Monday, June 18, 2012

Home By Now (II Corinthians 5:1-10,16-21)

Home By Now from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

It’s the safe place, those playing the game have set it aside as a state that is outside the rules of the game, where the person who is “it” can’t get to you. A place where the slower ones among us can stop to catch our breath, and those who are more daring can venture farther and farther away, tempting the “it” person after them, only to dash back to whatever tree or post has been designated as the inviolable safe zone.
In baseball, the rules about bases are more prescribed, only one person on a base at a time, you have to go through them in a specific order, and you can’t pass someone on your team.

But the concept is the same, as long as you’re touching this bag, you’re safe. Everything else is just an incentive to get off of the base so the defense has a chance to get you.
Like so much of what happens in our schoolyard days, we never really grow out of these bases. They just get more complex. Rather than just picking whatever landmark catches our attention, we build houses, offices, buy fancy cars, or just lay claim to a particular booth at our favorite restaurant. Because, Hey, if we lived here, we’d be home by now.
Paul, though, puts us into a tent. And like our schoolyard bases, the only thing that keeps us safe in this tent is that we’ve all agreed to pretend that there is more between us and the chaotic world from which we’re retreating than such a thin piece of fabric. If you tag me when I’m already on base, you don’t understand the game. If you come into my tent, then you’re not playing right. But the reality is that our tents can collapse in on us with no warning, because they are held up only by what we have said at recess.
But as Christians, we don’t have to be afraid of that. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Now that sounds like some sort of divine homeless shelter that we can tap into when our camping trip goes horribly awry. Many Americans see God in exactly that light too, as an emergency shelter when we can’t handle things on our own. I see the situation differently, largely because of the next verse. “In this tent we groan, longing to be clothed in our heavenly dwelling.”
That groan makes all the difference. It’s a groan of anticipation, of longing for something that is already here, but is not yet apparent. It’s the same groaning in which the whole of creation joins as we suffer together in the birth pangs of the age of the Spirit, the new creation that Christ has ushered in for us. We’re waiting for that birth to be completed, and Paul, in a mixed metaphor that makes this English Major cringe, gives voice to our desire to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness so that we do not have to stand on our own, because all we have is our own naked limited selves and this crude tent we have fashioned out of our own abilities. We groan because even though we live here, we thought we’d be home by now.
So we continue to live here, in this earthly tent, because it’s what we’ve got. It’s a temporary dwelling, and our mistake is only when we put our trust in it and ignore its expiration date. But that which is mortal will be swallowed up by life, and the one who has prepared us for this very thing is God, and God’s continuing presence through the power of the Holy Spirit is our guarantee, or as one translation put it, our “down payment” on this new home that God has built for us.
All of our earthy efforts to build up some fantastic building for ourselves are just making a fancier tent. It’s a place where we can yell “base,” but its comfort is fading, because this is not our true home, we don’t fit here, but we know where we belong. “So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.”
That verse is troublesome. We want to be able to do both, to somehow be able to experience God in a real way, but that very desire also captures the heart of being created in the image of God and walking on this earth as a human being. Walking, Paul says, by faith, not by sight. We can walk with our God, and be assured of her nurturing love, and feel his protecting presence around us. But there is a degree of separation while we are at home in the body. We feel the presence, we know God is intimately and continually involved in creation, but it’s not the same as being able to know God the same way God knows us. A divide exists because we are human, and limited by nature. So we long for unity with God, even while we are at home in the body.
This body, which is not just our flesh, but all that we are, is our home because we remain a people who are redeemed and claimed by God, but who have not seen the whole of the kingdom of God. We can see the kingdom, and the face of God, but in a mirror, dimly, and we move in faith because we are confident that one day we will see face to face. Yes, we have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord, where we can know the fullness of God’s love and be truly whole, as has always been intended for us. We do not belong to this world, we belong to Christ.
But we still live in this world, a world that so badly needs the savior that God has already lovingly given to us, a world that stubbornly refuses to admit that need. For the time being, we reside in this world, living in tents while we await the transition to our home in the Kingdom of Heaven. So whether we are at home or away, we must make it our aim to please God. Because we are the body of Christ, all of us and each of us. We are representatives of Christ to this world, sent to faithfully embody the gospel in a world that thinks it’s already living the good life, even if it doesn’t look too well.
We see our home here, and we know that all too often it doesn’t feel like the place of comfort, love, good feelings, and acceptance that we want it to be. It’s a world where we are separated from our Lord, and like so many families that have gone through a separation, a divorce, or a death, we have to learn how to be a family when we cannot be with those whom we love, and those who love us. We once knew Christ from a human point of view, but we know him no longer in that way. We cannot go back to the way things were, but we can move forward in faith knowing that something new and beautiful is already being created for us. So we look forward to the day when our home can be made whole again, even though we do not know what that will look like.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view. Our world has changed, and we also are different, because of God’s action in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that this world does not have the final hold on us, and that the limits of our abilities do not limit what God is already doing in the new creation.
It’s in accordance with the prophecy we read in Isaiah that God’s new creation is coming to fruition. While this world where we are encamped is full of brokenness, God is creating a new heaven and new earth. Anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new! The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. As people who belong to Christ, we are a part of that new heaven and new earth. We are no longer held back by any of the things that we used to oppress ourselves and one another. All of this freedom, all of this new creation, all of the joy and delight of which Isaiah speaks, all of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
We know that in spite of all of the running around, all the stuff we create for ourselves is just a game of tag. It matters to those who are playing, but when the game ends, both the “it” and the rest are welcome in each other’s homes. God has set aside a home for us, a place from which we can explore new things, new possibilities, freed from the fear of having to earn our place in the world. The Lord is our home, and that same Christ that we claim as the center of our lives answers us before we can call out, and while we are yet speaking, God hears.
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
That’s the image of a world that is redeemed. We no longer need to set aside a “base” for ourselves, because all of creation will be brought together in peace. We’ll be at home with our Lord once again. We know that in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, going down to a world that was fallen so that it could be lifted up again, elevated to be with God because God has declared it so, not counting their trespasses against them. We know that we are not our own, and we do not belong to this world, but rather we belong to God, and are fellow heirs of the kingdom with Christ Jesus our Lord.
And this message of reconciliation is entrusted to us. Not just Paul and his followers in Corinth, us. Not just those of us who are called to sit in the front and lead worship, all of us. Not just those of us who serve on committees, or who volunteer, not just this particular congregation, but the whole of the Body of Christ. We groan in our tents because we know that we do not belong there, we have been reconciled to Christ and we cannot go back to the way things used to be. Isaiah message of a new creation, Paul’s message of a reconciling Christ, that message is entrusted to us.
So we are ambassadors for Christ. We don’t have a higher rank in heaven, we don’t get any special treatment on earth, the opposite is often true. We are ambassadors in a foreign land, and we are easy to ignore, because the world does not even know that they need to hear us.
But as Christ’s ambassadors, we don’t need to be effective, because we know that God will effect any and all change. We just need to tell our story. That for our sake God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God. The story is that we do not need to be righteous, we belong to Christ, and God will stop at nothing to be reconciled to us, to be with us in the heights of our joys and the depths of our sorrows. Home is not where we are insulated from our suffering, home is where we can engage with everything that is going on in our lives and know that we are still loved, and that we don’t have to be afraid.
We don’t have to be afraid because God is our home, God who is the giver and renewer of life. All we do we do out of gratitude for what God has done for us, in simply making a space for us to be at home with one another and with God. Those of us who are slower can catch our breath, those of us who are more daring can venture farther out and explore all of creation, and we are all secure in the knowledge that our heavenly father is waiting for us, with a loving smile, when we turn back toward home again.

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