Sunday, 5 February 2012

One day you are going home

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5

"Lord, help me to see this world with your eyes. Otherwise I might value what you despise and despise what you value."

Who likes going camping? Tell us the worst thing that has happened to you when you've been camping!
There is one purpose for camping: and that is to make you appreciate home far more.

The first day is OK. It is exciting. You set up the tent. You boil the kettle on the gas. You explore the campsite. You get told off by the campsite official because your tents are 5.99 metres apart and not 6 metres apart. And you cook the sausages.
Actually we usually stumble at the first stage: the setting up the tent. I have a tent: would you please set it up!
But by the end of the a couple of days, you are usually cold, wet, tired, dirty, the blow up mattress refuses to stay blown up, the battery has run out, the gas has given up the ghost, and you are fed up of living on cereal and soggy bread. [the first time we went camping as a family - May bank holiday (i.e. end of April). We retreated to a pub; another time flooded out]
But the camping trip has achieved its aim. You want to go home!

Paul describes our life here as being like on a camping trip. He talks about us living in an earthly tent. "Now if we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands" (5:1) And Paul knew a bit about tents. He was literally, by profession, a tentmaker.

It’s great fun. When my nephews and nieces come and stay, they and our children want to sleep in the tent.
But it is nothing compared to being at home.
Of course, when we go camping, we do everything we can to make camping comfortable. What can we get .. caravans! We take a large kitchen plastic bin with us; we tie washing lines between trees; we've got this really impressive gas cooker. And then there are the tents themselves. They can be rather grand. There was one that we saw that was like a teepee with a conservatory added. We go camping with some friends from London: every year they turn up they seem to have bigger tents. Next year they’re planning to go into competition with Palace of Versailles.
But however big, however grand, however comfortable, tents are fragile things. They are not built to last. You only need a medium sized storm and most of us are in trouble.
And the problem comes when people go camping and spend so much time making their tent as comfortable as possible that we forget that there is such a place as home.

And living in this world is a bit like camping.
Most of the time we are busy making our tents so nice that we forget we are camping. On Thursday Alison and myself walked round Glasswell's looking for stuff to make our tent nicer; or perhaps I should say envying stuff that would make our tent nicer.
But then there are occasions when life gets stormy; and Paul says that when that happens Christians do not get discouraged because - well, we're camping and we should expect it. And it is not home. In fact, he says, we should welcome the troubles and difficulties and heartaches because they remind us that we are only camping here, and that one day we're going home.

Last week I spent some time with the family of a young woman who were keeping vigil with her as she was dying. As a result when I went home I dreamt quite a bit about death. Someone kindly prayed that God would take those dreams away. I thought afterwards that that was not what I really wished. What I wished instead was to have the dreams but also to have the courage to face up to the fears, together with Jesus, that those dreams were causing in me.

One of Paul's problems was that he was the sort of camper who went about the site saying this is a great campsite, and we should respect the campsite authorities, but remember it is not home. And there were those who hated it when he talked about home; they said it was pie in the sky, and he should be talking about how to make the camping experience better. But he went on insisting that we are just camping, that we don't need to worry too much about how attractive or comfortable our tent is, that we will face troubles while we are camping, and that we should long for home and for our Father God who waits for us.
There are of course people today who say that the most important thing in life is making your tent good, and your camping life as comfortable as possible.

Ajith Fernando, a Christian leader from Sri Lanka who ministers to the urban poor, writes:
"The church in each culture has its own special challenges—theological blind spots that hinder Christians from growing to full maturity in Christ …. I think one of the most serious theological blind spots in the western church is a defective understanding of suffering. There seems to be a lot of reflection on how to avoid suffering and on what to do when we hurt. We have a lot of teaching about escape from suffering and therapy for suffering, but there is inadequate teaching about the theology of suffering ….
The "good life," comfort, convenience, and a painless life have become necessities that people view as basic rights. If they do not have these, they think something has gone wrong …. One of the results of this attitude is a severe restriction of spiritual growth, for God intends us to grow through trials."

How is our tent making getting on? We put a great deal of effort into making it good, but it is just a tent.

I finish with a story. Actually it is a story told by Billy Graham when he went in January 2000 to speak at a lunch. He was struggling with Parkinson's disease.

He said, "I'm reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century. Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of each passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn't find his ticket, so he reached in his other pocket. It wasn't there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat by him. He couldn't find it. The conductor said, 'Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket. Don't worry about it.' Einstein nodded appreciatively.
"The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, 'Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry. I know who you are. No problem. You don't need a ticket. I'm sure you bought one.' Einstein looked at him and said, 'Young man, I too know who I am. What I don't know is where I'm going.'"
Billy Graham continued, "See the suit I'm wearing? It's a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I've gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion. You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I'll be buried. But when you hear I'm dead, I don't want you to immediately remember the suit I'm wearing. I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am, I also know where I'm going."

Living this life is like living in a tent; don't get discouraged when bad things happen - it reminds us that we are camping, and it is all part and parcel of camping; and one day you're going home.

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