Benediction Online

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Living in the Gap

Romans 8:12-25

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
As Paul reminds the Christians in Rome – we do not hope based on what we see. Our hope is based on the confidence and assurance that the risen Christ is present in the world, bringing all things to what they are meant to be, closing the gap. God’s focus is on closing the gap between what is and what ought to be. This is the work of God from the beginning of creation. We are called to join in this work, to be co-creators in making God’s vision become reality.

If you go the gym you will hear a lot of grunting and groaning from the free weights section. Weightlifters often groan. They groan as they strain to push weights off of their chests, or over their heads, or pull and heave them off the floor.

Engines also groan when they are straining. If you strap a heavy trailer to a pickup truck and head uphill, you will hear the engine groan. Gears push against gears, the engine revs, and the truck groans as it strains forward.

This is the sound of creation. Groaning is the sound of creation. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” This is a vivid image which reminds us of the difficult work of creation. It isn’t always “God said and it was so…”  That Creating something can be hard. It can be groan-inducing.

I groaned a lot over this sermon until I went to an excellent church resource called “Sermons that Work.” And there I found this wonderful sermon written by a priest called Matt Seddon. So this morning’s sermon owes more to Matt than to me. I have taken advantage of his groaning in his creativity.

Groaning happens in a gap – the gap between where we are and where we hope to be. Groaning reminds us that the time spent in the gap between what is and what could be is a place of hard work.
Our readings from the New Testament today are about living in this gap. In the reading from Romans, we heard about the gap between creation as God intends and wills it, and where we are now. Paul talks about how to live in optimism and hope in a world that so often doesn’t fulfill what God has promised to us. He calls this life in the Spirit. Paul’s whole ministry, in a way, was driven to close this gap.

Paul believed that he had seen the fulfillment of creation in Jesus, and so he knew that fulfillment was within reach. He also knew that the communities he preached to still lived with injustice, war, poverty and suffering. He knew both the glory that is to come and the very real sufferings of the present time. At the very same time he also saw the glory that is just beyond the gap.

So he exhorted the Christians in Rome to live in the Spirit, because life in the Spirit is a life characterized by the confidence that through Christ we have been freed from all the things that can increase our suffering. A life in the Spirit is a life lived free of hatred and violence, and instead filled with joy and reconciliation. A life in the Spirit is a way to live in the gap between what is and what shall be, in joyful exertion, not in desperation.

The gospel parable also speaks to life in the gap. The Reign of God – a reign that Jesus preached was here and now – is described as glorious. Jesus compares it to a grain field. A field of grain is the source of not just one loaf of bread, but an abundance of bread. This is an image of an abundance of the basic source of life. Yet, in the midst of this vision of an abundant life, there are weeds. The weeds gum up the works. They cannot be removed easily. This parable is about having to wait in the gap – to live in a world of both abundance and weeds. The parable is there to comfort those who live in the gap with the assurance that at the end, the weeds will not ruin the harvest.

It is easy to get hung up on the end of the parable with its images of fire and destruction which seem so out of sync with the rest of Jesus’ teachings. When we read the Bible we need to remember that there are many voices. Matthew’s focus on the bad guys being destroyed is not shared in the same way by the other three gospellers, so I think we can safely remind ourselves not to take things too literally and see the furnace of fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth as not being about God’s wrath but instead being a sign of hope for those living in the gap.

It is extremely difficult to live in a gap. It is difficult to see the glory beyond the horizon and still live in a place that is not yet fully glorified. The first Christians must have felt this very strongly. Those who actually knew Jesus had known in their minds and felt in their souls the goodness and love of God in creation, the Reign of God in the here and now. Paul had seen the glory of the risen Christ, and his conviction, faith and excitement must have filled the minds and souls of the people in the churches he planted. Yet, just outside the door of each house church, every time the communion meal ended and people returned to their lives, they were confronted by the realities of a world that did not meet that vision.

The parables Jesus told about the end of time, the words Paul gave to his communities, were written to help them understand and overcome the gap between what is and what ought to be. They are also words written for us today. We still live in the gap. Many of us know the feeling of God’s love and have experienced it in our lives. We have seen it in grand acts of compassion and small daily acts of kindness. We rejoice when justice triumphs and celebrate when sickness turns to health. These are signs of the Reign of God come near. Yet, we also wake daily to news of war and rumors of war, of violence in homes and communities, of soul-crushing poverty in every country, of injustice, and all the many ways the dignity inherent in every person is neglected.

The way to join in this work is to live a life in the Spirit. This isn’t a life that tries to ignore the gap. It is a life that can stride confidently into the gap – angered at injustice, grieving at suffering, striving and straining and groaning. Groaning is the soundtrack of creation. It is the sound of the gap closing, of the Spirit overcoming resistance. Life in the Spirit strains and groans to close the gap. It is a good, honest groaning, the soundtrack of what will be coming into being.

Life in the Spirit is a life that closes the gap between the weight on the chest and the weight lifted high and triumphantly overhead. Life in the Spirit closes the gap between the engine straining against the gears and finally reaching full speed, running like a well-oiled machine.

Our calling is to be gap closers; To see the distance between what should be and what is, and strain, and heave, and work, and lift to close that gap. It may be necessary to groan, but the groans sing the soundtrack of creation.

May we stay true in the struggle, groaning if need be, laughing at our groaning when we can. The gap is closing, let us hear the soundtrack of creation as we raise our voices in work and strain and joy.

With thanks to Sermons that Work and Fr Matt Seddon.


Post a Comment

<< Home