Monday, June 7, 2010

Sermon from May 31, 2010, Romans 8:18-25

Rev. George Miller
Romans 8:18-25
“Creation Groans ”
May 30, 2010

Groaning- creation has been groaning. A moan, a low, rumbling sound.

Pain- there is pain; like a woman in the process of giving birth; pain like a 1,000 outsiders wandering the wilderness for a place to call home, away from the persistent sun and scorching heat.

Pain like a forsaken man nailed to a cross. Pain like what you experienced on the darkest night of your life when you felt the most alone.

No joke can quiet the pain, no sweet treat can lessen the gnawing it creates in the soul, no word spoken can eradicate its sound.

It is a groaning that began back then, continues into the now and moves into the future.

Only hope can save us; the Spirit help us in our weakness; the Messiah call us forward to accept our part in bringing God’s children into glory.

Creation has been groaning because we were all created for something grander, but we have all been lost to sin...

Romans 8 is an eloquent passage in a poetically complex letter. Paul is writing to a group of folk in which he talks about Christ, the Spirit, and hope. For 25 years he has traveled all over creation sharing the Good News.

As one of my professors said, Paul was building a community among different cultures and beliefs, doing so without any romantic ideas, knowing it was hard work.

Because Paul’s ministry was such a struggle he used metaphors of fragility in contrast with God’s glory. For example, in weakness we find strength, and in defeat we find victory.[i]

The use of metaphors appears in today’s reading, such as the condition of the world, noting that there is a lot decay and a lot of pain.

Groaning Paul calls it, groaning as if in childbirth.
The entire creation groans. That means all the wonderful things we heard about last week in Psalm 104: birds and fish, waterways and rocks, even the mighty leviathan: groaning in pain.

Creation groans; is there any way to make it stop?

...Groaning is a lost art form; the ability to embrace pain, no matter how great or small it is; to allow oneself to fully feel and experience it.

I think of other cultures that have the art of the groan. In certain African villages, when someone dies there is a resounding sound of weeping and wailing that takes place as people gather, raising their voices, communally sharing their groans.

Or certain churches in which the words of a song are nothing more then a low, solemn hum, a melodic groaning that bespeaks the community’s shared understanding of pain.

That doesn’t happen so much in middle class USA, that communal acknowledgment of pain and shared sense of groan. In fact we shy away from it, afraid we’ll be seen as less of a person if we make that groaning sound.

Think about it: how often, when we are groaning, do we find others (even ourselves) reacting in certain ways: People don’t want to be around us, or they try to change the subject to something else. Or they say inappropriate words of encouragement like “Things ain’t that bad”, “Cheer up chipmunk,” or “all you need is faith.”

Which only gives the one groaning another thing to do and a compounded sense of shame.

When the truth is, the best thing a person can say is nothing, the best thing they can to do is sit with you in that groan, giving space for what you do or do not want to say, acknowledging that what you feel is real, and that yes, suffering is not fun.

We have lost the art of the groan, and in the process, we have also lost sight that sometimes groaning is not such a bad thing.
Sometimes it is our groans that we are our most pregnant with possibility, it is in our groans that we are on the brink of doing something extraordinarily new.

As Paul states, creation groans, but it is a groaning like one in labor pains. This kind of groan is different then the sounds of mourning, these groans are different from something forever lost, for these groans are about giving birth.

Creation, on its tiptoes, rich with excitement: what is God going to do and just how will God do it?

Patience, prayers and birth pangs come together, ready to let go of the past and to be ushered into something alive and new.

In this construct, the sound of groaning is not to be feared. After all, the groaning of the Hebrew slaves resulted in their freedom, when God parted the waters and led them to “a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands.”[ii]

Christ’s groaning on the cross lead to the resurrection where the weak were shown to be strong, and a new community was created, a community we are all a part of.

If groaning can bring freedom from bondage and turn death into life, what can our own pregnant groans give life to?...

...Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It’s a day to recall and give thanks for those who died in defense of our country. It’s a time to visit cemeteries and memorials, places for the dead.

But I was thinking that for today, we can take a moment to honor our living, our soldiers who may not be fighting oversees, but our soldiers of the church. Those whose hard work and dedication have resulted in groans of new life.

Joyce Gordon who has dedicated herself to the advertising and internet aspect of our ministry, reaching out to people we many never see but are being touched by the efforts of our work.

Linda Taylor who heads our Caring Ministry, making sure the groans of our sick and lonely do not go ignored. Rev. Dan Smith who takes care of Christian Education, ensuring we do not forget our story. Susan Tucker who oversaw our Evangelism, Outreach and Growth group now guided by Joan Beck.

Sue Shellhammer who through the Hospitality group shows kindness to people in a hurting world. Connie Carter and Gloria Lockwood who offer music to soothe our souls and assist the Spirit in giving new birth through song.

Kirk Zimmerman who oversees the care of this Holy House so the groaning have a safe place to call home. Marge Wolf who through Word and Sacrament makes sure the Lord’s Supper is available for the hungry souls who come here.
Herb Guether who led the search committee through a long process that had its share of groans that gave way to pastoral birth. Larry Andrews who through the Service committee calls us to embrace the spirit of Agape, unselfish love, in which we’ll take an offering for today.

Mel and Maureen Wygant who deal with issues of stewardship and finances of which no church can live without.

The pastors who were here before, making my ministry possible: Rev. Loffer, Rev.Carrell, Rev. Laucks and Rev. Langdoc who served as a bridge between us.

There are many other names: Carol and Jim, Millie, May and Dean, Shirley, Gene (Jean) and Hilda, our Willing Workers and those who feed them. I apologize for those I did not mention and assure you that your work is not ignored.

I can not finish without stating how our secretary Marge and our moderator Glenn not only work to help the church run efficiently, but they also pastor the pastor, helping to ease my pregnant groans, and for that I am gracefully grateful.

All these people and the many more I have not mentioned are all positively groaning, pregnant with possibilities, working to bring forth new life, giving birth to worship and ministry.

And why do they do this?
Because it is the work that Christ has called us to do; it is their response to the hope we have as recipients of the Spirit.

It is the work necessary, as children of God, to help aide a groaning world.

And the world is groaning. The waters, land and creatures groan from the impact of oil leaked into the Gulf, as do the humans who depend on the waters for their livelihood.

The unemployed are groaning. At 12% unemployment, residents of our state are left wondering just how they are going to pay their bills, keep their homes and care for their family.

The wounded lost are groaning. Those who are outsiders, told they don’t belong because they are different, they have a different theology, a different view of politics, or a different understanding of who they can love.

And we, as Emmanuel United Church of Christ, where God is still speaking (and listening) is a place that has heard their groans and is continuing to find ways to respond to them.

There are groans so great that the most we can do is be present and hold a hand. There are groans that will call us to leap to action. There are groans that will give way to new birth in the form of programs and ministries.

Thus, we too do not need to be afraid of the groan, but to hear it, acknowledge it, and ask God just what it is we can do.

As the unified body of Christ we can act out in hope, as the unified body of Christ we can offer a soothing balm that will ease Creation’s pain.

As a unified body of Christ we can provide a spot of shade for those who are feeling scorched by the sun, feeling alone and thinking themselves lost.

For in hope we are saved, and in hope we all actively wait in patience.

Thanks be to God who gave us the gifts of creation, for the Spirit that says what our words can not relay, and for Jesus whose glory means freedom for all from bondage and decay.

Amen and amen.

[i]. Rev. Dr. Deborah Krause, “A Sermon to Celebrate the Life and Ministry of Reverend Dr. Diane E. Windler,” preached at Eden Theological Seminary, May 21, 2010.
[ii].Ezekiel 20:6

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