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Liberating letters (May 8)

Uniform lesson for May 8, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Romans 8:18-30

We continue our perusal of liberating letters with a second passage from Romans. This passage, a prelude to one of the most triumphant passages in all of Scripture, is introduced by Paul’s rhetorical questions. Paul asks, “What then are we to say about these things ?” (Romans 8:31). If there is indeed nothing that can separate us from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” then shouldn’t we live liberated lives now and always (Romans 8:39)?
Surely the answer is yes, but anyone with eyes and ears and hearts of flesh knows we’re not
there now. We’re still in the grips of some birthing pangs, hoping for a world we cannot fully see — yet.

Free from bondage to decay

One of the most extraordinary aspects of Paul’s vision of salvation and liberation is the way he expands the scope of Christ’s work far beyond the lives of individual believers. Perhaps because of the distance he has traveled from Saul to Paul, he is able to imagine a similar resurrection trajectory for all creation. The whole cosmos is now eagerly longing to be delivered from its bondage to decay — groaning, pushing and straining toward a day when a new world might be born (v. 19, v. 21).

While Paul might have focused primarily on the bodies of his individual sisters and brothers, we cannot help but think of the body of Mother Earth and the myriad of stars and galaxies beyond. We watch as the polar ice caps melt and fracture. We listen out for the songs of birds no longer with us. We breathe in the fumes and viruses of a world seemingly captive to the forces of decay and long for a new birth and a new creation, no longer subject to futility but rather to the resurrection power of our faithful God (v. 20). Paul listens to the groans of his fellow Christians as their bodies, dreams and hopes threaten to fail, and he hears them as the groans of a mother giving birth. It’s all in the hearing. It’s all in the hoping. It’s all the Spirit helping us to see things we cannot yet see, so that we can wait for them with patience (vv. 24-25). This hope for the future is the way out of bondage.

Free for the glory of the children of God

Paul goes so far as to hear our very groaning as a tangible sign of our adoption. Starving children who have lost hope stop crying; There’s no more hopeless sound than utter silence in a nursery. But us “children” who have experienced resurrection cannot settle for things as they are or resign ourselves to simply wait out the rest of our journey fighting over what remains of this world. No, our very groaning is the intercession of the Spirit, “with sighs too deep for words” (v. 26). Maybe “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” begins with the sound of lamentation (v. 21). We weep for rivers no longer running clear. We cry out on behalf of species no longer alive and flourishing. We shout in protest over immune systems that are overwhelmed and an atmosphere that is overtaxed. As the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s A Declaration of Faith puts it: “The people of God have often misused God’s promises as excuses for doing nothing about present evils. But in Christ the new world has already broken in and the old can no longer be tolerated.” Something new is being born!

Working in all things toward the good

Maybe the most important verse in our passage is verse 28. In the NRSV, it’s translated: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” Are you serious? What about pollution and extinction and global warming? The NRSV notes offer the translation: “God makes all things work together for good.” Or, I might offer: “God is working in all things toward the good.” Like a mother in childbirth, like a cosmos yearning for re-creation, God is working in all things for good. To settle for the way things are is bondage to decay; to hope for things not seen is “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). Yes, “faith, hope, and love abide,” but, maybe, in the present age the greatest of these is “hope” (1 Corinthians 13:13). This is hope for something better and hope for a world we cannot yet see. In that hope is freedom: Freedom to groan, freedom to protest and freedom to participate with the Spirit in the birthing of something new.

For discussion:

How can we hear our groans as signs of hope?

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