As we began looking at The Apostle’s Tale last week we considered alternative realities highlighted by the Apostle Paul. In one reality, followers focus on the Law – the rules and regulations – pushing themselves and others to follow the letter of the law through guilt. In this reality, sin and death are in control because sin is stronger than the Law’s commands. It is focused on self, and what self can do to fulfill the law, what self can accomplish. It easily opens up to choices which are controlled by passion or envy or pride or ambition. In this reality, self, rather than God, becomes the focus.
In Paul’s second reality, followers focus on God – looking for God’s grace in their own lives and extending it to others. In this reality, Christ’s death and resurrection allows followers to live “in Christ,” in a grace-filled, new world where life is in charge. Walking according to the Spirit sets a person free from the power of sin. Followers who are in Christ bear spiritual fruit, practice their faith in all areas of their daily lives.
Paul encouraged all to live in the second reality, living in Christ through God’s grace.
In the words we heard this morning, Paul points out that there is a cost to choosing that reality, that it is not without challenges, frustrations, and suffering. He also lets us know that all of creation is groaning with us as it waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For all of creation to be freed from decay.
Groaning is an underlying action in all of the lectionary readings this morning.
We heard some about Jacob during the children’s message this morning. Genesis 28:10-19a. Jacob meets God in a dream while “on the run” after tricking his brother. Until this point in the Jacob, Esau, Isaac and Rebekah story, there has been no record of Jacob and God having any conversations, of Jacob seeking God’s wisdom before his actions that allowed him to steal his brother’s birthright, no indication he prays to, or worships, or acknowledges God. He hasn’t really been an upstanding, ethical, loving member of the family.
If we could overhear Jacob as he flees to join his mother’s family and to find a wife from her kin, we might hear some groaning, some deep sounds coming from the pain produced in pushing his body to complete the journey, some groans of hopelessness about what the future holds, maybe some regret. Groans expressing exhaustion and a sense of loneliness.
If we walk beside the servants and the disciples in the gospel passage from Matthew this morning, we may hear groans as well. Groans that there are weeds growing alongside the wheat, taking resources away from the plants which have potential to nourish the hungry. Groans that they aren’t allowed to go out and decide what is a weed and what is of value, groans that they must till, water, and care for all of the plants, leaving the judgement of what to keep to the harvesters.
There are likely groans from the disciples as they again find themselves at a loss of what Jesus is trying to teach them. Groans as they realize they are called to nurture all, as determining what is wheat and what is tare is not up to them, but up to the angels. Groans for clarity of how to bring the Kingdom of Heaven into being.
There are many groans surfacing in our world today. Groans from those who feel they are in hopeless situations: health, finances, relationships, circumstances within their community and others … Groans from the pain of loss, addiction, oppression, hunger, feeling invisible, loneliness, and more.
We hear some of these groans in the news, some of them on prayer chains, and others around our tables.
I believe many of us groan within as we long for God’s Kingdom to come to earth now. As we pray for others to come worship in our buildings, to sing the songs we love, to pray the prayers that well up in our souls. We are frustrated that there seems to be too little wheat and way too many weeds.
Paul refers to groaning as it reflects the pain of childbirth. Many women have learned how to groan through the pain of childbirth in a way that makes that groaning productive, helping them through labor into the joy of welcoming their child into the world.
Groaning productively helps us all get through the pain that confronts us in our society, in our churches, in our homes. From Romans 8:26-27 we know that the Spirit helps us in our weakness interceding for us through wordless groans when we don’t even know what to pray for. Groaning productively on our behalf.
God recognized Jacob’s groans even though Jacob didn’t seem to know he was making them. God came to Jacob, encountering Jacob where he was. Jacob recognizes God, recognizes God’s promises, shares the story with others, and marks the spot with a rock, but there is not a record of Jacob making a commitment to God in that time and place, no act of surrender, emotional or otherwise. The encounter led to what we may consider a bargain of sorts, if this God makes good on his promise, Jacob will do his part.
It is God’s commitment that leads to fulfilled promises, and a new nation, not Jacob’s commitment. God’s grace gives room for Jacob to take one step at a time in coming to understand God’s direction for his life and how to groan productively to bring forth new life for himself and others.
Groaning productively, allows the servants to stay focused on the task assigned to them. To nurture all growing in the field. To take judging the value of what is entrusted to them off their responsibility list. They are to turn their groans of complaint into groans of labor so all make it to the harvest.
Similarly, the Disciples, past and present, are sent into the field which is the world. We are to teach and nurture. While we know the field contains the people of the kingdom and those drawn away from the kingdom, we are not charged with figuring out who is who. That is left to the angels at the end of the age.
While there is a distinct genetic and visual difference between wheat and weeds, this passage indicates there isn’t that same easy to identify difference between those who are living into the kingdom and those who aren’t. In reality I think we all have some wheat and weed tendencies within us and it is through our receipt of God’s grace that we become more and more wheat and less and less weed.
It is also possible that those who we think are weeds, are like Jacob, still coming to recognize God’s call and direction for their lives. In this passage, there is hope that all will recognize God is reaching out to them and will be transformed by God’s grace before the harvest.
Paul reminds us that “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” They can only be revealed if each of us is groaning productively: If our energy is in recognizing all the places God’s grace is extended to us, particularly if we haven’t been looking. If we extend God’s grace to others at all times. Showing up, just as God shows up for Jacob and as the servants care for the wheat and weeds alike.
Groaning productively leads us to share our experiences as children of God with others with our personal stories wherever the opportunity arises, to embody God’s kingdom the best we can with the help of the Holy Spirit, and to give others room to experience God’s grace one step at a time.
Groaning wells up within us as we recognize the distance between the fullness of the Kingdom of God and the reality of the world in which we live. Our Groaning becomes productive as it joins the groaning of the Spirit and all creation, waiting in hope.
The groaning energizes us, propels us forward, as in labor. It is the first fruits of the amazing harvest to come.
We live in a culture that wants to silence the groaning, kill the pain, or divert our attention from what is happening within us and around us in other people’s lives, and in creation. It is a culture which calls us to point out everything that is wrong in the “other” and to ignore the groan inside that alerts us to where God’s grace is extended and being reflected, that calls us to join “other” as they reflect the kingdom of our Father. How we reflect God’s grace to others, within our faith community, geographic community, or world will determine if we shine like the sun.
Recognizing God’s presence in our lives, seeking to live in Christ, is possible through the work of the Spirit, but it is not easy. We can “reality check” ourselves on how much we are shining by how we talk to one another, how we make a difference in the lives of those who are hungry and thirsty, those without hope, those whose voices are not heard. We can reflect on our level of generosity, encouragement, faithful distinctiveness, hospitality, patient companionship. Our priorities tell us if we are following through on God’s actual desire for us.
We must dig in deeper to help others see Christ in us, and wait with patience, knowing that our God is good and is working actively and behind the scenes to bring all creation into the full glory of God’s kingdom even when the outcomes are not obvious to us. We must groan productively.
Sources include Preaching Notes Rev. Dawn Chesser, Discipleship ministries.