Pastor Keith Madsen
I can hear it already. Some of you women have looked at the title of my sermon for today, and
you‟ve said to yourself, “Hmpf! „Giving Birth.‟ I don‟t care if he is a pastor, what does a man know
about giving birth?!” Let me start out right from the beginning by saying, you have a point! On this
Mother‟s Day we honor those who do know what the pain of labor and birth is like in a way that
men cannot. We men try to be supportive in such times, and if we are foolhardy we might even try
such phrases as “I know how you feel!” but, of course, we don‟t. And let me confess right away,
I‟m glad! In my own case, I was born at 10 pounds, 6 ounces, after a ten month pregnancy, to a
woman who had to stretch to reach 5‟2”. For those of you who would like to send sympathy notes
to my mother, I can get you her address after the service.
The only thing I can say in my defense is that I am following the precedent of a man who long ago
used the metaphor of giving birth to say some things about how this world that God created
operates. The Apostle Paul wrote in verse 22 of the text I have chosen for today, “We know that the
whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…” And I seized upon this passage
because today is a Sunday that we actually recognize two important events: Mother‟s Day, the day
upon which we have traditionally honored the mothers in our midst, and Pentecost, the day when
we celebrate the birthday of the church. The commonality between these two celebrations is in that
phrase “giving birth.” It is because the mothers in our midst have chosen to go through the pain of
childbirth, that all of us exist, and that we have human life on this planet. And it is also true that
Pentecost represents a birth – the Church was born at Pentecost, and through that event Paul tells us
came the birth of a new world. Both processes involved significant pain.
While we men may not truly appreciate the degree of pain in childbirth, all of us would certainly
agree that it is generally an experience of intense pain. Trends shift back and forth on what to do
about that pain. For a time, mothers were put under general anesthetic at some point during the
delivery, but then because of the way that anesthetic affected the baby, there was a trend toward
natural childbirth. Pain was moderated through breathing and relaxation exercises. Since I have not
been involved even as a coach in recent childbirths, I‟m not sure what the trend is now, but there is
certainly some ambivalence about natural childbirth. I remember in the old sitcom Mad About You,
Jamie was planning to have their child by natural childbirth, and her mother, played by Carol
Burnett said, “Are you CRAZY?!” Later, during the birth, the doctor kept asking her if she wanted
any anesthetic, and she kept saying no, until the pain got particularly intense, and she said “Now!
Now I want the anesthetic.” The doctor then told her that it was too late, and the “window of
opportunity” for that had passed. Jamie‟s rather desperate response was, “Well, break it! Break the
In another context Carol Burnett advised men that if they wanted to know what birth felt like, they
should take their bottom lip and pull it up over their head! Personally, I‟ve never been able to get it
past my nose.
This pain of childbirth is what came to Paul‟s mind when he wanted to speak about the kind of
suffering people face in this world, and the meaning of that suffering. What he wrote was that the
pain of this world is all like the pain of childbirth, because God is using it to bring about a “new
birth.” “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only
the creation, but we ourselves…” That‟s one of the most hopeful passages in the Bible, because it
tells us that whatever kind of suffering we face in this world is labor pain – sure, it might be
intense, but there is something good God is going to bring out of it, a new birth, a new creation.
The whole creation is going through this labor. A few weeks ago we had “earth day,” a day when
we consider how important it is to take care of this earth, the environment in which we live. What
our Scripture says to me about this is that God isn‟t just concerned about the redemption of human
beings – he is concerned about the redemption of his whole creation. All that we see is God‟s
creation, his “child”. He is concerned about it all, and wants it all returned to the way he envisioned
it in the first place when he created the world. God‟s desire, according to verse 21, is “that the
creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay…” Set free from even the decay we have
introduced into creation by our poor stewardship, our unwillingness to treat this world with respect,
as is due to God‟s child.
The beginning of this new creation – but not its totality – is the Church which was born on
Pentecost. Paul writes in verse 23, “and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first
fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption…” The church was born through
labor pain. Christ died on a cross. Of the original twelve disciples, all except John are thought to
have died a violent death. Paul, who wrote this passage of Scripture, was beheaded. In Nero‟s time,
the era where both Peter and Paul were executed, Christians were not only thrown to the lions, but
they were also covered in pitch and burned alive as torches in Nero‟s gardens, while his guests
strolled through the gardens socializing. A few years ago, Cathy and I and our kids visited Rome.
We visited the dark little underground prison where Peter and Paul were said to have been
imprisoned. We visited the Colosseum where many Christians died, and saw the crosses carved into
the concrete as a memorial. All of our family felt it was a highly spiritual experience, somewhat like
what many feel about visiting Ground Zero in New York City. The church was born through labor
pain. It was this pain that Paul was writing about when he wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of
this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…” The pain and
suffering the first Christians went through would be redemptive suffering, because it was part of a
birth process that was bringing into being something better – a new creation.
Giving birth, then, always involves some pain. But giving birth is not something that only mothers
do. The first Christians, male and female, were part of a process of giving birth to something new,
God‟s church, God‟s new creation in Christ Jesus. And that same process of creation continues on.
God continues to use the pain of this world to give birth to new life.
It happens to each of us as individuals. In all of our lives there comes times of painful transition.
We lose our job, and it seems that the future we thought we had out in front of us, has suddenly
disintegrated. A loved one dies, one who has been such an important part of our life that it is
difficult to imagine what life can be without them. Our children become adults and move away to
their own life, and suddenly you realize that what life has been for you for the last twenty or so
years, it can no longer be. And you wonder if anything as good will ever replace it. These are all the
pangs of birth. These are all the labor pains that are giving birth to a new you. Bob Dylan once said,
“He who is not busy being born, is busy dying.”
I think about Cathy and my life together, and we have definitely gone through some labor pain in
the past year. We are separated most of the year from our children, who we are used to having
around as part of our life. Cathy has had some serious health challenges. Her mother recently died,
and because Cathy needed to be in Kansas to care for her mother, she lost her job. But the Word of
God says to me that this means God is helping something new to be born into our life. Where there
is labor pain, there is new birth, and Cathy and I are “busy being born” not “busy dying”! I think of
Cathy‟s reports to me of her mother‟s last few days, and her mother curled up into a fetal position.
So, in one sense, she was busy dying. But in another sense, even at that point, she was busy being
born! She was being born into that life which God has in store for us beyond physical death.
So, what kind of pain have you been going through in your own life? And as you think about
whatever that pain is for you, also ask yourself this question, “To what am I giving birth in my life
through my times of pain?” Maybe God is helping you give birth to a new you – a more capable
you, a more content and “together” you, a more Christ-like you. “We know that the whole creation
has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have
the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our
Today when a mother is pregnant, she can know more about the nature of her coming child than
ever before. The doctor can do a sonogram, and amniocentesis, and many other tests and procedures
to determine the sex and health of the baby. We cannot always see in a similarly clear way what
God is bringing to birth in our world or in our own life through the labor pains around us. But that
is where our final two verses say something vitally important to us: “Now hope that is seen is not
hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with
We wait in hope for that which God is bringing to birth in our life and in our world.