In my preparation, I couldn't decide whether Romans 8 functions as Comfort, or as Challenge. Obviously the contextual answer is comfort. But what about in application? My sermon ended up having two foci (is that possible?):
Hope does two things:
- It comforts the faithful sufferer in this way: There is God-ordained meaning in the madness; there is an end in sight; and there really is a God who suffers alongside us and is sovereign in all of it. There is, as I said in the sermon, a Christ-driven narrative in creation (from slavery to liberation; from death to resurrection). There is a rich and lush hope to come. And 'we who have the first fruits of the Spirit' are included into that same story and bound for the same destination. So Hope lifts up the downtrodden.
- And yet, Hope also challenges the hedonist* - the yearner of mere 'things' - in this way: There is, in the Messiah Jesus, a better vision of reality to live for and it is yet to be seen. It is a better hope than we might currently have: better than travel to Europe, better than fine wine, better than chic furniture or metrosexual clothing or larger homes or sporting contests. As good as these things are (really), the hedonist has set his or her sights way too low. It is a vision that is too myopic, and too self-oriented.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.Or Jurgen Moltmann?
Where freedom has come near, the chains begin to hurt. Where life is close, death becomes deadly. Where God proclaims his presence, the God-forsakenness of the world turns into suffering. Thus the theodicy question, born of suffering and pain, negatively mirrors the positive hope for God’s future. We begin to suffer from the conditions of our world if we begin to love the world. And we begin to love the world if we are able to discover hope for it. And we can discover hope for this world if we hear the promise of a future which stands against frustration, transiency, and death.Some further reading/listening:
- The Audio can be downloaded HERE.
- C.S. Lewis' sermon "The Weight of Glory." (PDF Download.)
- My friend Karen from Christ Church NYC who reflects on Romans 8 in a personal way: The Fall of Hope.
- Christianity Today on the Hope of Justice: Habakkuk in Zimbabwe.
* Not the 'Christian Hedonist'!
Pic on FLickr by Magda.Indigo.