Paul has bold words for us in this passage from Romans today, where he writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us,” and furthermore that “…the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-19)
Paul himself was no stranger to suffering. Remember that in his calling – away from being a chief persecutor of Christians to becoming one of the most important apostles – Paul is struck blind by God, hears Jesus asking him why Paul persecutes him, and is sent to beseech Jesus’ disciple Ananias of Damascus to heal him. And he is healed and becomes chief among Jesus’ apostles, but along his journey Paul will be imprisoned. In fact, four of Paul’s letters - Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon – are all written from prison.
So, Paul, who is no stranger to suffering, nevertheless makes this bold statement that he considers the sufferings of this present time not worth thinking about because of the glory of God that is intended to be revealed to us. Ah, so then, Paul is not saying that suffering is not suffering, he is saying that when we focus on God’s intended glory to be revealed – and elsewhere Paul makes it clear that he is talking about God’s glory as revealed through the love and mercy and grace of Christ dying on the cross and rising from the grave so as to pull us along with our Savior – out of sin and suffering and into that glory that belongs to God in Christ alone.
This is a bold statement from Paul and a bold reminder to us all about that upon which we need to stay focused – God’s work in and through Christ in our lives and in this world. And then – then – Paul goes on to also boldly say that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” Creation – that is the world – waits with eager longing for us to be revealed in our identity as God’s children. Specifically, given Paul’s clear message in Romans about God’s freely given gift of justifying work through Christ; specifically the world is waiting with “eager longing” for us as God’s children to be revealed amidst God’s redemptive story in our lives.
What do we mean by “revealed amidst God’s redemptive story in our lives?” We mean allowing the world to see God’s glory shining through us as people who experience suffering but embody hope.
Allowing the world to see God’s glory shining through us as people who experience suffering but embody hope.
Experiencing suffering but embodying hope, like the Nigerian immigrant family I’ve been reading about in Zain Asher’s book, “Where the Children Take Us.” Zain’s parents first experiencing extraordinary pain and suffering amidst the Civil War that followed colonial England pulling out of Nigeria, then immigrated to London and began building a new life for themselves and their children. And then, when Zane’s mother was pregnant with their first child, her father was killed in a tragic traffic accident while visiting Nigeria with one of her brothers.
Was her mother torn apart, left alone with three children and one more on the way? Left alone to run the pharmacy she and her almost-done-with-medical-school husband had been building form the ground up? Yes. Were Zane and her siblings torn apart in various ways? Yes. Yet over time and with the support of community and upheld by their faith, their mother and family came to embody hope amidst suffering.
We can labor all the day long to try to be good people, but it takes God’s grace active amidst our suffering for us to be able to discover how we might embody hope for the world – and oh, how this world needs hope right now.
There are far too many weeds that have grown up amongst the good grain in the fields of this world, just like Jesus’ parable form the gospel lesson today. Far too many people lost in the brokenness and sin of greed and the plague of individualism and “taking care of me and mine.”
Zane Asher, the author of this book I mentioned, talks about how the success of any one Nigerian child is considered the success of the whole village. In this idea is the understanding that we do not live and die unto ourselves. Our decisions, our actions for good or ill have repercussions for everyone around us, whether we perceive this or not.
When the apostle Paul writes, as he did in last week’s lesson and this week’s lesson, about the difference between living by the “flesh” or living by the “Spirit,” Paul is not talking only about decisions we make for our bodies.
The “flesh” for Paul describes everything into which brokenness and sin has managed to grab a hold, while living by the Spirit speaks of all the ways in our lives – our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls – all the ways and places in which God’s resurrection work is allowed to lead.
Zane’s mother was crushed when her husband was killed, and she and her children went through months and years of tumult and turmoil that included depression and school expulsions and oh so much struggle. Yet through and amidst those struggles we as Christians would say – especially looking at their story in retrospect - that time and again they were led by the Spirit. When Zane’s mother called in her mother for help and support. When Zane’s mother tried applying to yet one more school to get her son who had been expelled back on track to succeeding in life. Or when she started a dinner book club with her kids to give them focus and distraction amidst their grief. Or when, as she saw her struggling with racism in school, she sent her daughter Zane back to Nigeria to get the training from “the village” she felt she needed in order to be able to face any obstacle that might come her way in life.
This was not life without struggles. This was not life without brokenness and sin. This was the revealing of Christ’s resurrection work amidst this family’s life, the revealing of the children of God who would come to shine for the world as a pharmacist, an Oscar-nominated actor, a medical doctor, an Oxford-educated CNN anchor, and a successful entrepreneur.
There are so many – too many weeds that have been sowed by the evil one amidst God’s beautiful fields on this earth. Yet we are not called to take God’s place as the righteous judge – who will in the fullness of time separate out all that is worthy and good from all that does not serve the good – including in us. We are called, like the apostle Paul, like Zane and her family, to build lives and communities – like Redeemer, New Paltz – where we look with expectant hope for the glory of God to be revealed. Where we come together to encourage and remind each other that this hope will not fail us. That the suffering of this world and our lives is not the full story. That this world needs us as well, to discover how God in Christ is seeking to shone forth amidst our brokenness and reveal God’s faithfulness; so that others will come to know of God’s abiding love and faithfulness through us. Through our stories.
I know that God is being revealed through your stories. That is one of the great privileges of being a pastor – being welcomed into so many people’s stories and having the opportunity with God’s help to see time and time again how hope is being revealed amidst suffering. But it need not be only a pastoral privilege to see and come to know such stories. Each of us in this community, and among the communities where we move and live in our lives have the opportunity to listen for God amidst other people’s stories. To help others come to see God active in love in their stories. To be discovering how God is active in love through out stories.
For “I consider that the sufferings of this present time…not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” and “…the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”