In the audio podcast of this Sunday service, the Scripture reading begins at 22:30 and the Sermon begins at 24:45.

Scripture: Romans 8:18-30

Sermon: An Expectant Church Hopes

Reverend Todd Buurstra - Pastor of Worship and WitnessI am captivated this first Sunday of Advent with Paul’s phrase:
The whole creation has been groaning

Now I don’t know if its just me and my body stiffening with age, but I am hearing creation groaning louder lately. Literally. And by creation, I mean you and me along with God’s green earth. Do you hear that groan, too? I hear _____’s the ugh of:

Creation: glacier parts falling into the sea and, around us, the shortage of bees;
Economy: another major company, like Citibank, teeter on the brink;
Political: KKK recruitment up since the election of Obama;
NBRC hard working folk: being downsized or laid off after years of service;
NBRC: a tough budgetary year where we could drain our reserves completely;
NBRC otherwise healthy folk: awaiting the results of biopsies…

So my question is where do we find God’s hope in creation’s groanings?

Let me answer that with an acrostic, for hope is the Holy Spirit’s favorite word in our Romans text where Paul is inspired to write it six times… Please read it with me…
Amidst creation’s groans we find God’s hope in:

Having a baby—Why is creation groaning? Creation is not groaning in the throes of death, or decline, but the groans are birth pangs! Birth pangs of what? Of the new order of peace and justice that Jesus brings to us in his first and second comings.

How many of you have either personally experienced a birth, or, men, witnessed a birth? I didn’t witness the groans of labor pains, nor get called names for what I was putting my wife through, because our births were c-sections. When I insensitively started describing the surgical process of the opening of her womb, I just got told to Shut up!

The birth of a bloodied, crying baby is a painfully glorious moment. The same erratic emotions that job losers feel when they cry about losing jobs before Christmas, yet by Valentines get excited about ways to reinvent their careers as new possibilities are born.

Our hope is conceived in this baby that mother church is birthing of the new world of lions and lambs playing in a city of gold with blacks and whites singing We have overcome… That’s the world that Jesus started at his first coming and completes at his return.

Overcoming today’s pain—Yet in this valley between Jesus’ two comings we struggle to deal with today’s pain. Its nice to know that Jesus will one day wipe every tear from our eyes. But what about the tears over family fights over turkey? When you and I sigh…, that’s the Spirit praying for our load. Isn’t that beautiful? I love the thought that every Sunday morning before breakfast when my mom and dad said grace, dad always prayed for my NJ sermon. As warm as that makes me feel, it is even more wonderful that the Spirit prays for me with sighs too deep for words. That doesn’t take away the pain of money shortage, but I am not alone. Someone, God almighty, is praying for me!

Where do we find God’s hope in creation’s groans? We find God’s hope in:

H-aving the new world’s baby; Overcoming today’s pain; and Purpose in our pain.
Read with me a favorite verse of many… I think of a classic illustration that I have used various times but never in a sermon. The various ingredients in life may taste bitter alone. For example, as no one puts flour on their morning cereal, so no appreciates a diagnosis of cancer. As no one takes an egg out of the fridge and swallows it raw, so no one looks at the plummeting Dow Jones average and jumps for joy. As we rarely pour vegetable oil into our glass for supper, so also not much good seems to be coming out of polar bears losing habitat. However, these sour, bitter, and just plain yucky ingredients mixed together can serve a higher purpose. In the same way, God can take the sour, bitter and just plain yucky experiences that cause groaning and turn it into something good.

Purpose in pain gives hope. To what purpose might God turn our pain exactly? Read with me… I find two major purposes for pain in these verses which give me hope. The building of character (like Jesus) in this life, and endless glory in the life to come. What gives me hope in the current economic crisis is that America’s character might be rebuilt towards frugality again. Even though its painful that banks aren’t lending and Black Friday may still be red, we may be finally learning the tough lesson to stay out of debt. A businessman told me this week that there are 1200 foreclosures in Somerset County right now. As painful as that is, in America thrift is in for the first time in a while!

But the other purpose for pain beyond character building is that we won’t have to endure pain forever. For one day the pain that Valium can’t touch will be removed by Jesus’ coming. On bad days, when I am out taking a walk, I sometimes long for the perfect peace and joy of the next life when Jesus returns. That keeps my hope alive!

Amidst creation’s groans we find God’s hope in:
H-aving the new world’s baby; Overcoming today’s pain; Purpose in our pain; and lastly by Expanding this hope. Sometimes the best way to get hope is to give it, and that is our calling. It reminds me of what you helped Ignite! do by providing 10 thanksgiving baskets to needy families at The Learning Gate. Each basket was nicely wrapped with a bow and info on Ignite!. Some family where Dad is struggling to sell cars in a credit frozen market will get this basket and sense hope again. For hope is what God gives. Get hope and give hope, amen.

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