“We’re Merely Camping”
2 Corinthians 5:1-9
1 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. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 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. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. (NKJVTM)
Dear members and friends of Grace Lutheran Church,
I’m not much of a camper. I don’t even own a tent. My parents didn’t really do that kind of thing since we were always occupied with work on the farm. Occasionally my siblings and I would spend a night under the stars, sleeping outside in a sleeping bag. But it never really stuck with me. So my children don’t really know what it’s like to do that. However, I know some people really find enjoyment from it. It can be nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city to a remote area in order to find some peace and quiet. But even if one does this, the tent’s eventually got to come down. The sleeping bag gets packed away. The campfire gets snuffed out. The camping is done. I suppose there can even be disappointment since there’s a long drive home, back to reality.
We just recently entered a new year. The new year tends to be welcomed with celebration. People tend to want to forget the past with all its troubles. To fill that void, many want to look ahead to better things. As 2013 turns to 2014, there is that hope that things will work out positively, at least from our own personal perspective. As the fiscal years ends for a company, the hope is that things will be more financially rewarding in the year ahead. As the football season ends for the Vikings, the hope is that there will be more wins and a potential playoff berth in the new season ahead. Yes, there are the pessimists, but overall we like to hold to an optimistic outlook with regard to our future.
Which holds true for us as a congregation? Are we heading into the future with disappointment, just as if heading back home from a nice camping trip? Or are we heading into the future with hope, just as with a New Years celebration? What makes the most sense for our congregation given the events of the past year?
We definitely set a record here. We saw a record number of deaths in our midst. There were seven in all. One could even make the case that there were eight in a twelve-month period of time. Looking through Grace’s history, we haven’t even come close to that. In fact, the record was pretty much doubled. According to church records, there were four funerals back in 1981. The previous three years there had been no funerals at Grace. There had been only been one funeral during that time period, and that was for a member who attended at Eden Prairie. Since I have arrived as pastor here in 2005, prior to this year I have officiated at six member funerals. That really changed this past year!
Some of these deaths were sudden. Some were expected. But in a sense, couldn’t we say they were all expected in a certain way? Death has been a part of this world since the fall into sin. God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That certainly came true. The Bible also tells us that, “the soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Everyone sins. So everyone dies. That’s why we are told in Romans 5:12, “thus death spread to all men, because all sinned …”
This should be obvious to us all! We are mortal! We won’t live forever. We should not be surprised when death comes with its sudden grasp. You do not know when it will grab you personally! The fact of the matter is this: WE ARE MERELY CAMPING! This life as we know it is just a short, temporary trip. We are living in this world as if in a tent. Consider verse 4 of our text: 4 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.
We certainly miss those who have preceded us in death. For some of us, they were close family members. But for all of us, they were our fellow Christians. We worshipped with them. We prayed with them, sang with them, listened to the Word of God with them. In essence, we pitched our tent together with them during this short life. We camped out with them around the Means of Grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. The fire of the Holy Spirit warmed us with His grace and sustained us in the faith. We were led time and again back to our Savior who loved us and died on the cross for us. We were assured that our Savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead, conquering the power of death for each of us! He showed that for Himself, mortality is swallowed up by life. Yes, it’s swallowed up and its power over us is totally gone! And so we are to take great comfort that this is the case for each of us who rely upon Him by faith. For the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54:
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Mortality has been replaced by immortality, making it possible for us to live forever in eternity. While we miss those who are now gone from us in death, death is swallowed up by life! Those who trusted in their risen Savior are now with Him. So we desire to be with Him too! Verse 2 of our text: 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,
So we do have a very optimistic outlook for the future! We’re merely camping here during our lifetime, a lifetime filled with tribulation. But we’re leaving soon! We’re leaving to our real home, our permanent, heavenly residence above. What glorious excitement awaits us! No longer will there be trials and heart aches. Instead there will be endless joy and rest. Our camping trip here in time will be one we can leave with eagerness and hope-filled hearts!
There have been many changes this past year. 2013 will likely go down in history as being a turning point in American history with regard to revising the idea of what constitutes marriages. For over 6,000 years there has been a consistent definition of marriage being the union of one man and one woman living together as husband and wife. It is baffling that suddenly in entire states, countries, cultures, and even the world over, people think they can suddenly revise what God has instituted and established. Even from creation God intended marriage to be a blessing between a man and a woman. The devil may appear to be having the upper hand in all of this.
But no matter what the world and the devil try to do, God’s rule cannot change, nor does His will and Word change. We are assured in God’s Word that He is still in charge. Read through the Psalms and you see the Psalmists constantly referring to the Lord as the Rock, as the Fortress, as the Deliverer, as the King, as the One who is Mighty. Read through Revelation and you see Jesus as the One who ultimately reigns in glory, even in spite of all that goes on in the world. Therefore, even in the midst of what we see going on around us, we can still enjoy this camping trip while it lasts. Consider verses 5-9 of our text:
5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.
The Lord has created and redeemed us for a purpose! He has given meaning in life to each of us as individuals and to all of us together as a congregation. Our aim is to live our life here for the Lord, according to His will and direction. God the Father has prepared, planned, and ensured that salvation is ours. God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, has redeemed us by giving His life on the cross, paying the penalty for our sin. God the Holy Spirit has made us God’s children by faith. So we can live on in confident faith! While we are not yet at our eternal, permanent residence with the Lord, we walk our life of faith in the living Lord with confidence and with hope. While we do not see Him with our own two eyes, we walk knowing we truly see Him with the 20-20 vision of our God-given faith.
So we walk together as a congregation of redeemed sinners. Yes, redeemed sinners. We do not dare to say that any one of us is better than anyone else. In fact, the entire reason of our gathering together is because we recognize just the opposite. Each of us, in his way, understands how he has failed God. We “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) in our efforts to please God. But that’s the very reason why we come here to Grace. We look to the Word of God for comfort and grace. We see there that we have a Savior who loves us so much that He was willing to die for us and pay the penalty for our sin. We see there that each of us is received by Him no matter how much of our past is blighted by sin. For “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20)!
So we gather together regularly to be assured of God’s love and grace. We gather together to lift each other up and support one another through all the trials of living in this world. We even gather together to receive the needed warnings should we ever venture away from the truth of God’s Word, should we ever become complacent in our Christian living, or should we ever despise the hearing of the Word. In fact, isn’t that how we can show the greatest love toward each other? To help keep each other around the campfire of the Spirit?
Yes, we’re merely camping here in time. It’s almost time to go home. Some already have gone home. Some of us will leave sooner than others. While driving home from a camping trip may normally be a bit of a let-down, the reality is that it works just the opposite for us spiritually. We eagerly look forward to the trip home to be with our Lord in heavenly glory. Until then, may we all huddle together here regularly around the campfire of the Means of Grace. Being around the campfire of the Word and Sacrament is so vital to our connection to the Lord.
We so greatly need each other in these latter days as we camp out in the dark woods of this fallen world around us. May the Lord lead us all to treasure Him, to treasure His Word, and to treasure each other! Amen.
Submitted by Pastor John Hein
Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church
Soli Deo Gloria!
January 19, 2014