July 19, 2020 Longing Romans 8:18-25 Rev. Paul L. Escamilla
There’s a sign this past week that has caught the world’s attention. It’s posted at the entrance of a roller coaster ride at a Japanese amusement park and it reads: “Please scream inside your hearts.” It’s obviously the management’s way of trying to open an amusement park and contain a virus at the same time; a virus, which, we all know, is more forcefully propelled into the air by coughing, or shouting, or sneezing, or screaming. We know it’s a roller coaster, and that it evokes all kinds of guttural noises. That’s part of the enjoyment of this ride. But please, seal your lips and scream inside your hearts.
That sign would, of course, have a double meaning if you’re in America. For reasons related to a deadly virus we’re hoping to contain—please scream inside your hearts. For reasons related to a moral vision for a society that behaves better than we have—inside your hearts, please scream. Scream to remind yourself, and others, that the world is not whole, is not just, is not to borrow one of our principal biblical words, righteous. In the sense of right relationships, of dignity and equity for all, the world is not yet righteous. Two meanings for us—please scream inside your hearts, and, inside your hearts, please scream.
Paul has a word for that second meaning. That word is groan. As we heard Ms. Laura share with us a moment ago, that emotion that wells up inside of us, that is like the heart screaming. Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains—longing for its redemption.” And so are we all. So are we all. “Together,” he writes, “we are groaning inwardly.” Screaming inside our hearts, as it were, awaiting our adoption and redemption; awaiting that belonging that belongs to all, the belonging that is the longing of all. In the world, on this side of its healing and wholeness and shalom, on this side of its redemption, longing is our living. It’s what we do, it’s who we are as people of faith—longing for our own wholeness or for the world’s. Longing together becomes my longing. One group’s longing becomes another group’s longing. We long for living. That is the nature of our faith in Christ.
Later, Paul writes these beautiful and paradoxical words. In chapter 12, he will exhort the church to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; and to weep with those who weep.” He will invite the church to find our way to any who are celebrating and to share their joy; and at the very same time, in the very same frame, in the very same existence, to find our way to those who are weeping and understand why; and share that weeping. We are longing for a living. It’s no wonder we go by the name Christian. Christians who follow the Christ. A Jesus who said from the beginning, “I have come to seek the lost, to find my way to those who are broken-hearted and bind up their broken hearts, those who are oppressed and set them free, those who are blind and give them sight.” Jesus’ whole life and ministry was longing, was seeking, was finding his way to those who in their hearts were screaming and to share that scream even to the point of giving his own life for the life of the world.
In Luke 22, we find this intriguing observation. It’s as much aspirational as descriptive because we know his disciples and we know this wasn’t always true. But in that moment, Jesus looks to them and says, “You are those who have been with me in my trials . . .” He’s describing not who they always are right then but who he hopes they will become. “You are those who have been with me in my trials.” And in so doing, he’s characterizing his followers, his disciples for all time. We are those who are with Jesus and with others in their trials. That is a fundamental posture of the Jesus community, the Jesus who came to seek and save the lost and then again and then again.
How do we do that? Charles Peguy, the French philosopher, gives us a simple way to begin—with a question. In French: Ou son les autres. In English, “Where are the others?”
Who’s not in this circle who needs to be, who is not at this table being nourished as we are now? Who’s missing from this community, this scene, this effort, this pay-off, this dividend that many of us are enjoying? Who’s not enjoying a dividend right now? Does everybody have what they need—basic dignity, equity, belonging, love, acceptance? “Where are the others” is a question that leads us down a path that widens into the entire world, and for people of faith, it is our question. Where are the others? Who is screaming in their hearts? Maybe due to a virus, but maybe due to other realities of hardship or struggle or inequity, to which I may otherwise have been oblivious, but not now. Not as one follows Jesus, who shares in his trials and shares in the trials of others. Not as one who groans inwardly myself together with all creation. That is our question. Where are the others? And once we identify those who have been overlooked, or unheard, or left out of the circle or away from the table to take a next step; but may involve choosing courage over comfort, conviction over convenience, compassion instead of coziness. Where are the others? And what might I do? Who might I be? Where might I turn my ear, my eye to see them, to hear their hearts screaming, to share that groaning that really does belong to all of us until we all belong to God and to each other? Longing for those who follow Christ is our living. It’s our life.
But not all in Paul’s message to us is gloom and heaviness. He begins this section where he speaks of creation and the groaning inwardly in travail with words about glory; a glory that is yet to be revealed to us. Only that word in Greek is not to us, but into us, which gives that idea a beautiful sense of glory emerging within us. I like to think that the way that begins already to happen the glory of God being revealed into us when we find our way to those others that have not been among us; whose faces have not been heard; whose wounds have not been bound up; whose struggle has not been shared; and we share in that longing—glimpses already of glory revealed into us. Glimpses of compassion, of beauty, of goodness, of courage, of vision and dedication, of faithful following, of a Jesus who sought to save those who were lost, those who were screaming in their hearts. Glory waits to be revealed to us—into us—maybe even through us. And here we have a sense that, taking us to the window of longing, Paul would show us beyond the longing the struggling the suffering to glory, to the reconciling of God’s world, to the longing that becomes belonging, mourning turned to dancing, sadness to celebration, groaning to gladness.
And now, hear those wise and promising words of the proverb, “Sweet to the soul is a longing fulfilled.” Sweet to the soul is a longing fulfilled. When a longing is satisfied, something happens deep inside the soul, until such time as we can pull out the paintbrush and doctor up that sign. That sign: inside your hearts, please scream more and more over time by the grace of God, the faithfulness of the people, of God seeking the good society asking the question Peguy gives us, “where are the others”until our longing becomes belonging. Change the sign: in your hearts please scream. In your hearts, glory is being revealed. In your hearts, please sing.