This passage is listed as one of two possibilities for the First Reading for the fifth sample penitential service in Appendix II. The framers of the rite paired it with two Kingdom similes found in Matthew 13:44-46.
This is a rich and thoughtful passage. But is it suitable for teens and young adults without considerable unpacking? Let’s explore it a bit:
Brothers and sisters:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that sees for itself is not hope.
For who hopes for what one sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.
Romans represents the height of Paul’s theological acumen: deep thinking, a full life of experience, and a passionate search for God who reaches to people, only to see them walk away, intentionally or otherwise.
Sin presumes our misconduct. Suffering, human corruption, slavery: these are important topics, but I think in the modern setting with youth, they might distract from personal culpability. My approach would be to focus on that.
We don’t quite feel we belong to the family of God. That’s a sentiment many of us felt as teenagers or young adults. The whole world seems wacked out. That’s all creation groaning. There are times when nothing seems right. Saint Paul is very much on board with that thought.
What do we have left? Hope. Just hope.
We come to God with our sins, and even our feelings of helplessness. We know something’s not right. We know we don’t intend to commit sin, but we end up there anyway. Saint Paul is most definitely on board with that experience. Paul is able to counsel hope. A good confessor counsels hope.
That final quality at the end of this passage is important to emphasize: endurance. Athletes understand it. Westerners may not be prepared to sacrifice much or to sacrifice often. But Western athletes will train with vigor. Let’s remind ourselves that very very few amateurs make it to pro stardom. But the training and the endurance continues.
The saints, like Paul, are our stars. And like good amateur athletes, we can endure with hope because other people have endured, have shown the way, and can inspire us with a whisper of “glorious freedom.”
And that’s something young adults and teens can accept and embrace, perhaps.