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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Romans Series #4 - Longing Heart, Groaning Creation

When I was in high school I went on a retreat with my youth group to Notre Dame. I was taught by Mark Hart, "the Bible geek," an important lesson: the Word of God is powerful. He had us memorize our first scripture verse, Romans 1:16, by singing it to the tune of the Gillian's Island theme song. "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God, for the salvation of all who believe. Romans, one sixteen!"

There is real power in memorizing scripture. Just taking one line and ascribing it to our memory allows us to meditate on the Word of God anytime, anyplace.  Today's first sentence from Saint Paul is another that I intentionally memorized. I read it one day in my prayer while in seminary, and it struck me. So I read it a few more times and kept it in my heart that day and beyond. I've done the same with other passages over the years and I encourage you all to get the same.  The spiritual power of scripture, and it's memorizing, is akin to the physical power we can hear and feel from the lightning during these summer storms we have been experiencing.

Saint Paul points today to the cosmic yearning that parallels our internal longing for freedom and the fullness of life.  Humanity cries out in its depths for Jesus and the life we were made for: a life of communion with God and with each other, apart from the destruction that sin causes.  And ironically, the world longs for it as well, since God gave us dominion (or better, "stewardship") over all creation, and our selfishness ends up harming creation, too.  Saint Paul is probably (to some degree) deriving this teaching from the Genesis story of creation, but also in part from his theology of spiritual warfare. The devil is fighting for dominion over the world. He can't win, but he can fight, and will fight even more destructively as the loss becomes clearer. Thus, the world suffers, grievously.  So, for Paul and his Roman audience, now that Christ has won definitively but before His second coming, things get more intense and the longing increases.

The last verse names two of the main results of our baptism: adoption, the redemption of our bodies. These two things have yet to be fully realized, and in fact are only complete in heaven, where God clearly says "You are mine" and our bodies are restored to their original holiness and perfection (many theologians suspect Adam and Eve would have lived forever, had they not sinned).  This is part of the "already, but not yet" mystery of Christian living. We have a foretaste of something, but must await its completion. Christ has won and reigns in heaven, but we are not yet experiencing it on earth. We taste heaven in Mass, but aren't yet there. We are God's children now, but not yet fully so until heaven. Our bodies are redeemed, but still fallen. Even the saints, who are clearly very close to God, cannot yet experience the beautiful eternal union with Him until later.  

Longing is a good thing. Groaning is healthy. It signifies our desire for God and our affirmation that this world does not satisfy and that we are in need of something more, that we are broken. Paul says that groaning is from the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us - but that is for next week.

I encourage you to sit down with Romans Chapter 8 and slowly read through it during your prayer this week. Find one of the many dynamite passages, write it down, put it in your bathroom mirror, and memorize it. You won't regret it. You can even sing it if they helps!

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