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. (Romans 8:22-23)
Everywhere I look I see an aching creation. Dry grass. Thirsty trees. Hard ground. Even the snails in the church flowerbeds are perishing, and I wonder what has become of the worms in our soil. I see few bugs, few birds, few lizards, only the prowling cat of some neighbor.
The images on the news are of floods and storms and, for some reason not on our national news, people perishing in the 118° temperatures plaguing India. The crumbled buildings of Nepal were seen at first, before we had floods and tornadoes to watch. We seem like window shoppers at Christmas, switching our attention from one natural disaster to another. “Oh, look at that one!”
Paul writes about the earth groaning in travail. And while that passage is full of hope, anticipating the new birth of the creation in the reign of God, yet we cannot escape the sorrows with which the world still suffers. They are not ‘acts of God’; they are the inheritance of humans who have followed their own passions and desires and lost the garden.
What does it mean to be people of hope in a world that is yet far from the kingdom? What does it mean to be children of that kingdom in a world that chooses war? What does it mean to be children of peace in a world where police seem governed by the “shock and awe” doctrine: Hit first with overwhelming force and talk later? What does it mean to be people of justice and compassion in a world of profit? What does it mean to love one another in a tribal world?
These are not easy questions. Loving God and loving our neighbor is complicated business. Does going to war protect one neighbor from harm even while it afflicts another? Is there some other option that would serve both? It’s complicated. But though the path may not be clear; the compass we follow is.
And one essential part of the path is preserving the story: The story of a world conceived in love and inherently beautiful and good. The story of a rebellion in God’s garden and the sorrows that follow its wake. The story of a God who seeks to gather his world back to himself, who calls people to follow, who delivers people from bondage, who leads through the wilderness, who teaches justice and compassion, who demands protection of the weak. The story of a people struggling to live that teaching, often failing, yet met by mercy. The story of a child born who is the faithful son. The story of lives forgiven and waves stilled and bread multiplied – signs of heaven’s grace and bounty. The story of yet one more act of violence and a love that lays down its life for the world. The story of a grave made empty and a people made full of the Spirit. The story of a world at last returned to live in harmony with its maker.
We are called to justice and mercy. But even more importantly we are called to be bearers of the story that tells our true identity, our true purpose, our true destiny.
This is the story we come together to tell week after week. And this is the story we are sent to tell to a world groaning for new birth.