in hope we were saved

What a text for today.
Six thoughts:
First thought: our first verse has Paul claiming,
“the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing
with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
Can we rightly, appropriately say that?
After the Holocaust? After 9-11?
On a Memorial Day weekend on which we remember
just how much some have suffered and do suffer?
Today when we know again the extent and the depth of human suffering,
can we say that?

But—but surely we’re not saying our age has the monopoly on suffering.
Paul experienced it himself—more, honestly, physically anyway,
than most of us ever do.
And the early christians’ experience, so different from our own—
characterized by such terrible suffering.
We can’t just dismiss Paul. He knew of what he wrote.

But we tend to read this as a diminishment (or a dismissal) of our suffering
rather than as a magnification of God.
Bluntly speaking, we’re more interested in what we’re going through
than on the truth of God in, through and beyond whatever it is we’re going through,
and we resent anything (or anyone) that takes the focus away from us (even God!).
Or we’re so in the moment, that we are simply unable to see beyond it.

But what Paul’s saying is if we do look ahead to God
then what, in our experience, even overwhelming experience,
what can compare to that?
And here, it’s the suffering in our experience—the bad, the hard,
but it could equally as well be the good and the wondrous, right?
What in all our experience can compare to the fullness of experiencing God?

We have experienced enough of God, we say—
we have experienced what amounts to intimations of what is to be.
We’ve experienced something real in community, in worship, in Bible study—
Paul doesn’t say that, but I certainly think it’s implied.
Precisely because this is not pie in the sky by and by:
suffer now, pie later.
This is, “I have tasted that pie,
and I can’t wait for more!”

And if our experience of God does not lead us to that conclusion,
then Paul wants to know, “What’s wrong with your experience of God?
Is it mainly in your head? You think about God? God’s kind of interesting?
But it’s not a matter of the heart? You don’t feel it? It’s not gut truth.
Or, conversely, is it all emotional
without the depth your best thinking adds to emotion?

If you have truly tasted and seen that God is good,
then aren’t you hungry for more—
more of that love, more of that assurance, more of the comfort that brings?

Our second thought:
from the affirmation that creation waits with eager longing
for the revealing of the children of God (I love that verse—
as sad as it makes me—
because it always makes me wonder how long will creation have to wait
for us to be who and as we are called to be?)
for the creation was subjected to futility,
not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it ….
which is a roundabout, complicated way of saying say we messed creation up,
and creation still looks to us to get things right!
… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay
and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

There’s something about being the children of God
that has to do with freedom—that has to do with glory—
with the fact that working for clean air and water,
mountains and fields is not just a matter of good stewardship,
but also a profound commitment to hope and to the future.

Third thought:
we know that the whole creation
has been groaning in labor pains until now;
and not only the creation, but we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies—
groaning in hope—in expectation of wonder and joy ….
For in hope we were saved.

All creation waits with eager longing, but groaning in pain—
pain we hope is leading to something—
the revealing of the children of God in the birthing of redemption.
Such hard words today.

But it is a such a wonderfully holistic affirmation
that images all creation redeemed.
All creation, like us, along with us, including us—all creation hopes for salvation.
The Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean hope for salvation,
and the parents of all suffering children.
The Catoctin Mountains hope for salvation,
and the children of all suffering parents.
Flowers tell of a time when they won’t have to
spend a good chunk of the year buried in the ground
to rise and bloom, only to have their petals fall
as they themselves fall back to be buried in the ground again.
Flowers hope for salvation,
and those who mourn wondering if they will ever not feel buried in grief.

Several of you have lost beloved pets recently:
I know of two dogs, a cat, one fish.
And I make light of nothing to ask
if it isn’t that resentment on focus other than on us
that would ever think that the God who created the wonder of all that is
and named and celebrates it all as so very good
would be satisfied with a heaven that includes only us?
How dull!
All creation anticipates salvation.

And in hope, we read, looking forward that is, hoping,
we were saved, looking back, that is.
Isn’t that interesting?!
Hope and salvation precede redemption.
It’s more of a process than we tend to think.
It’s those intimations of God that we experience in our day to day
that save us and generate hope for redemption.
It is those moments when we experience forgiveness
when we are touched by love—
when we are surprised by grace—
that we are saved—
and know for what to hope.

Fourth thought:
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.
It’s not hope if you know it.
But you don’t hope if you don’t know it—
a little bit, right?
It’s having experienced enough of God
to know there’s nothing that compares.
So that even in the dark and lonely times—
amidst the tears of grief,
hope abides—
maybe unnoticed—maybe hard to claim—maybe unnamed.
Do you know that?
You may be the ones who need to claim that now
for those who can’t.
It’s those intimations of God that save and generate hope
for the redeeming of all creation.

Fifth thought:
likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit,
because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The Spirit is imaged as the One who sees the whole picture,
but even the Spirit can’t put that whole picture into words.
“Ronald Coase won the Nobel Prize in Economics
for showing that social costs are symmetrical”
Now that has all kinds of implications we’re not going to get into,
but thinking specifically theologically about it,
it should make us wonder when we pray that the hurricane veer off course
and not make landfall where it will put us at risk,
it should make us wonder—it should make us think about the fact
that if that hurricane actually does veer off course,
it’s simply on another course,
which may no longer threaten us,
but now puts other people at risk.

A lot of our prayers we should leave as sighs for the Spirit to interpret—
because if it’s too big for the Spirit to put in words
when we do, we’ve made the prayer too small.
No doubt true for sermons too!

We tend to see God through our focus on ourselves—
we tend to pray through our focus on ourselves.
Paul reminds us consistently throughout this passage,
there’s a bigger picture.
There’s always a bigger picture.
And though we don’t always see it, we are called to always try to see it.
All creation is being redeemed.

Sixth thought:
there are three ways of translating this verse:
we know that all things work together for good
for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.
First: all things work for good.
And it’s not that that’s necessarily a bad translation,
it’s just horrible theology.
It’s taking a very big picture and making it very small—
not allowing it its bigness.
It also, as Amy Dean put it in a sermon,
requires all kinds of hermeneutic gymnastics
for us to save God’s reputation
(Amy Dean, “All Things Work Together for Good …” Really?!?!?!,
8.7.11, Park Road Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC)—
not to mention how it leads well meaning people
to say the absolute worst possible things in the aftermath of tragedy.

The verse can also be translated as all things work for good
for those who love God.
Not as horrible, theologically, but not great either.
I’m not sure I want to think in terms of some intricate reward system
based on a direct correlation to one’s love of God (Amy Dean)—
not to mention the question with which well meaning people are left
when things don’t work for good:
do I not love God? Or worse, does God not love me?

Finally, in all things God works for good.
Not that all things are good.
There are things horrible; there are things tragic.
But God works even in their midst—weeping, grieving,
but hoping—still hoping—always loving—
wrapping us all in the living body of Christ—
warming the cold places—
looking from the utter reality of what is
to the promise of what will be
in the fullness of time.
Now is that just my preference?
Is that just how I want to read it?
It fits my theology? It fits my concept of God?

God expects of us to demand a theology
that will see us through every moment we live.
God expects of us a theology that respects every single moment
and all the depth of feeling of those moments.
And if a theology does not do that:
hold each moment in one hand and hold the love of God in the other,
trash it.
So those first two translations you need to trash.
They won’t see you through it.

As is often the case in Scripture,
the seventh thought,
the thought that completes our thinking, and completes our worship
is your thought—your work—your feelings—your theology.
Paul’s given you a lot—rich good gift.
but now it’s upon us—
to go into life and to say in the best moments and in the hardest moments,
“My God matters. In this moment, my God matters.
My God has something to say. My God has something to offer.
And in the name of God I give it to you and you know what it is?
It’s love.
In all things, God works for love.”
Thank God.


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