TEXTS: Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25)
This week, Iris and I celebrated 39 years of marriage. Thirty-nine years. As I reflect on that, I recall how different we both were, way back then. In many ways, we were completely unlike the persons we are today.
On July the 18th, 1981—in the eyes of the church and of the law—we became a married couple. Fait accompli! An accomplished, presumably irreversible fact. But in reality, each of us was still very much an isolated individual. This new thing we were creating—this unity of husband and wife … it was still a work in progress. And there would be long years of struggle ahead of us, as the new thing took shape.
In very truth, 39 years later, it is still taking shape.
I suspect most long-married couples would report the same experience.
Some 10 years after we began our journey together, Iris and I found ourselves in a hospital delivery room, as our only son was being born. It was not a quiet process. There was much groaning and crying out (not all of it from Iris) as this new struggle of creation unfolded.
Groaning and crying out. Those are the sounds of creation, as something new is being fashioned. Wedding anniversaries have that aspect to them, as well. Or so it seems to me.
Groaning and crying out. The soundtrack of creation.
It’s like going into a gym—or anywhere that weight training is underway. While weightlifters are “pumping iron,” you will hear a lot of grunting and groaning as they strain to push weights off of their chests, or over their heads, or pull and heave them off the floor. This is all part of the struggle to create a new and stronger body.
Groaning is the soundtrack of creation. As Paul says in his Letter to the Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now” (Rom. 8:22).
To anyone who’s given birth—or witnessed a birth—Paul’s metaphor packs quite a punch. It is a vivid image, underscoring the arduous nature of creation. That work—that struggle—can be not only difficult, but also frightening. At the very least, it is hard labour. It produces groaning.
And this groaning occurs in a divide—the divide between what we are doing and what we hope to do. In the divide between what is and what is yet to be, we labour and we groan.
Today’s readings from the New Testament are all about living in this divide. We hear about the divide between creation as God intends and wills it—and the reality of here and now. Paul urges us to embrace optimism and hope—even while living in a world that rarely delivers what God has promised.
“Life in the divide.” Or, as Paul calls it, “life in the Spirit.” His entire ministry was—in a way—about bridging this divide.
Paul believed that—in Jesus—he had seen the fulfillment of creation. He also believed—fervently—that this fulfillment was not only within reach, but soon to become a universal reality. He wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
Even so, Paul realized that those who read his words were still living with injustice, war, poverty, persecution, and pain. He saw future glory even as he felt present suffering. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul exhorts the Christians there to “live in the Spirit,” while looking toward the glory that lies just beyond the divide. That is “life in the Spirit,” according to Paul.
Life in the Spirit is a life defined by supreme confidence—confidence that, through Christ, we have already been freed from those things that would increase our suffering.
Life in the Spirit is a life devoid of hatred and violence, filled instead with love and reconciliation.
Life in the Spirit, according to Paul, is about living in the divide between what is and what shall be. It’s about living not in desperation, but in joyful exertion.
Then there’s our gospel lesson, which also speaks about life in the divide. Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a grain field.
A field of grain, you know … Even if it’s been a very bad year, a grain field will surely produce more than just one loaf of bread. And in a good year, it produces a bumper crop. An abundance of grain. An abundance of what was—and for many still is—the basic food, the indispensable source of physical life.
The grain field Jesus describes is a vision of an abundant life. Yet even this vision of abundance contains weeds:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away” (Matt. 13:24-25).
The weeds pop up between the stalks of grain, and they cannot be easily removed. This is a parable about living in the divide—in a world of both wheat and tares. It’s about patiently waiting, trusting in God’s assurance that—in the end—the weeds will not spoil the harvest.
“Living in the divide” is not easy. Even though we may catch a glimpse of glory beyond the horizon, we still live here—in a place that is not yet fully glorified. The first Christians felt this most acutely. Those who had actually known Jesus had—in him—witnessed the Kingdom of Heaven in action.
As for Paul … His eyes had seen the glory of the risen Christ! And his conviction and faith and excitement must have been contagious, filling the hearts and minds of those in the churches he had planted. Yet, the inglorious world lay just outside the door of each house church. Every time the fellowship meal ended and people returned to their everyday lives, they were confronted some harsh realities. Especially for those outside the ruling class, Roman society did not much resemble heaven’s kingdom.
Jesus told parables about the world to come. Paul wrote about adoption into God’s family and “waiting with eager longing” and hoping for what we do not see. Such words were intended to help ordinary believers who were “living in the divide” between what is and what will be.
They are also helpful words for today—because Christians are still living in the divide. Many of us know the feeling of God’s love and have experienced it in our lives. Many of us have seen it in grand acts of compassion—and in small but grace-filled acts of kindness. We rejoice when justice triumphs, and we celebrate when sickness turns to health. These are signs that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.
Yet, every day we wake up in a world of festering pandemic. We awaken to news about war and rumors of war, about violence in homes and communities, about soul-crushing poverty, injustice and persecution. Everywhere we look, it seems, the security and inherent dignity of each human being is under attack.
As Paul reminded the Christians in ancient Rome, so he reminds us, here and now: our hope is not based on what we can see. Christian hope is based on the confidence and assurance that the risen Christ is present in the world, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into being. In other words, Jesus is closing the divide.
Through his Spirit, God is even now building a bridge between what is and what will be. And this has been the work of God from the beginning of creation. Living as a Christian—living in the divide—means joining in this work. As children of God, we are expected to pitch in and help.
How do we do that? The way we can pitch in—the way we can join in this work—is by living a life in the Spirit. And we absolutely cannot live that way by ignoring the divide. No. Jesus calls us to stride confidently into the divide—working for justice, standing for peace, feeding the hungry, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice … all the while striving and straining and groaning.
“Striving and straining and groaning.” We know a thing or two about that, don’t we? We know about the importance of hard work. We are acquainted with hope, as well. More than that, we know what change looks like. Sometimes it makes us smile. Sometimes it makes us groan.
Groaning is the soundtrack of creation. It’s the sound of the divide closing. It’s the sound of the Spirit overcoming resistance. Life in the Spirit strains and groans to close the divide. It is a good, honest groaning. And it heralds what will be.
Life in the Spirit bridges the divide between the agony of labour and the joy of holding the newborn. Life in the Spirit closes the divide between the weight on the chest and the weight lifted high and triumphantly overhead.
Life in the Spirit closes the divide, and ultimately it leads us to a place where we can look back upon our long journey with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude.
As Christians, we are called to build bridges across every divide. We are called to notice the distance between what should be and what is. We are called to strain, and heave, and work, and hoist … all in order to close that divide. And when we groan in the doing, we sing in harmony with the soundtrack of creation.
So, friends, let’s stay true in the struggle—groaning if we need to, laughing at our groaning when we can. And never doubt this: the divide is closing. Thanks be to God.