Monday, April 11, 2016

"Imagining Redemption" by Peter Hawisher-Faul

Sermon given on April 6, 2016
Scripture - Romans 8:22-27

            Have you ever watched a movie and wondered why the characters can’t think of a better way to act? Do you sit on the edge of your seat saying or thinking “Why would you open that door? Don’t open that door!”  or maybe “Don’t go out into the jungle! You know the clever raptors hunt in packs.” Or have you ever finished the end of a movie or tv show and looked back and thought of ten ways the characters could have had a better ending? I know I have. Maybe if the hero had been just a little more suspicious of the villain, or if a character could have just stayed home, everything would have worked out better. There is a whole youtube series called “How it Should Have Ended” that looks at movies and finds a better way to resolve the plot.
            The thing is, it’s a lot different to watch a movie than it would to be a character in a movie. Can you imagine being put in some of the intense situations that characters are put in? It’s easy to say they should have known better, but if you were placed under the same pressures you might not be able to see the best way forward. Like, when you go through a bad breakup, when you chose whose advice to take, or when you are placed under pressure of deciding your future, it’s not always clear what the best choice is.
            Our choices are limited by our imagination. When we are living the story, we can only see so far and anticipate so much. In the midst of a crisis it can be hard event o put our hopes into words. We might not be able to name what exactly is wrong, much less see how to make it right. Our imagination could even be filled with everything that could get worse, making imagining hope not only difficult, but impossible. There are so many ways that our imagination can stop us from finding what we are looking for; after all, we might not even be looking for the right thing.
            This is why Paul says that we are groaning. We experience suffering and much of the time it feels like there is no way to make it right. Whether that pain be from damaged relationships, the pressure to put on “Penn face” and be an all-star student, or from the anxiety of facing an uncertain future with poor job prospects and broken political system, whatever our personal source of pain, we are left waiting for more and hoping for change that we don’t know how to name and might not even be able to imagine.
We are not groaning and suffering alone, Paul says, but with all of creation. This in fact is the focus of the story of redemption that God is working out. It is not just humans that need to be reconciled with God, but all of creation must be reconciled with her Creator. Where we might normally think of the life of the world as a macrocosm of our lives as individuals, Paul speaks of the redemption of our bodies through adoption by God as a microcosm of the redemption of creation. Our salvation is tied to the salvation of creation because our sin has impacted all of creation. When humanity was cursed after disobeying God in the garden of Eden, the ground was cursed with us; cultivation of life on the earth becomes a difficult task because of our sin. 
While we might not experience the thorns, thistles, and toil of farming, we don’t have to look far to see how humans have hurt the world. There is an “island” of decomposing plastic bottles the size of Texas in the Pacific ocean. Pollution has yet to be kept in check by our governments and corporations. We might hope for peace, but it is all we can do to imagine a world with less violence. So many species have gone extinct in recent history that many scientists claim that humans are responsible for starting a mass-extinction. “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.
But these groanings are labor pains, birth pangs. As characters in this story, we may not be able to imagine what the redemption of creation will look like, but God is creating new life. Jesus shared in our suffering and in the suffering of the world, living a life that is not silenced by death with love that surpasses all boundaries. Paul says that we are adopted as children of God and co-heirs of Christ and we live by the Spirit that filled Jesus in his ministry. We may not be able to imagine what redemption of all of creation will look like, but we have hope in the Spirit, who intercedes on our behalf with “sighs too deep for words.”
The Spirit is the source of our hope, not our imagination or the world we see. Paul says “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes[p] for what is seen?” Paul looks around at his world at sees nothing worth hoping for. His hope is not in the peace and supremacy of Rome or the success of his tent-making business, which I’m guessing was not a terribly lucrative field. We look for hope in our world, but creation cannot redeem itself; it must be redeemed by the Creator. We may look for a political revolution, a career filled with meaning, a lucrative job on Wall Street, a loving family, or recognition of our personal accomplishments, but none of the things we long for will ultimately satisfy our yearning for a better world. We long for good things in the world, but we don’t need to give up on our dreams and settle for what we see in the world. We are unsatisfied for a reason, because our true hope is the new life that only God can bring, the new life that Jesus embodies and the Spirit breathes into our world to redeem all of creation.
Where we are weak and unable to bring change or even to properly imagine it, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf. We long for change, but we don’t know what it would even look like. We cry out, but we cannot really grasp the cause of our suffering. We don’t know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit hears our groaning and the groaning of creation as prayer. The Spirit hears our cries, and God knows what our hearts long for, working for the good of creation in our lives beyond what we could imagine for ourselves.
When we look at the stories told by movies and tv, some of the struggles that characters face can feel meaningless because the authors of the stories are not writing just out of love for the characters. Characters may be killed off, take bad advice, or betray their own values as it suits the authors’ interests. When we look at our lives and the world and see no signs of hope, we might wonder if we can trust God’s creative work in our lives. We know that God’s love is sincere and that God’s love has the power to set the world right because of the love Jesus showed for his disciples and the world, the love that not even death or Roman power could silence. That love is our true hope.
We long for a better world, but we cannot see the way. With all of creation we groan in labor pains, and the Spirit hears our longing and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. We wait for the redemption of all creation, placing our hope in God’s plans, which surpass anything we could plan for ourselves.
Wendell Berry wrote a poem that I think expresses what he hears in the groaning in labor pains of all creation. Read it, and reflect on what is the new life you long to see in the world. The poem is called “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready-made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head. 
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you 
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something 
that won't compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor. 
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias. 
Say that your main crop is the forest 
that you did not plant, 
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. 
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees 
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear 
close, and hear the faint chattering 
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful 
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child? 
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields. 
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn't go.
Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction. 
Practice resurrection.

"Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage, copyright ® 1973 by Wendell Berry

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