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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

What Are We Waiting For? Part 2

Here is the second part of the sermon, continued from the previous post.

What Are We Waiting For?
Part 2

Romans 8:12-25

Paul wrote in verse 19 that all creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. He goes on to say that creation groans in labor pains for redemption, for the renewal of creation, the new creation that God has already set in motion in the redeeming work of Jesus. All of creation groans. We try to make our way in life by using fossil fuels, but the system of manufacturing and consumption spins out of control until the world’s climate starts to be changed, pollution affects our air and waterways, and finally competition over limited supplies of fuel drives gasoline prices higher and higher. Creation groans in labor pains for redemption.

The two young men long for a world in which people treat one another well; they long for it without hope that it can really happen. The people across the Middle East and Africa long for rulers who will not sacrifice the lives of the people of the land in order to hold on to their power. They long for the powerful nations of the world to stop playing power games over their resources and lives. All creation groans for the children of God to be revealed. The poor people of this country long for their leaders to invest in people’s health and lives rather than more and more weapons. Creation is groaning all around us. The children of the world long for the opportunity to eat, learn, be healthy, and grow up to have families and homes, rather than being forced to work in sweatshops, to wander as refugees, or to be kidnapped to become child soldiers or part of the modern slave trade. All creation groans, longing for redemption.

Two Sundays ago, I had the opportunity to visit a former Duke Divinity student who is a pastor at a small town on the north side of Burlington, Vermont. Driving down through Vermont, along Lake Champlain and across the three large islands in the northern part of the lake, I had the privilege of seeing another piece of the beauty of God’s creation. This week in Kentucky a group of professors I was meeting with hiked up into the mountains to see a natural stone arch formed by the power of waters which once flowed where now there is a deep gorge and a thick forest. We don’t have to look very far beyond our parking lot at Mt. Level to see the great variety and complexity of the vegetation, animals, and landscape that make up the earth on which we are blessed to live.

Maybe if I could just step outside, get out of the rat race, and look at the beautiful countryside, I might be able to convince myself that things are just fine in the world and that nothing remains to be redeemed. But even in the midst of this beauty, I suspect you could tell me why what seems to be beautiful and complete falls short of perfection. Divisions among people because of skin color, social status, and economic opportunities no doubt affect the lives of people in Vermont just as they do in North Carolina. Economic and political decisions made in Washington, D. C., Beijing, Moscow, London, New Delhi, Jerusalem, and Teheran play a role in how many refugees are compelled to seek asylum or a new start. Offshore outsourcing of industry has turned the economy of places like North Carolina, Kentucky, and Vermont upside down, as factories close and jobs go away. Creation groans for our redemption.

Yes, all creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. Who are these children of God? What will we see in their revealing? What are we waiting for? First we should note that they are joint-heirs with Christ. They have been adopted through a new birth into the very family of God. They are God’s children. Previously they were orphans, living without love or hope, with no purpose or meaning, nothing in which to place their faith. But having been adopted, now they are heirs of all that God has given in creation. They are a new race of God’s children, acknowledging with Paul in Athens that God has made all nations of people of one blood. They are joined to Christ as the beloved of God, and they are joined to Christ in the mission of God’s love. They have received the Spirit of God that sets them free.

Why is the gift of the Spirit a gift of freedom? Having been joined to Christ and the Spirit, the children of God can set aside their fears of what the powers of the world might do to them. They can give up their fears of people who are different from them. They are free to live and love with the kind of self-giving commitment Jesus had. They can give up their own privileges for the sake of others as Jesus did. With their lives joined to Christ and the Spirit, nothing can destroy them. They can even risk their livelihood and their lives, knowing that God will be with them in life or in death. The whole of creation awaits the revealing of the children of God, a people who like Jesus are willing to suffer if they must to see God’s demands for justice carried out. They know that the blessings they receive from God are not for hoarding but for sharing. I think I would like to know that kind of person. I’d really like to have that kind of person live in my neighborhood. I’d be eager to meet a group of people who lived that way.

I hate to say it, but when I read about church people, I don’t always see people like this. When I talk to church people, I don’t always hear about the risks they are taking for the poor and marginalized, the beloved of Christ. Too often, so much attention and effort goes into managing the organization that the church forgets about being God’s plan to display the character and nature of God in the world. We may be the only image of Jesus that people ever see, so we don’t want to be out of focus and blurry.

Paul teaches us in Romans and elsewhere that the community of people who live God’s way are the very definition of the glory of God. He says that as we grow in grace, as we grow in our Christian lives, as we grow as God’s people, we will be transformed from one degree of glory to another. In this way, it will be as if we see the glory of God in a mirror. Did you get that? The glory of God is something Paul says we should see in the mirror, not because God is satisfied with us to stay stuck where we were on the day of our baptism, but because God will walk this road of life with us to change us to be more and more in the image of the true humanity revealed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus, our joint-heir, is the measure and standard of our humanity. He is the firstborn of many brothers and sisters who bear a family resemblance. Joined to him in baptism, we commit ourselves to become like him in his humility, his generosity, his faithfulness, his gentleness, his peacefulness, his patience, his kindness, his meekness, his hunger for justice, his purity of heart. People who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God are the very purpose God had for creation, the true image of God in humanity, the revealing of the glory of God. This is why all creation groans, longing for the glory of God to be revealed in the children of God.

So on the day of your baptism, you probably could not see all that God intends for you to be. Even years later, we see our failures and our shortcomings. We have far to go to take hold of that for which God has taken hold of us. So we press on toward the high calling. We run with perseverance the race set before us because of the glory that is being revealed to us and in us. We hope in Christ, for Christ is the hope of glory. With patience, we await that for which we have hoped, a creation which measures up to the goodness, beauty, and justice God has intended from before the foundation of the world.

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