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Proper 11A 2nd Reading

Romans 8:12-25

Stephanie Dyrness Lobdell

When I was a senior in high school, my parents adopted a 10-year-old boy. Greg had been on the periphery of our life as my mother’s special needs student, but became increasingly a part of our family as it became clear that yes, the state would approve the adoption. We had just received word that Greg would be joining out family officially, and Greg and I were talking about something. I was explaining that my mom would be back in a few minutes when Greg cut me off, “You mean mom will be back in a few minutes.” He was laying claim to his new right as a son, adopted into our family.

In Romans 8, Paul uses a multitude of metaphors to unpack the mystery of salvation, including that of adoption. In the first 11 verses, Paul has made clear that what the Law failed to do, namely deal with sin, Christ has done in the flesh, and because the Spirit of God dwells in you, you are enabled to walk in newness of life, to live in righteousness, in faithfulness to God. Now, he goes even further and declares that those who walk in the Spirit are children of God, and thus co-heirs with Christ. We are brought into the covenant family and are now called to lay claim to our rights and responsibilities of family membership.

The “rights” seem clear, salvation and freedom from Sin and Death, but what about the “responsibilities?” In vs. 17, Paul lays it out: we are co-heirs with Christ “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Wait, what? Things were going so smoothly, Paul! All this beautiful language about salvation, our freedom from Sin and Death because Christ has dealt with sin, and you go and through suffering on the table? For Paul, it’s clear that to be a part of the family means to live into the family way of doing things, and for the family of God, that means faithfulness to God, even unto death. Salvation and submission to walking the Jesus way, led by the Spirit, are inseparable.

He goes on, declaring that while we will indeed suffer, the suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us. But then, Paul takes what feels like another sudden left-hand turn. You’d expect after that brief allusion to suffering and glory reference that we would get a taste test perhaps of the glory to come, a little carrot on a stick to get us through the pain to the pearly gates and golden streets. But no! In vs. 19-25, he seems to take a detour and go into this side discussion about creation and its current situation, how creation itself groans as it too has been subjected. It groans as in labor pains, waiting for redemption right alongside us.

Is it possible that what feels like a strange deviation to a creation tangent on Paul’s part is actually the most natural thing in the world? Is it possible that salvation and our ultimate glorification is not just about us saving our souls from hell way down yonder in eternity? Is it possible that salvation is about something more? And maybe even primarily about something more, something in the future and in the present? Something with physical implications for all of creation? Could salvation be, not just a gift to receive, but a mission to join?

In his book, Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright says, “the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”

That’s a significant change in our way of thinking. It moves salvation from this product we consume, from some future destination where we exist in some bodiless form, to this concrete, fleshy reality, one that has implications for both the future and today. And it would seem, it brings with some kind of assignment, a task to be done.

Paul gently reminds us that while suffer in the present time, suffer for our obedience and faithfulness to God yes, but also suffer from the consequences of living in a broken, not yet redeemed world, creation itself suffers alongside us. Creation groans in its bondage to decay.

The question then becomes, what does the groaning of creation have to do with us and salvation? For too long, the Evangelical answer to that question has been, nothing. Nothing at all. Paul makes it clear that our salvation is intertwined with all of Creation. All of Creation groans in eager anticipation, for what? For annihilation at the end of days? No! Creation groans as in labor, waiting for the birth, for adoption, for the redemption of our bodies. It could not be more clear: our role in this whole show was never just to hang out and soak up the “spiritual goods” but to be stewards of creation, to be God’s workers in the world, to be participants in God’s creative, life-giving action.

The question Paul forces us to ask in the pericope is not, how do I get to heaven? No. We must ask, am I living into my identity and calling as a child of God, a steward of God’s creation? Am I walking in newness of life and being an agent of reconciliation in God’s world here and now?

Stephanie Dyrness Lobdell

About the Contributor

Co-Lead Pastor Mountain Home Church of the Nazarene

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