"HopeSprings Eternal"          Romans 8:12-25     July 20, 2008

PeggyNoonan, writing for The Wall Street Journal, comments on a scene in Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down.
 
 
 
 
The movie is about the Battle of the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993. In this particular scene, the actor TomSizemore, in the role of a hard-bitten, hard-core U.S. Army Ranger colonel, is in command of a small convoy of Humvees. They are trying to get back to base with mortar and rocket fire exploding all round.
 
In this violent vortex, the colonel stops the convoy, brings some wounded on board, throws a dead driver out of the driver’s seat and yells at a bleeding sergeant who’s standing nearby in shock:

(Colonel)          Get into that truck and drive.
(Sergeant)        But I’m shot, Colonel.
(Colonel)          Everybody’s shot, get in and drive.

Noonan is struck by those words: “Everybody’s shot.” They suggest a metaphor for life. Everyone has taken a hit, everyone’s been hurt. We’re all walking wounded.

The apostle
Paul affirms the same truth. Everyone suffers, but, he adds, the sufferings “of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (8:18). He even argues that inanimate creation “groans,” awaiting that day of future redemption.

The Book of Romans is the gospel of
Jesus Christ explained systematically. It is addressed to Christians in Rome, a church which Paul had neither established nor visited, but hoped to visit in the future. It was written in Corinth where Paul spent three months on his 3rd journey (57AD), so it is also one of the later letters he dictated.
 
Paul utilizes his expert knowledge of the Jewish law and his profound spiritual encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road to explain in a reasonable, logical way God's plan of salvation from beginning to end. In brief outline:
 
Chapters 1-3 cover the universal condemnation; 3-5 explain justification by faith; 6-8 detail sanctification through the Holy Spirit; 9-11 illustrate God's faithfulness to Israel; and 12-16 demonstrate God's righteousness in daily practice. And, though the book of Romans can be neatly outlined, and Paul's arguments logically thought through, Paul is not idealistic about the world in which we live. Our Christian journey takes place in the sphere of a mess of a world; one that is groaning and travailing as we speek.
 
For NormanSleep, a professor of geophysics, the travail of creation is very real. This StanfordUniversity scientist says that the Earth may have been repeatedly pummeled by asteroids between 3.5 and 4.5 billion years ago, snuffing out all early life. He argues that there may have been long periods during which life repeatedly spread across the globe, only to be nearly annihilated by the impact of large asteroids.

Just when your life-form is beginning to make some progress — BAM! — an asteroid knocks you back to the first chapter of Genesis. Bummer!

The early Earth, Sleep says, may have been “an interrupted
Eden” — a planet where life repeatedly evolved and diversified, only to be sent back to square one by massive asteroids. When the surface of the Earth became inhabitable again, thousands of years after each asteroid impact, the survivors would have emerged from their hiding places and spread across the planet —- until another asteroid struck and the whole cycle was repeated.

Granted, It’s just a theory. But it's also a reminder that it is tough to live a meaningful life when you’re shot, or when you live in an interrupted Eden — that is, a place where you know that at any time you might get knocked back to square one.

The apostle
Paul saw that periodic poundings were part of “the sufferings of this present time,” and that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now” (Romans 8:18, 22). He wouldn’t have been surprised by news that people were being pummeled, because he himself was forced to endure imprisonments and floggings, beatings and a stoning.
 
“Three times I was shipwrecked,” he reports to his fellow Christians; “for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:25-27).

When it comes to enduring extreme hardship,
Paul is hard-core: He not only talked the talk, but he persistently walked the walk.

But in his letter to the Romans, he doesn’t so much whine about present day sufferings as focus on future glory.
Paul is not interested in grousing about the interrupted Eden he is experiencing on Earth — instead, he sets his sights on the fully restored and refurbished Eden that he anticipates enjoying in God’s heavenly kingdom. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time,” he says, “are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (v. 18).

The key for
Paul is that God is at work in the middle of all this suffering, working to bring us to our true destiny, and to free the world itself from its bondage to decay. The whole process is like a birth, one that involves intense pain and moaning and “groaning in labor pains” as a baby is being delivered, but one that has a truly glorious outcome.
 
Sure, we “groan inwardly while we wait for adoption,” he concludes, but it is in hope that we are saved (vv. 22-24). (Reading from a literal translation, notice the present ongoing tense of continuing in hope.)
 
Theologian PaulTillich, in an article "The Right to Hope" writes,
"The hope for participation in eternity is hope for a continuation of the present life after death. It is not hope for endless time after the time given to us.
Endless time is not eternity; no finite being can seriously hope for it.
But every finite being can hope for return to the eternal from which it comes. (that uninterrupted Eden) And this hope has the more assurance, the deeper and more real the present participation in eternal life is." "The Right to Hope," PaulTillich, at Religion OnLine.

Our continual hope is that God is working actively and intensely against the powers of death, even as we get pounded by a variety of forces: the asteroids of economic instability, terrorism, warfare, domestic violence, hunger and disease.
 
Nevertheless, God is constantly undermining the ability of evil to separate, alienate, discourage and destroy us, and we hitch our hope to God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth, where “Death will be no more; [and] mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

It is, indeed,
Eden, uninterrupted. And, there in lies our hope for all eternity.

RobertB.Kruschwitz, Director of The Center for ChristianEthics at BaylorUniversity, wrote in an article titled " The Virtue of Hope:"
 
The Christian virtue of hope is a deep
confidence that God provides encouragement, guidance, and
assistance in becoming the people God calls us to be.
 
The prophet John offers this strange vision of hope to the beleaguered Christian church in Pergamum: God has a name for each one of us that marks what we truly are, and it will be given to us on a white stone when we enter the next life (Revelation 2:17).
 
What is the meaning of this good news? (There is hope)
Hope at the individual level, and hope as the body of Christ.
 
*Hope, at the individual level, to become what God has called us to
be. Our hope is grounded in how God sees us, not in what we
accomplish. This is the meaning of the white stone, on which
our true name is written.
 
“God knows us already as we are in Christ and gives us faith as an earnest of our inheritance,” writes JohnHare. That faith is “the title deed to what we hope for (‘the substance’ in Hebrews 11:1).”
 
Does God’s knowing us by this name make us proud or humble?
 
We can be proud (though it is not our own production) because our identity in Christ is already real by God’s declaration. This is the doctrine of justification: we have been made right with God.
 
We are humble because our new identity is not yet completely real in
our experience; we grow into our name and get glimpses of it
as we proceed. This is the doctrine of sanctification: our spiritual growth in the journey of life.
 
“God holds together all the fragments of what we are called to aim
at, so that they become a coherent magnetic force, pulling us
towards the magnetic center, which is God.”
 
There is hope for the individual, and
 
*Hope to be the body of Christ. Sometimes we get glimpses of the economy of God’s kingdom; a kingdom in which we do not compete for wealth, prestige, or power, but each of us contributes to the flourishing of one another.
           
“We hear about fire fighters climbing into a burning skyscraper, or couples who receive into their homes Somali teenagers from refugee camps,” Hare says.
 
“These are glimpses of a world in which justice and peace, or shalom, embrace. It is not merely that in such a world people get what they want, but what they want is good for them and for everyone else.” Hope for the body of Christ and hope for humanity. Eden uninterrupted.
 
These glimpses of the kingdom enable us to aim our lives coherently.
Jesus’ resurrection, which we believe by faith, gives us hope that his life truly reveals how life in the kingdom of heaven is supposed to go. And even though we live in Eden interrupted, our aim is Eternity.
 
Therefore, let us fix our eyes on the prize that is set before us . . . and with the Apostle Paul press forward to the goal …. where our hope springs eternal because our hope is fixed on the Eternal and in the Eden to come. Amen.
 
Rev. RosemaryStelz

Sources:

Benson, Etienne. “Geophysicist studies life in the early solar system.” Stanford Report, December 14, 2001, news-service.stanford.edu/news.

Noonan, Peggy. “Everybody’s been shot.” The Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2002.

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