Hi Friends! I was planning on preaching out of Matthew this morning, but changed my mind at the last minute and moved into Romans. It felt like the sermon that needed to be preached this morning.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
July 19, 2020
A Hope That Is Real
I mentioned last week that the Gospel passage we looked at – the Parable of the Sower – kicked off a series of growing-related parables that Jesus used to explain the Kingdom of God. I had every intention of following that series and looking at the Parable of the Weeds this week. I completed the bulletin with that scripture in it and uploaded it to our website and Facebook. I attached it to the Epistle and Kathy printed and mailed it out to those who receive hard copies. I had a sermon mostly-outlined talking about the things in our lives that, at first glance, we do not think are weeds, but that still overwhelm us.
I was going to tell you all about the rogue tomato plants that are growing in my garden and choking out my onions. I was going to compare this to the fact that this time of social distancing is teaching me the importance of setting priorities and having the ability to focus more time and energy on less things, as opposed to trying to do everything and doing it poorly. While I love tomatoes, the number of them in my garden is the problem right now. They are not only choking out other vegetables, but also one another. They are not weeds, per say, but the sheer volume of them is inhibiting the plants’ ability to thrive. What I really should have done when they started growing a few weeks ago was pull some of them out so everything had room to grow.
To some extent I do think this experience of canceling things and staying home has allowed me to carefully choose what I want to put back into my life. I am able to see and hear God in a way that I have not in a very long time because I am not just running from one thing to another. I have had more time with my husband and my children than I ever would have if life had been “normal”. Gathering for nightly prayers has made me feel more connected to our church family than I have in my entire nine years in Rehoboth. It is incredible to think that while we have been “closed” (according to the Government), we have prayed for and with one another and said the Lord’s Prayer together for 125 consecutive days (and counting!).
That would have been a great sermon – and maybe one day I will still preach it.
If not, I hope the synopsis was good enough. Because here is what happened after I finished the bulletin and started to write the sermon – I opened my Feasting on the Word commentary that looks at all of the lectionary passages for the week. And as I was flipping to the Gospel passage, the Epistle passage caught my eye – Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, chapter 8, verses 12 through 25.
There was writing all over the commentary, which meant that, at some point over the past nine years, I preached on this particular passage. What caused me to stop and really look at it, however, was what I had underlined.
I underlined verse 18:
I consider that that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
The sufferings of this present time.
In my life pre-covid, more often than not when I thought about references to suffering in the bible, I always felt a little inadequate to speak to it fully because, for better or worse, we lived a fairly privileged lifestyle. And in many ways, we still do – but we are collectively experiencing a level of suffering we never have before. And so I almost feel as though these words – and this idea of suffering – are taking on a new and more powerful meaning to me now than they have in the past.
The truth is, we live in a world with a lot of suffering right now. We can try to stay positive and look on the bright side – but we cannot ignore the truth. We live in a world where we cannot guarantee people’s safety; where we make decisions by assessing levels of risk and our individual and collective willingness to take that risk. The conversation surrounding the re-opening of schools has made it ever so clear that, right now, some problems do not actually have solutions. I said in my note in the Epistle this week that my heart aches for everyone wrestling with how to manage whatever the fall will bring – teachers, students, parents, administrators and other staff.
This appears to be yet another complicated stage of grief in the time of covid.
A situation with no easy – or even, it seems, feasible – answers.
It seems hopeless.
And yet there is hope in scripture. Paul writes to the church in Rome that there will be a glory revealed to us despite the sufferings of the present times.
There will be a glory revealed to us despite the sufferings of the present times.
The people Paul is writing to in Rome are experiencing their own kind of suffering. It is a different kind of suffering, but nonetheless their reality is grim. The live in a world where Jesus was crucified and resurrected and where they anticipate his immediate return and fast-approaching end-time. They live in a world where religious traditions are being questioned and changed. Tensions are running high between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, trying to understand what this new religious normal looks like. Their world is uncertain; they feel vulnerable and scared. They do not know what is going to happen next.
It is a different kind of suffering. But I think these days I relate to Paul’s words more than I ever have before.
Paul does two things in this portion of his letter to the Romans that I think are really important. The first thing he does is acknowledge the suffering.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
The sufferings of this present time.
Paul does not gloss over the harsh realities they are living in or pretends that they are not real. He acknowledges people and their suffering; he hears them and meets them where they are.
I was listening to the radio this week and they were talking about something called “toxic positivity” – where you focus too much on staying positive and do not acknowledge or bury the hard stuff that you really should be processing.
In other words, it is okay to admit when things are hard; when suffering is real. It is the only way we can process it and move past it.
And so Paul does this. He hears the cries of the Roman citizens and acknowledges the suffering they face.
But then he does something else – he offers words of hope.
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
For in hope we were saved.
Paul does not necessarily have a solution to the suffering the Roman citizens are facing. But he says there is hope. He says hope is real. He says hope will be revealed. And he says that, together, they will wait for it.
I do not have a solution for the reopening of schools. I said in my newsletter article that I do not even have a better idea.
But I do have hope. I have hope that the sufferings of our present time will not be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us. I believe that God is still working in the midst of this chaos we are living in – in fact, I believe God does God’s best work in the midst of chaos.
And so, while I acknowledge our collective sufferings, I am holding onto hope. Hope that I cannot see, but that I fiercely believe in. Hope that God is still with us. Hope that God will make order out of chaos. Hope that this suffering will not define us. Hope that our political leaders and our school districts will find a safe and effective way for our children to learn in the fall. Hope that, while we are groaning inwardly now, one day we will be redeemed.
Can I see this? No. Do I know what this is going to look like? No. Do I know when it is going to happen? No. But Paul says we hope for what we do not see.
And so this morning I invite you to hold onto hope. Hold onto a hope that is real. Hold onto a bold and radical and earth-shattering hope. Hold onto the kind of hope that will release us from our suffering and reveal the glory of God. Hold onto a hope that is always with us and that cannot be conquered by anything else.
And so together, let us wait for it with patience.
Thanks be to God!