Paul doesn’t say anything quite like these verses, anywhere else. So some have argued that these thoughts are just random meanderings of his, but from my observations of Paul, he certainly didn’t meander over anhthing!!So the theologian Tom Wright says these verses are, in fact, the completed climax of the first part of this letter to the Romans and must be seen as very important. So I think Tom Wright is correct in stressing the importance of these verses, and in unpacking the climax to this part of the letter, it is very important that we update and bring these words right into our present age. I’m sure they were very relevant to Paul’s era, but today, they are vitally important.
So let’s start with v18 with “the glory revealed in us,” because it right where we finished last time and this phrase has great significance to the rest of the passage and great relevance to today. Three weeks ago, I told you about my little grandaughter’s book “Peek a Boo,” where she has to lift the flap on each page to see what is hiding underneath. On the last page she discovers a mirror with the words “Peek a boo, it’s YOU!” And I concluded by saying that when we look into our spiritual mirror, God is saying, “Peek a Boo, it’s ME in YOU!” Thus we reflect God’s glory. It is our reason to be, part of being human. Here’s another illustration of this point.
Two artists set upon a challenge to paint the best picture. One of them was known to be very creative, the other was not as renowned. All through the week the two artists were busy painting behind concealing curtains, except that strange abrasive noises were coming from one of the cubicles. On the day when the paintings were to be revealed there was still the sound of abrasive rubbing. At the appointed time both paintings were revealed for judging and as the curtains fell and the paintings were revealed they were found to be identical. The lesser artist had rubbed and prepared the wall to be a mirror to reflect the other’s work. He smiled and said, “I just wanted to reflect the glory of the master. I ask for nothing more.”
This is the great challenge for our day and age. Our world is not working the way it is – so we need to reflect the glory of the master Creator.
So, in v 18, as Paul refers to “the glory that will be revealed in us, he extends this thought in v 19 to include all of creation, by saying that the whole of creation is waiting for that reflected glory.” Tom Wright says that in these verses, “We see in astonishing clarity – God’s whole plan of salvation for all of God’s creation.” This truly is the climax of this letter so far.
Why is creation waiting for the reflected glory of God to be revealed in us? Simply, because things aren’t as they should be with the created world, and we, as we reflect the glory of the master Creator, have to do something about it. We have to use our creative skills.
Creation is referred to in v 19 - 22, but for all its beauty, sustainability and splendour, it is not present today, in the way that it should be. Humans were put in charge of creation but our stewardship has fallen into dis-repair, even destruction, over many centuries.
So while creation is still awaiting that reflected glory of God, it is, says Paul, “groaning in the pains of childbirth, (v 22) groaning to birth the new world, but in order to do so creation must be enabled by a more highly evolved human society, whose primary concern is to conserve and protect the sustainability of this planet, for all living things and their habitats, in full understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, the real truth of interconnectedness as shown in the eternal triangle, God Creation and mankind.
Do you remember “Body Purple” from the last Family Service? He was disconnected – an eye in his tummy, a foot where a hand should be, an ear on his foot and so on. The children had to sort him out with everything in the right place so that all the parts could interconnect and function together for the benefit of the whole body. So it is with the interconnectedness of the eternal triangle of God, Creation and human kind. A break in the triangle leads to the “bondage of decay,” (elaborate words of Paul in v 21), in other words, lack of interconnectedness leads to big trouble, because creation is denied its rightful freedom and freedom is one of the eternally flowing rhythms, described as “glorious” in v 21. Freedom is stifled as creation is forced to overproduce, as it’s manipulated, controlled, ravaged and destroyed.
Where and how has humanity gone so wrong? We have forgotten some very important facts and we need to urgently remember them. Let’s see what they are? For the first point let’s take a scientific approach.
Have you been watching “Wonders of the Earth” with Prof Brian Cox? I have to watch it twice every week to try and grasp the details. In the earlier episodes he was showing how in the billions of years of the earth forming, the gases hydrogen and helium eventually produced a particle of carbon that was the originator of life and the chemistry of carbon allows for the existence of a molecule that is able to replicate itself and pass on information from generation to generation. All life on this planet comes from that particle of carbon and the big point he is trying to make, is that because of that particle of carbon, everything is interconnected. All the building blocks of life are the same. We are all the same stuff, the same energy, coalesced, compressed in different ways to create forms and different matter. The first thing that we need to remember is interconnectedness and that is both scientific and spiritual.
Point 1 SO THE UNIVERSAL TRUTH IS THERE IS ONLY ONE OF US AND IT IS THAT WHICH YOU ARE. If you find that dichotomy hard to understand, try this. The soul has been described as the Single Outpouring of Universal Life.
We are connected to all of life on this planet – if we damage, destroy, pillage, take more out of the earth’s resources than the time it takes for Earth to replenish them – then we damage ourselves irreparably because everything is interconnected, we are all one. This is the eternal triangle again, - God, Creation and Mankind interconnected. And this moves us on to the second thing we need to know.
Point 2. ONCE WE REMEMBER THAT WE AND ALL LIVING THINGS AND THE EARTH ITSELF ARE INTERCONNECTED THEN WE HAVE A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE AND HOW IT SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD, LIVED AND DEVELOPED.
Moving on to the third thing we have to remember.
Point 3 GOD’S GREAT PLAN THROUGH JESUS WAS TO JOIN UP, RESTORE THE BROKEN BITS OF THE ETERNAL TRIANGLE, TO RE-CONNECT EVERYTHING, ONCE MORE.
But Paul often refers to this big plan, a plan revealed in the Isaiah sermon series we did late last year, filled with the hope expressed in v 24/5
Point 4. THIS IS A PLAN THAT CAN RESTORE EARTH/CREATION TO WHAT IT SHOULD BE, VIBRANT AND SUSTAINABLE, WITH HUMANS EXERCISING CORRECT AND PROPER STEWARDSHIP OVER THE CREATED WORLD AND THE BIG PLAN WAS JESUS .
His redemptive sacrifice was not just for humans , but for the entire created world. The most famous verse in the Bible Jn 3 v 16 does not say “God so loved humans that he gave his only son so that we should not perish – it says God so loved the world. Our belief in the saving grace of Jesus means that we should extend this to all the created world. We humans are meant to exercise a wise, loving and respectful stewardship of this world and when this happens, creation is released to experience joyful freedom, (V 21) not fettered destruction or polluted water courses. This freedom needs to be felt and experienced by all people, too.
When I go to Australia I try to learn more about the indigenous people who essentially lost this freedom that Paul is talking about and became trapped in an abusive culture that didn’t seem to understand just how precious creation is. On an early visit I went into the centre of Melbourne to the beautiful Botanical gardens to take part in an Aboriginal Heritage Walk. I listened with deepening sadness to the suffering of those indigenous people after the European invasion. The mantra they were taught and grew up with was
“Spirit : Connection : Land”; God first, then Connection to God and land. When their land was taken from them and when it was used so harshly, many died of grief. But the young man said that he and his tribe were more fortunate, because where we were standing had been part of his ancestral lands and it had been preserved as the Botanical gardens and he could walk here whenever he wished and feel his past. He said that in his own way he was free and could respect and care for this small part of his ancestral home because after all that is why the great spirit put us here on earth, to care for the land.
God so loved the world and we should reflect and feel that love for all creation, because Jesus demonstrated supreme love on the cross.
Finally, I realise I am taking great liberty with Pauls’ thoughts in this passage but I am trying to relate them to where we are today. We need to see the bigger picture of redemption of the world and translate it into the redemption of creation and that includes people, flora, fauna, land and oceans.
So summing up our four points: Firstly, we need to be part of the saving process of all of creation if we are to reflect God’s glory.
Our second point: We need to remember that we are connected to all that there is, God, creation and mankind in the eternal triangle. We are the single outpouring of universal life.
Our third point: Humans need to exercise correct and proper stewardship over the created world.
Fourth point: The redemptive sacrifice of Jesus was for the whole of the created world, not just for humans.
We can be a reactive being saying, “All these problems and troubles are not my fault, I can’t do anything about it! Or a creative being saying, “What can I do to help? – Right, I’ll begin with that!” Start with something easy and simple, like no more plastic bags, less energy use, supporting a charity that can help people, habitats and wildlife. Talk about these ideas over dinner, make family plans and commitments, be involved as a family, as a community.
Let’s try to be aware, take part, create and extend our own creative powers to free creation from the “bondage of decay” so that the glory of God will be reflected in us and everything we do towards this end.