We know, the Apostle Paul writes, 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. And we are not alone in our groaning, for the Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
Santa Fe, Texas, a rural town somewhere between Galveston and Houston, another school shooting, ten confirmed dead, ten wounded — but who keeps track of how these violent events wound all students and teachers? And who keeps track of how the relentless return of this perverse ritual of death wounds all of us?
The groans you feel rising from deep inside of you before anyone can hear them, the groans you feel slowly erupting from the depth of your soul when you are reminded yet again how hateful we can be, how violent, how cowardly, how greedy and self-absorbed — the groans you hear then are God’s as much as they are yours. They come from the place where God who abides with you in the profound solidarity of love inspires and empowers life that longs for wholeness. The groans come from the place where God is calling you to resist the temptation to despair.
Did you hear Bishop Michael Curry at the royal wedding? Did you hear what the Bishop said? “Imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love … sacrificial love is the way.” It begins with our imagination; it begins with an imagination steeped in God’s love and the wide horizon of hope faith opens for us.
An old professor asked a room full of divinity students, “How many of you want to go to heaven when you die?” Everybody raised their hand, some with a little more hesitation than others, uncertain of what to make of such an immense word, heaven, but all raised their hand. Then the professor asked, “How many of you would like to go tomorrow if you could?” And all the hands went down. Then he teacher rephrased the question:
“How many of you would like to wake up tomorrow in a world where no one was afraid to play on the street at night? How many of you would like to wake up in the morning to the news that there was a party on the streets of Jerusalem, with musicians and food trucks from Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iran, Israel, and all over the Arab Peninsula, people dancing in the streets, celebrating the end of war. How many of you would like to wake up tomorrow in a world where no child is abused, no spouse betrayed, no neighbor robbed, and no worker cheated? A world where no one ever pointed a gun at another human being, no one starved, nobody ever put you down because you’re different? How many of you would like to wake up tomorrow in a world where love is the way?” And all hands went up again.
“Then you want to go to heaven tomorrow, because that is what biblical hope is about,” the old professor said. “God created this world and the good Lord is not that interested in getting us off of it. What God is interested in is getting us to embrace the way of love.” God created this world not merely as a testing ground to find souls worthy of living the life eternal way beyond the blue. God’s desire is for life on earth to flourish and for God to be at home among mortals.
“Because God is a God of life and blessing, God will do redemptive work, should those gifts be endangered,” writes Terence Fretheim. “The objective of God’s work in redemption is to free people to be what they were created to be. It is a deliverance, not from the world, but to true life in the world.” When we talk about heaven we often get dangerously close to abandoning the earth, the very earth God has made and has given us. In Romans 8, Paul writes that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, 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.” It’s not just human beings who long to be who we really are, who we are meant to be as creatures made in the image of God; the whole creation is waiting, because its freedom is tied to ours.
We have a particular calling in God’s creation. Human beings are created in the image of God to subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing on the land, in the sea, and in the air. And dominion in God’s creation is all about naming the wonders, and knowing them, and caring for them with the same attention, wisdom, and passion for life as God does. But our dominion becomes oppressive and abusive, because sin distorts our relationship to God and to each other, to ourselves and to all of creation. We consistently get freedom and power wrong, choosing self-assertion over love. In our hunger to own the world, we lose our place in it and live like exiles far from home.
And our exile impacts not just us. Listen to this lament by the prophet Hosea,
There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.
The land mourns, and all who live in it languish, because human beings consistently get freedom and power wrong.
“How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither?” laments Jeremiah.
And Isaiah cries, “The heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth.”
We know, says Paul, we know that the whole creation has been groaning until now. But God is a God of life and blessing, and God will do redemptive work, should those gifts be endangered. Israel knows this because God made a way for them out of bondage in Egypt. The Israelites groaned under the yoke of slavery, and cried out, and God heard their groaning. And because God is true to God’s promises, God will be faithful to God’s creation. No groan will go unheard.
Our freedom from bondage to sin and death and creation’s freedom from bondage to decay go hand in hand. The resurrection of Jesus the Messiah has opened the horizon of our hope to include the redemption of all that God has made. Our hope is not for a seat in heaven, but for the redemption of heaven and earth, for the communion of Creator and creation. In hope we were saved, and we wait with patience for our hope to be fulfilled. In faith our hearts and minds were opened to recognize the way of Christ, the way of love … sacrficial love, as the way of life that opens to true life. And we are not alone in imagining or seeking to follow that way. God abides with us in the profound solidarity of love, suffering with us, groaning with us, enduring with us, and again and again inspiring in us a longing for wholeness.
Paul calls the gift of the Spirit to the church “the first fruits,” which sounds like the beginning of the harvest season. It sounds like the joy of seeing and tasting the first strawberries after long months of waiting. Paul speaks of the great harvest of redemption for which the life of Jesus was the seed. The gift of the Spirit poured out on all flesh is the first fruits, the first taste, the first glance of the redeemed creation. The gift of God’s Spirit kindles in us a fire of holy restlessness that cannot put up with the world as it is. First fruits – we know there’s more where that came from, and we lean forward into that promise. That’s what our hope is, a leaning forward into the promise of resurrection for all of creation.
And that is no facile hope. Audrey West writes, “This is hope as a woman in labor hopes: breathing through the pain, holding tight to a companion, looking ahead to what cannot yet be seen, trusting that a time will come when this pain is but a memory.” Many of us have struggled to hope like that when dealing with broken relationships, devastating illness, unending losses, or simply the daily avalanche of life-draining news. Some of us have landed in a place where there is not one ounce of strength left to endure what is before them.
You are not alone. The groans that rise from the depth of your heavy heart are God’s own as much as they are yours. They are the Spirit praying with you and for you, with sighs too deep for words. God abides with you in the profound solidarity of love, suffering with you, groaning with you, enduring with you, inspiring in you a longing for wholeness, and kindling in you a fire of holy restlessness.
God will not put up with what the world has become. And God wants you to be part of the change.
 Terence Fretheim, “The Reclamation of Creation: Redemption and Law in Exodus,” Interpretation 45, 359; my italics.
 Romans 8:18-21
 Genesis 1:26-28
 Hosea 4:1-3
 Jeremiah 12:4
 Isaiah 24:4-6
 Exodus 2:23f.
 Audrey West http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1306