt
as the foundation for all that we do,
our identity as Spirit-filled
forever children of God.
Only in that confidence can we
loosen the strictures of the spirit of fear that binds.
Only in the safety of that Spirit-filled identity,
can we become free enough to take risks
and to grow into the fullness of what it
means to be God’s people.
Which is what now?
We’d expect Paul to do what he’s done in most of his previous
letters, which is to list of a bunch of “to dos”
to make us better Church people;
like, be nice to one another,
stop the infighting, and quibbling over food
offered to idols, and so on.
But not this time.
This time, Paul’s final time,
Paul says that we are given this Spirit of adoption
as God’s forever children,
not to save ourselves, nor our institutions,
but to ….save the world!
And in case you doubt it, Paul says,
all that suffering, personal, institutional,
all creation’s groaning,
they are not death throes,
but labour pains.
God’s got some glory*
some doxa, some recreative,
redemptive splendid goodness.
to birth into her weary-worn creation,
and God needs us to come into the fullness
of who we are,
as God’s daughters and sons,
as Christ’s Spirit-filled siblings,
to risk it all to save earth this side of heaven!
What now? People of God?
That’s what we’re called to do?!
To save the world,
with the power of God’s Spirit
at work in us, doing
far more than we can ask or imagine.
Doxa! So Be It.