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August 12, 2018

“Camping- Present Tents and Future Tents”

2nd Corinthians 4:13-5:1

 

Camping is not something I look forward to. I spent four summers working at a Christian summer camp called Westminster Woods, and I have lots of memories from that experience of camping outside and sleeping on a tarp, swatting mosquitos and chasing off raccoons, cooking on an open fire while getting smoke in my eyes and nose, smelling like campfire for the entire summer, and not really being able to get the dirt out from under my fingernails until about two months after camp was over... Plus I got to experience the same things once a summer when I went to speak at camp, which always includes a long hike and overnight outside, which I did for 25 years after being on staff. Let’s just say I’m not a big fan of camping.

 

That being said, I have been talked into going camping by my wife a few times, which is surprising considering how rotten our first camping experience together was. Years ago, we went camping with Paula’s sister and family up to Fallen Leaf Lake, near South Lake Tahoe. This was before we had any children. Now my sister in law and family had a 5th wheel, so for them, it was more like staying in a small house, rather than actually camping in a tent. We had checked the weather report for the weekend, and since it was going to be hot, clear and no breeze, Paula and I figured we could just sleep out under the stars for two nights. We got an air mattress, two sleeping bags, and ground tarp drove up to the camp site and set things up. After dinner and S’mores, we all retired for the evening. For the first hour or so, it was actually kind of nice to sleep out under the stars. Then I started hearing noises. I whipped out my flashlight and saw a raccoon, trying to get whatever crumbs it could find by the campfire. I threw a rock at it and it scampered away. I figured a raccoon would be more interested in food than us and tried going back to sleep.

 

A couple of hours later I once again heard an animal going through the nearby brush. It sounded bigger than a raccoon, and I flipped on my flashlight and saw a large coyote, or perhaps a wolf, or maybe a bear, or perhaps Sasquatch running through the campsite. My heart was racing, and I was beginning to think camping out under the stars wasn’t such a good idea after all. I held onto the flashlight and tried to calm down. Then I remembered a Gary Larson cartoon, showing two bears looking down upon two people sleeping out under the stars in their sleeping bags. One bear says to the other, “SANDWICHES!”I looked at my watch and it was almost 1:00 a.m. I tried to go back to sleep, trying my best NOT to be a sandwich, visualizing myself in our house, sleeping in our bed at home.

 

Then I heard another noise- not the sound of another animal, but rather the soft pitter-patter of rain. A drop hit me square in the face, followed by another, then several more. Paula woke up, and we found ourselves in the midst of a downpour. We picked up our sleeping bags and air mattress, threw it into our small pickup and climbed into the cab. For the rest of the night, we tried to sleep in a cramped cab of a small Toyota truck with a stick shift. The rain didn’t let up that night, nor the next morning.

 

 

When we got up, we were sore, exhausted, and hungry. We stumbled into Denny’s and ate our grand slam meal in exhausted silence. After some coffee, Paula and I began talking and decided we couldn’t sleep another night outside, and agreed it was time to buy a tent. We got a cheap two man tent at Long’s, called it our “Tahoe vacation home”, and set it up back at the camp site, which was good since it rained for the rest of the day. That night, at first I felt a little more comfortable, having a tent between me and the rain, and whatever large animals were roaming out in the forest. Then I remembered another cartoon showing two bears about to eat two campers in their tent, while one looked at the other saying, “It’s always hard to get the wrappers off of these things...” I don’t think I slept much better that night. I was tired of being in my tent, tired of the hard ground, lack of sleep and overall suffering and began longing for home.

 

I share this tale of camping woe because I think for Paul, he often felt the same way when it came to living life here on earth. He saw himself and other followers of Christ as camping in tents- that his spiritual body in effect was in a temporary tent, and he longed for his heavenly home. We know from scripture that Paul suffered greatly- he was imprisoned often, stoned nearly to death, had a thorn in his side which may’ve been either a physical deformity or constant heckler. He had no home to speak of and traveled great distances to spread the message of the gospel. He lost his standing in society and circle of friends in his conversion to Christianity. And his relationships with other believers were often contentious, especially in his dealings with the church he helped found in Corinth. In this second letter to the church, Paul finds himself having to defend his ministry and actions to the congregation. Apparently, after his initial visit, Paul had planned to visit the church a second time, then changed his plans.

 

In chapter one of 2nd Corinthians, Paul says he decided to “spare” the congregation from another contentious visit, and in 2:1, he says he made up in his mind that he “would not make another painful visit to them.” Because of this change in plans, and his last visit being full of strife, his integrity and ministry were seriously questioned. Paul spends most of the rest of the letter defending his actions, asking for forgiveness, reminding them of God’s grace, and looking forward to the life after this, where there is no strife or contention, no broken human relationships.

 

By the beginning of chapter five, Paul has written to the Corinthian church that although their outward nature has been wasting away- that is, though they have been fighting and struggling in their human relationships, inwardly, through the power of Christ, they were being renewed and transformed.  He then encourages this small struggling church to fix their eyes not on what is seen- namely, their contentious relationship- but rather on what is unseen- the eternal life that is yet to come.  16th century Protestant reformer Martin Luther said, “I would not give up one moment of heaven for all the joys and riches of the world, even if it lasted for thousands and thousands of years.” For Luther, for Paul, for the church in Corinth, and for us here today, there is hope in an eternal glory of which we can only imagine, and which waits for us all. That future hope can bring us a present hope in the life in which we now live.

 

Paul uses this analogy of that which makes us human being housed by nothing more than a temporary tent, and that if it is destroyed- if we die or are fighting disease, or dealing with painful relationships which destroy us, we can long for our heavenly home, where God has made an eternal house, not built by human hands. Tents represent the insecurity of this life. Our bodies do not last forever, and are destroyed when we die; but Christians should not despair, for new buildings await us in the heavens. There God will rebuild our lives in a totally secure and permanent way.

 

 

Yet for now, we ourselves live in the “meanwhile” time- the “present tents”...a time in which we groan, longing to move from this life to the next. In verse three Paul lets us know that in the transition from this world to the next, there will not be a time when we find the essence of ourselves unclothed, that is without a tent. For Paul, the transition from this life to the next was without delay- we would go from the earthly tent to a new heavenly body instantaneously.

 

Next Paul reminds us that God has given us a guarantee of that which is to come- The Holy Spirit is a deposit, a guarantee that there is more to the life in which we now experience, more than life in the tents in which we are camping.  The Holy Spirit poured out by the Risen Lord, works at our inward nature, helping us be a bit more Christ-like and groan a little less often. The Spirit brings a heavenly reality into our present tents, reminding us of the future tents to come.  The Spirit also guarantees us a total transformation into the likeness of Christ when our earthly tent is destroyed, and we go to our eternal home.

 

From this knowledge and understanding, Paul says that we can be confident that there is more to life than what we see- for we have an eternal hope, a guarantee of life eternal, and we walk by faith, not by sight. I can remember working at Sears years ago, selling various items in the Sporting, Toy, Camera and Garden department, and people asking me as I was about to sell them a typewriter or camera or video game system, what kind of guarantee came with the purchase. I told them that Sears’ policy was satisfaction guaranteed or their money back. This set the buyer at ease, gave them confidence in the store and in their purchase.

 

God has given us a much better guarantee than any retail store can offer. Although we may struggle in this life, although we may at times prefer our heavenly dwelling to our present tents, we can be confident in the guarantee that one day we will indeed be at home with our Lord and those who have died in faith before us. 17th Century minister Matthew Henry said, “Our duty as Christians is always to keep heaven in our eye and earth under our feet.” With this confidence, in the midst of all the woe and suffering and relational difficulties we have, we can work for God, with the earth under our feet.

 

We, therefore, have a goal in our present tents- to please God with our lives with the earth under our feet. In spite of suffering, grief, and difficulty, we can confidently serve God in this life-showing God’s love, hope, justice and mercy, all the while being guided and comforted by a future hope, a guarantee of life eternal as we keep heaven in our eye.

 

 

In the last verse for today, Paul says that we will answer for our failures and short comings in transferring from this life to the next.  Yet Paul ’s and our fates will not be at stake- This has nothing to do with justification- where we are made right and justified by grace through faith in Christ. It will instead be a judgment on the way we have lived as Christians. There’s a story about a man who dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, “First we’ll take a look at all of those moments when you failed in your faith, those moments when you sinned and fell short of God’s intent for your earthly life.”  The man sat there, full of shame and embarrassment as those moments of failure were shown to him. “Based on all of those failures,” St. Peter said, “You need 100 points to make it into heaven. So now, let’s recount all of the good things you have done. What can you tell me?” Well, I was married to the same woman for 50 years, and never cheated on her, even in my heart. “That’s wonderful!” said St. Peter. “That is worth three points!” “Only three points?” Said the man. “Well, then I attended church all of my life and supported the ministry of Christ with a tithe and lots of personal service.” “Terrific!’ said St. Peter. “That is worth two points!”

“Wow! Only two points?” said the man. “Okay then, I started a soup kitchen for the homeless in my community, and worked at an orphanage in Mexico for three years.”

“Excellent!” Said, Peter. “Two more points!” Exasperated, the man replies “Two points! At this rate, the only way I can get into heaven is by the grace of God!” A broad smile crept across St. Peter’s face, and he said “Bingo! 100 points. Come on in!” If we had to gain points with God on merit alone, heaven would be mighty empty! We will see all of our faults and failures, but thanks to the Grace of God which justifies us, we will enter our heavenly tents.

 

 

 

We’re only camping for a while. One day, we’ll be home. In the meantime, as we live in our present tents, even as we see the greed, sin, warfare, faithlessness, and injustice around us, we do not lose heart. The decay of this world is something that affects our outer nature, our lives we live here and now, but not the inner nature. Suffering in an eternal reality, in the spiritual understanding of time is only momentary. For Paul reminds us that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all.”(4:17)

 

Early church theologian St. John Chrysostom said,“If one should suffer all the sorrow of all the saints in the world, yet they are not worth one hour’s glory in heaven.” Until that time when our camping trip is done, let us live our lives in these present tents, pleasing God, living confidently, working for justice, sharing God’s love, remembering our guarantee, and living by faith, not by sight. Alleluia! Amen.

 

 

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