If nothing else we've got the hope
Jesus’ parable reminds us that this world stinks. We go to fields and gardens, we try to plant things, and it’s hit or miss. Sometimes they grow. Sometimes they don’t. Green thumbs and farmers know tricks, but even they have crops fail and weeds grow.
The same holds true spiritually. The Sower sows His seed. God sends His Word like rain and snow to water the earth; and it does stuff. The Word does not return empty.
To our eyes, it appears like the Word mostly fails. It hits the path and the devil snatches it. It falls on shallow or rocky soil and persecution and things strangle it. Some fall on good ground. Some faith gets created. Some believers last. Some. But not nearly all.
Look at your family field, our congregational crop, and see the parable borne out. God sows his working Word and we see faith. And we see seed snatched, scorched, choked, and matted flat.
Teachers see it too. They look back over years of cherubic faces and see some growing and producing fruit and some they can only label “weeds.” Pastors have the “confirmation syndrome.” Or there’s the joke about the bats. A priest, a rabbi, and a Lutheran all have bat problems and compare notes on removing them. The priest and rabbi failed. The Lutheran succeeded. “How?” the others ask. “I baptized ‘em and confirmed ‘em. Haven’t seen ‘em since.”
That’s real go-get ‘em stuff, isn’t it, Becca? That fires you up to enter your classroom. I bet you heard four years of that at MLC: “The world stinks! Your crops fail! Your students are weeds!”
These truths that Jesus, Isaiah and Paul, talk about today highlight where things stand in our world. Paul, in Romans 8, talked about “present sufferings.” The world surrounds us with misfortune and affliction. Later, Paul lists some: “trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword.” Those are external things that the world and the devil throw at you, throw at all Christians, throw at all people.
But up until this point in Romans 8, Paul really focused on one main thing that causes suffering: the flesh. Oh, there it is again, “the flesh.” Can’t we stop talking about that? No, we can’t, because we still have it. It hangs on to us with a death grip, trying to choke out God’s Word, trying to keep the rain and the snow from getting to us, trying to get us to do what it desires, trying to destroy us.
Even the world feels it. “The creation was subjected to frustration.” “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.” “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up until the present time.” Because of us.
I don’t know if global warming is real or not. I know scientists and politicians go back and forth, mostly yelling, about whether what man does will lead to the whole world turning into a ball of fire or a rock of ice. I also know that the world isn’t what it once was or should be because of man. Genesis 3 tells me that.
When man sinned, one of the consequences God announced afflicted the earth: “Cursed is the ground because of you.” Thorns and thistles grow among our crops. Work becomes toil. The ground doesn’t cooperate. Then we die. This wasn’t the world’s choice. God did this to the world – because of us. Man bears responsibility for how much life stinks and how wrong things go.
Everything lines up against us: things physical and spiritual, visible and invisible. Even in faith, Paul says, “we…who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.” Present sufferings. Present failures. Present challenges to ministry. We need that serenity prayer, the one dealing with things we can’t control. That’s how Paul ends, right? “We wait for it patiently.”
We’re ever so good at that. Patience. Taking the long-view, not getting bogged down in the short-term. Seeing forests, not just trees. That God does work out all things for the good of those who love him. Yes, 24 hours a day, that’s us, patient. With God.
Oh wait, it’s not. We turn on God post haste. We experience some “present suffering” and it’s, “Hey, God, how could you!?” We feel bound in some chain, and immediately wonder, “God, have you abandoned me?” We groan a little, we have a contraction or two, and we start looking for other sources for comfort and help. Luther reminds us that the moment we do that we worship another god.
Then the bondage to decay makes itself felt. Death seeps in. Things fall apart. Things aren’t what they used to be. Friends decay. Family decays. My things decay. My money doesn’t have the power it once had. My body doesn’t have the power it once had. The whole world gets topsy-turvy. I can’t do what I once did when I used to do it, and it doesn’t help to wait five minutes for new weather.
This whole thing’s a mess. Life stinks! It’s God’s fault! He’s abandoned me and denied me. He doesn’t love me or care. He doesn’t help my ministry. If he did, wouldn’t I have more success? Wouldn’t families flock to bring their kids to my classroom? Wouldn’t I get dozens of likes for my sermons on Facebook?
You know what Paul calls all this? Unworthy. “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing.” They don’t stand up. They don’t hold water. They are nothing. Decay? Nothing. Death? Nothing. Failure?Nothing. Frustration? Nothing. Or at least nothing next to something. A certain something. And it’s not money, fame, power, or success. It’s not filled classrooms, top-notch teacher evaluations, or the love of students and parishioners. None of that is worthy next to something Paul calls “hope.”
The Father subjected creation to frustration “in hope that the creation…will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” As the creation grown, as we groan, “In this hope we were saved.”
What hope? Creation hopes to see the sons of God revealed and the glorious freedom of the children of God. We hope for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
But this confuses us. Aren’t we already sons of God, children of God through faith in Christ? Haven’t we already been adopted and redeemed? Isn't that what Baptism's all about? Why does Paul talk about it as a future thing, something not yet seen? Because Jesus says that the world is a field of weeds and wheat. That’s the parable that follows the sower. It’s hard to distinguish weeds from wheat sometime.
In classrooms and congregation we work the field with God’s Word; yet we don’t see the end. We don’t know who perseveres. We pray that all do. We pray that everyone to whom we preach the Word is among God’s elect and thus called, justified, and glorified. Yet we hear Jesus: most of the seed produces nothing. Thus Paul, “In this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
So, we don’t have adoption and redemption? We aren’t sons of God? Of course not. Jesus talks about one-fourth who come to faith. Jesus says whoever believes in him is saved, right now. Paul calls the baptized “sons of God.” Today, Paul says, note the past tense now, “In this hope we were saved.”
God’s Word scatters abroad this hope: “Here is rain and snow to wash you clean, to cleanse you, to nourish you, to feed you.” And it’s Jesus. The liberator from bondage and decay, the Son of God who came to make us sons of God through him, who adopted us into his family, who redeemed us, as Peter says, by bearing “our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
Paul uses the word “hope”, because as he’s been saying since Romans 5, we live in the “now” and “not yet.” We have peace with God through Jesus Christ. He justifies us through faith in him, declaring us not guilty and sin free, covering our sins, not counting them against us. That’s Baptism, as Paul said in Romans 6, “Dead to sin, alive to God.” That’s the Sacrament, “For you, for forgiveness.” That’s the Word that doesn’t return empty, “I will make you white, though you are scarlet.” Even though we still have the flesh. And still groan. And still suffer. And our ministries are still hard.
But we hope. In a promise. Made by God to the world. Thus Paul says later in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Blessed are they who have not seen all things, yet believe.
Now, Becca, you get to be a part of this. You get to point children to hope. Not towards millennial kingdoms of heaven on earth or environmental miracles, but towards the promise of adoption and redemption that ends our suffering: the new heavens and the new earth of the one we now call Father because the Son reconciled us to him; a Father who links us not only to his Son’s sufferings, but also to his glory, declaring Jesus to be “the firstborn among many brothers.”
The Christian teacher works with a totally different world view. In public schools, this world is the be-all, end-all, man is the be-all end=all. In the Church, God, his Christ, and his promises are the be-all, end-all. In the public system this is as good as it gets; in fact, it's getting better: evolution, right?. In the Church, we know that decay still exists and God promises something better.
But we are weak. The world tantalizes. We feel it reaching for our throats. We don’t even know how to spit out, “Come, Lord Jesus!” or “Solve these problems!” Paul promises that the Spirit speaks for us to the Father, and gives us confidence that God does work, all things, well, for those whom he has called. And the Spirit speaks to us, in God’s Word, showing us Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus: Jesus crucified for me, Jesus resurrected for me, Jesus speaking to the Father for me, Jesus saying, “I’m coming back for you, my adopted children, to make you new, to transform your bodies to be like my glorious body!”
It’s coming. Teachers like you, Becca, and Steve and Lydia, pastors like me, we get to give people this promise. We get to be ambassadors for a king who suffered and died – and managed to rise again from the dead – for us, for our salvation, a king who declares us – in the midst of all this suffering – adopted sons, redeemed, and more than conquerors! If nothing else, we’ve got that: the hope. And until Christ comes, that’s all we need. Amen.