The 25th Sunday after Pentecost November 14, 2010
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
784 [TLH alt. 410], 400, 423, 616
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
In the name of Jesus, before whom each of us must stand and give an account, dear fellow-campers:
Mention camping and almost everyone has a story to tell. You have probably experienced what it is like in one form or another. Maybe you enjoy quick weekend trips to a secluded cabin in the woods where you can just sit and listen to the quiet. Perhaps you have pictures from a two week vacation when you slept in a tent and lived off fresh fish. But if you were going to plan the camping trip of a lifetime, what would it be? I know of one young man who spent seven months of hiking and camping along the 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Or would your choice be to travel coast to coast in a fully equipped RV?
Do you realize that we are all camping right now? Whether you have a garage full of gear or have no idea what a Coleman stove is, we are all on the camping trip of our lifetime. The apostle Paul describes for us what it is like and what we can expect along the way.
There is a lot to be said for camping. There is plenty of fresh air and beautiful scenery, plus the adventure of new places. However, it is not always blue sky and picture perfect moments. There are cramped tents which are too hot in the sunshine and leaky during thunderstorms. You may have to put up with smelly outhouses and vicious swarms of mosquitoes.
Paul knew about tents and camping too. He made tents to support himself financially, and he pictures the Christian life on earth as groaning under the burdens of tent living. In chapter four he writes: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:8ff NIV).
What is there about this earthly tent life which causes you to groan? Is it job stress: unrealistic expectations, difficult coworkers, or the possibility of layoffs? It could be tension among family members. Instead of harmony there might be friction because of hurt or anger. There is the groaning which comes when we hear of horrible crimes committed against others. Then, too, there are the physical burdens. We don’t always feel well. Diseases strike. Joints wear out. Hearing and eyesight decline.
Beside all of that there are constant spiritual burdens. The pesky swarms of Satan’s temptations are unrelenting. Our own sinful nature is always attacking from within. The good we want to do, we don’t do; while the evil we don’t want any part of, we end up doing anyway (cf. Romans 718ff). We become afraid, tired, and dissatisfied with ourselves and the world in general. We might feel defeated before the day even begins.
We understand what Paul meant about “groaning.” It is an unavoidable part of camping here on earth. Paul states that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22 NIV). It is the evidence of the sin which has infected everything. Nothing on this earth will ever be perfect, because sin will always be in it until the Lord brings it to an end at His return.
But while we groan here, we also have all the help we need to keep going. The Lord tells us, “Call upon me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15). “Fear not…when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned” (Isaiah 43:1ff NIV). As the Lord told Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
When you are camping—no matter how scenic the view, how phenomenal the fishing and the weather—what inevitably happens after a few days or a week? Don’t you start longing for home? You imagine the comfort of fresh sheets on your own bed, instead of a sleeping bag on an air mattress. You dream of your climate controlled house, microwave, and TV. You enjoy roughing it for a time, trusting that it is only temporary, knowing that your real home is just down the road even though you can’t see it at the moment.
Our earthly tent life is just like that. As we groan under the burdens, we long for our real home to come, “earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.” [v.2] Our heavenly home is as different from this earth as a 30 room mansion is from a two man pup tent. It is a permanent home prepared by the Lord Himself. Jesus told the disciples: “In My Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
Here on earth life is very fragile. A car accident can end a life in an instant. Hurricanes or tornadoes can kill dozens. But in our heavenly home, mortality is totally swallowed up by life! “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4)
In our heavenly home we will enjoy life to the fullest. We will not be disembodied spirits floating in the sea of eternity or winged angels strumming harps from seats in the clouds. We will not be reincarnated as a dog or as a flea on a dog. The Lord will raise and glorify the very same bodies we now have. “He will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21 NIV). Hearing aids, glasses, wheel chairs, medications and surgeries will be long forgotten relics of the past. The internal hand-to-hand combat between the new man and the old Adam will be gone. The old Adam will be left behind dead in the grave. Satan will be chained in Hell where he will not be able to ever again pose a threat to our happiness. Best of all, we will be in the Lord’s presence, closer to Him than we can ever be on earth.
We don’t see any of that now, but we trust that it is there waiting for us down the road. We walk by faith, not sight. Yet it doesn’t mean that our future is uncertain. Not in the least! We can be sure our faith is true and reliable, because God backs up His promises with a guarantee or down payment. A down payment on a house is the guarantee that the buyer is serious about the deal. God’s down payment to assure us of our reservation in Heaven is the Holy Spirit. Through the Word the Spirit informs us of God’s promises regarding eternal life. The Spirit gives us understanding and the faith to believe the Word. Peace, joy, and confidence are all additional blessings to keep us solid in faith.
Our real home is in heaven, but do we live with that perspective? Why then do we become so engrossed in earthly things that we sometimes can only think of possessions we own or would like to have? Why do we work so hard to get “things” which won’t last anyway, and brush aside people who need our help and love? Why are we so afraid of losing a job, becoming sick, or dying? Why is it so hard to give more to church or even find time to come to the Lord’s house? It is like trying to turn a tent into a home. We can stuff more and more furniture into it and try to reinforce it to withstand the winter, but it turns out to be a hopeless, foolish attempt. Remember, we have a mansion waiting for us. We are only camping here for a while. Paul warns: “The time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29ff NIV). As we continue this camping trip of a lifetime, may we keep walking by faith and eagerly looking forward to that day when we can finally unpack and be home forever.
While camping, just knowing that in a few days you will load up the car and head home is going to affect what you do. You are not going to leave equipment scattered all over the woods because you know you have to gather it up to go home. You are not going to toss the car keys into the lake because you need to drive back to town. You act in view of what is coming up.
Judgment Day lies ahead of us on our camping trip of a lifetime. Everyone faces it. Jesus says, “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29 NIV). In view of that Paul writes: “We are confident…we make it our aim…to be well pleasing to Him.” [vv.8,9]
It sounds almost arrogant. How can we be confident and sure of a good verdict upon our lives on the last day? Wouldn’t it seem instead that we would have reason to dread standing before Christ? We are not perfect. None of us is a role model of holiness. Still, we can cheerfully and confidently live today positive that when Jesus looks at our lives, He will pronounce us good.
We can’t take the credit for it. We can tent here confidently because Jesus “tented” here on earth for a time. The Word became flesh. Jesus became one of us, was tempted in every way just as we are, but never sinned, that we might be counted righteous. He groaned under all our burdens and suffered Hell and death so that we might live forever.
By faith we now live for Jesus here which means that whatever we do in love for Him is good in His eyes. It will always be tainted with sin, but He doesn’t see it or charge us with it, since it is covered with His blood. That unconditional mercy moves us to want to please Him even more in everything we do. His love is our source of strength for a cheerful Christian life.
Use it and put it into practice in self-sacrificing love for your spouse, in honoring your parents, and in being kind toward brothers and sisters. Let it show in how you raise your children, do your job, and roll up your sleeves in helping with the congregation’s ministries. Let it shine out for everyone to see in gratitude for blessings and in hope during difficult days. “Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31) that on the last day Jesus may say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (cf. Matthew 25:21, et. al.)
We are tenting here only for a time, but we have a home with our Savior forever! Lord, lead us safely there! Amen.
“Forever with the Lord!”
O Father, ‘tis Thy will.
The promise of that faithful word
E’en here to me fulfill.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.