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Sunday, April 22, 2018
Scripture: Psalm 96 & Romans 8:18-25
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
I’m just going to say it: The weather this week has made me grumble a lot. Snow in April? That sticks? With ice? Ugh. I get that this is Michigan, but even for Michigan, this is ridiculous. Some of my discontent comes from the tease of spring break. I got to wear shorts for a few days, and I was hoping that I might get to do that after I got home. Some of my discontent comes from wanting to resume non-snowy outdoor activities like running and softball. But, honestly, most of it stems from wanting to enjoy a prolonged spring in this beautiful corner of the earth before the town is flooded by thousands of tourists looking to claim their corner of the beach.
When we were visiting with old friends in Georgia during spring break, they all wondered how we could survive the snow and cold. (Of course, when I lived there, I kept wondering why anyone would put up with non-stop heat and humidity of the summer, but I kept that to myself.) I found myself telling them that people here relish the beauty and promise of each season, especially with what it means for the outdoors. In the winter, we downhill and cross country ski. We strap on the ice skates and play hockey. We drive snowmobiles all over the state. In the spring, we prepare our gardens, do our planting, and put on our shorts even when it’s in the 50s. In the summer, we hit the beach. We go up north to enjoy perfect temperatures and cooler nights. We truly find ways to rest. Then in the fall, the glories of God’s creation are on display all around us, as the leaves change, and the crisp air at football and soccer games makes everything seem right with the world. I love that we have four distinctly beautiful seasons where we live. I love that each season offers a different rhythm of life and a new variety of activities for us.
So, I’m trying not to grumble too much about the late season snow, but what I do miss is taking 30 minutes to go walk on the beach at this time of year. Few people are out there. The snow fences are gone, but so are the tourists. The sand and the water look new and unspoiled. With the wind whipping off of the lake, I love taking a thoughtful stroll on the beach. There might be a surfer or two in the waves. There might be someone taking pictures of the gorgeous scene. But there are few people. There is no litter on the beach. It just feels good.
Soon the people will come to enjoy the beauty of creation, but so many of us do it so thoughtlessly. We bring all of our beach gear. We bring our food wrapped in plastic and drinks in cans. We sit down on the unspoiled earth, and so often we leave great evidence that we have been there. It hurts my heart when people leave the beach with all of their trash still sitting there, as though the beach was just one huge garbage can. Late in high school I was a lifeguard on the beaches of Lake Erie, and one of my tasks was to pick up the trash left on the beach at the end of every day. You wouldn’t believe how many cigarette butts, shoes, cans, napkins, and more were left on the beach each day. I’d fill garbage bag after garbage bag, cleaning up the beach that I loved, but also knowing that this stuff was just going to be piled higher and higher in a landfill. And it made me sad.
As Christians, we are called to care for the earth. It’s a command right from the very beginning of the Bible, where God tells Adam and Eve to cultivate the earth, which means to “serve” it. God gives humans a special role in the universe, to exercise dominion over this place, but it is meant to be an imitation of the great care God has for creation, not an excuse to use and abuse the earth because we’re in charge. Imagine if God did that! What a truly terrible place this would be!
Several years ago I served on several mission trips to Jamaica. If you’ve ever been to the real Jamaica – not the resorts – you’ll know that it is a place of incredible beauty and startling poverty. Our mission groups would take disabled Jamaicans to the beach. Amazingly, many of these Jamaicans, who lived only a few miles from the water, had never made it to the water. Before we could bring them to the beach, however, we had to clean it up. You would not believe how much trash washes up on the beaches of these Caribbean islands. Our waste ends up in the oceans. The currents take it all over the world. Some of these trash islands have become larger than the state of Texas, which is almost 269,000 square miles! Some of this eventually washes up on the pristine beaches of Jamaica. We’d clean it up, but just like my lifeguarding days, I found my heart heavy because we just don’t treat the creation with the care God calls us to.
The way we treat the earth is just one obvious symptom of our sinfulness. We suffer because of our sinful choices. The earth, too, suffers because of them. Rather than living in harmony with God, with others, with ourselves, and with the creation, we have opted for a life that is dissonant and destructive. Even as our best selves, we still are enmeshed in systems that are at odds with God’s will for us and for the creation.
I love how Paul puts this in Romans 8, which is truly one of the most stunning chapters in the Bible. He writes, “18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 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. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 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.”
One commentator summarizes Paul’s words this way, “God has given even the non-human creation hope. There is liberation on the way for all creatures of our God and King. A time is coming when decay, pollution, species extinction, oil-slicks on pristine beaches, ozone depletion, and global climate change will be no more. Somehow, in ways Paul leaves tantalizingly unexplained, the creation knows this. So much so that in verse 19 Paul uses a wonderfully colorful image that has been totally obscured in translation. The phrase rendered as “eager expectation” means literally “to crane one’s neck.” It’s the image of a little child at a Fourth of July parade, eager to see the next spectacle coming down the street. The kid is on tippy-toes, arching and craning his neck almost as though that physical action will draw the next float toward him more quickly. This is the posture you assume not just when you are excited but when you are certain that something wonderful is coming down the pike.”
I don’t think it’s hard to imagine the creation groaning under the weight of wars, blight, poverty, and abuse, but I do also think it’s worthwhile for us to shift our imagination to consider that the creation keeps looking to you and to me – to the church – to bring the good news in word and deed to a world that is aching under its own rebellion. We are the joyful parade of gospel heading downtown on Washington Street that everyone is waiting for!
Have you ever considered that groaning is a good thing? If you’ve ever experienced suffering or injustice, your heart hurts until things are made right. The groaning is a gift. It tells us that not everything is right, but that there is a desire for things to be made right, both supernaturally and right here in the realm that God has given us to exercise dominion over.
Perhaps this is a way to give us a sense of this. If you’re a Detroit Tigers fan, then you know all about what happened on June 2, 2010. The Cleveland Indians were in town. Armando Galarraga was on the mound. He was not known as a great pitcher. In fact, over his career, which lasted only 100 games, he was 26-34 with a 4.78 ERA. But that day, he was perfect. Or so it seemed. Until this happened…
Do you hear the groaning? The looks of stunned disbelief from Cabrera and Galarraga? This is what it feels like to have things not right. It took six years, but the commissioner of baseball finally declared that this was a perfect game. Galaragga and the Tigers have their place in the record books, but at that moment, it hurt. There was groaning, awaiting judgment to come down from on high.
The good news for us this day and always is that God is reigning and that God is a just judge. For all the injustice and the harm we’ve received or inflicted on this earth and our fellow humans, God will hold us accountable. Because of Jesus Christ, this is good news for all ready to receive grace.
“O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” begins Psalm 96. The psalm carries on about the great deeds of God, as well as God’s justice, which are good news for the whole creation. It concludes with these stunning words,
10 Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.
Just like Paul’s words in Romans 8, here the psalmist gives us a picture of the entire creation joyously awaiting God’s work of justice in the world. Everything is on tip-toe with expectation that what is wrong will be made right. Everything exists in hope.
God is reigning, so be glad. When you feel that ache your heart that not everything is right, that right there is heaven breaking into your hurt. When you shake your head in sadness at the mess we keep making of the world, know that in your groaning, God is there promising renewal. But when you feel that hope in your heart, know that God wants you to be about this work of healing right here and right now. You don’t do these good things to earn God’s favor or love. You already have that. No, you do them because you know that is who God has created you to be – a renewer, a life-bringer, a healer of the earth.
Scripture begins with a perfect creation. It goes on for 1,185 chapters to describe what we have done to this perfect creation, but it eventually ends with God in Christ renewing creation. It is not destruction but renewal.
Friends, this world matters. What we do with our life is training ground for the next life. So treat this world with care. Treat others with care. Where you yearn for something better, know that God is there in that yearning, too. The Lord reigns. Let the earth be glad!