Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10
When I was in boy scouts I remember one time we went on a winter camping trip. On this trip we didn’t have tents. It was expected that we were going to build our own shelters for the night. We did bring sleeping bags, food, and all other necessities for the weekend, but we didn’t have tents.
We split up into groups of three and were told to build our own shelters for the night while someone else built the fire on that cold winter afternoon.
My group decided we were going to be sure we were warm. Our strategy was to build a lean-to and to make it as protected as possible. So we gathered large branches to build the frame and then proceeded to insulate it with evergreen branches. And boy did we ever insulate it. Our walls were well over a foot thick. People were very impressed with our shelter when we walked around afterwards inspecting one another’s work.
Our’s was not only well built, but it looked a whole lot warmer than some of the other groups who simply tied up some branches and wrapped it in sheets of plastic… for winter camping. January winter camping. Back 30 years ago when we used to have winter. In January.
The first night we crawled into our lean-to and settled in for some sleep in what was deemed a very good place. In fact, we found it almost too warm! We had a very comfortable night.
Over breakfast we all shared how our night went, and it seems as though myself and my two partners were the only ones who slept well because of our hard work building our lean-to which was very well fortified against the elements.
When it came time to crawl back into the lean-to the next night, it seems as though our popularity had increased significantly because everyone was trying to get into our shelter. Because of the crowd, I simply gave up and decided I would spend the night in one of the emptier shelters, one of the plastic wrapped ones.
Yes, it was much colder, and I buried myself deep in my sleeping bag with my touque pulled down over my face.
When I woke up, I wondered what time it was. So I checked my watch it was around 8am, but because I had my hat pulled down over my face, and because I was deep in my sleeping bag, I had no idea it was this late. To me it was still pitch black… and still cold.
Going from the one shelter to the other made me feel very different. In the shelter I had a hand in building, I felt warm. I felt safe even. But in this plastic bag built by someone else, I felt exposed and open. I suspect had their been bears in the area, the plastic tent probably would have looked much more appealing for a late night snack than a fortified lean-to where you couldn’t even see inside.
Out there in the cold of winter, in a hastily built shelter, in the middle of the woods, I know I didn’t feel as safe. Yes I did get some sleep, but not quite as much, or as good, as the night before.
Our confidence, our sense of our own safety often relies on the environment we find ourselves in. If we find ourselves in a secure location we will feel more confident than if we were out in the open.
Where would you rather be in a thunderstorm? In an open field or sitting in your living room?
If we’re in the field we feel vulnerable, exposed. We know we’re in danger in such a situation, and our lives would be at risk. But if we’re home, we feel safe, secure, protected. It’s much safer there in the storm.
Today in our reading from 2 Corinthians, the end of chapter 4 and the start of chapter 5, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to get them thinking about their security, and what that security is based upon.
He talks about living in tents, which of course everyone would know about in that culture. Now maybe some of you haven’t been camping in a tent, but in some ways it can feel like how I felt sleeping in the plastic wrapped around a few branches. Especially if there’s a storm brewing.
The walls flap in the wind. The rain pounds all around you. You might wonder if you will make it to morning.
Now tents today are built pretty sturdy. They may be light-weight material, but with the advances in technology they keep you dry and protected. But can even they stand up to a major storm? Maybe some of the really expensive ones can, but certainly not all.
Paul is talking about living in tents which we be far less secure than what we have today. These tents could certainly be destroyed in strong winds and storms.
And if you are in a tent when it’s coming apart, then what Paul says about “groaning” would be a striking understatement. “Screaming” would be the word I would use.
However, Paul wants to reassure the people that there is a strong house we all have access to.
I suspect his use of groaning in the tent is more about the challenges of living that daily lifestyle. Maybe a better word would be “grumbling”. I’m pretty sure many of us would be grumbling if we had to give up running water and inside plumbing, central heating and a kitchen! And walls for that matter.
Paul is reassuring the people they have a strong building. We all have a strong building. A building man did not build, but a building built by God. Paul is, of course, referring to God’s heavenly kingdom.
Think of Jesus in John 14 when he referred to there being a mansion with many rooms prepared for those who follow him.
This is the type of place Paul is pointing at. Paul wants the people to know that this earthly suffering we all endure will end with something far greater in store.
He’s mixing metaphors here a bit, which can be confusing to us. In the same sentence Paul refers to being in the tent and desiring to be clothed in our heavenly dwelling.
Now, to have our tent taken away or destroyed would certainly leave us feeling vulnerable, would it not? To be without a home and shelter it really would feel like being naked. You would feel exposed, both to the elements and to other people.
But Paul reassures us we are not naked, we are clothed by our God. That is to say, we are protected, we are provided a greater home than the flimsy tent we find ourselves in.
But what if the tent Paul is referring to is not our shelter? What if the tent he is talking about is our own bodies?
Our bodies are weak, poorly insulated (some of us more better insulated than others), and they are fragile.
We’re ruled by our emotions: happiness, sadness, jealousy, grief, joy, pain… each of these impact us daily. And we do like to groan and complain about it, don’t we!
These flimsy little bodies we have are just a shell for who we truly are on the inside. And when this mortal shell fails us and our life ends, it’s what God truly created inside us which requires an eternal home. Paul says this eternal home will clothe us. I imagine beautiful robes being handed out as we make our way into the presence of God.
And Paul tells us it’s the Holy Spirit, given to us by God, which prepares us for this very life He has prepared for us.
How can we be so sure?
Paul says we can be because, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”
We depend on what we can see, touch, hear, taste and smell. God gave us our senses so we can interact with the beauty of the world around us.
But these things can’t help us in our faith in the same way.
I know a chair is a chair because I can look at it and see that it’s shaped like a chair. It’s got legs and a platform to sit on.
But what does God look like? What does the Holy Spirit look like? What does heaven look like?
Artists have speculated on these questions for thousands of years. There are many different images of God people have drawn, painted or carved. And over time a general consensus of what the image of God looks like, but no one has seen God. No one really knows what He looks like.
We are a culture which relies on facts. You want to know something? Show me the facts. What have scientists discovered about the great questions we have about life and the universe? Show me the facts and I will believe.
Unless you are running in an election.
But it’s true! We are a critical thinking society. We need a reason to believe. We need to know the details, or at least we need to know someone who has studied and become an expert in their particular field has said it is definitely true.
I’ve never seen a blood cell with my own eyes. I have only seen what was drawn in my high school textbooks. But someone with a powerful microscope says it’s there, and has said what is inside this cell and what it’s capable of doing, so I believe them.
We can’t do that with God or the Holy Spirit. We can’t see them. We can’t run experiments on them. We can’t put them under a microscope or in a test tube.
So how can we know?
The first way we can know is to acknowledge that there is a story which people take very seriously, and have done so for thousands of years. We can acknowledge that what is in our Bible is eyewitness accounts of events. It may not be completely historically accurate, but in the Bible we have the stories of people who were there.
And we also have two thousands years of history of people who took these stories seriously, and how it has impacted their lives, and how still today, God impacts our lives.
Last week a story emerged which hasn’t quite made the mainstream media, but has in pockets of the world. It’s slowly making it’s way through various media. But something was said that certainly made the Christian community take notice.
Michio Kaku is a world leading theoretical physicist who is best known for his development, and being part of the team, for string theory. In his work, Kaku has made a discovery.
He says, “I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence… Believe me, everything that we call chance today won’t make sense anymore… To me it is clear that we exists in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.” (http://ageac.org/en/multimedia/scientist-says-he-found-definitive-proof-that-god-exists-2/)
He says through math and physics we will be able to prove God exists.
For a hundred years, we have been taught that God and science don’t mix. We have been told that science is in the business of showing the world came into existence by chance and that everything can be explained without God.
And now we have a world leading scientist, (and I looked him up, he is indeed a world leading scientist and not some quack with a microphone), we have an expert physicist telling us that science will be able to show the existence of a creator, that there is indeed a God.
There was a time when science and religion were together. Many of the great early scientists were also theologians. Imagine one day the two might walk hand in hand once again!
But! We don’t really need science to tell us of the existence of God, do we? Sure it might be nice to have some reassurance, but do we need people in lab coats telling us about God?
We can’t see God, that’s true. We might say we can see the existence of God because of His creation. We see the flowers, we see the ocean, we see the sky, the sun, moon and stars.
But faith is more than seeing.
The dictionary definition of faith is,
1. “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”
2. “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”
Faith is belief without proof.
Faith is trust.
We don’t need to see God in order to know He is real. Having faith is to trust in God who has created and is still creating in this universe. And that He is still creating in us as well.
And that we can feel His love for us.
Do you know God loves you?
Sure we love to sing the song, “Yes, Jesus loves me”. But do you really know? Do you feel God’s love in your life? And do you trust God completely?
Jesus was sent by God to show us and teach us about this great love God has for all of us. The ultimate, perfect Father sent us His Son to let us know we are all part of His divine family.
I know as a father there are times when I let my children down. When they would love to spend time with me doing something, but sometimes I can’t because I’ve got something to do.
But our heavenly Father won’t let us down. He loves us so much He’s built a whole mansion to hold everyone who becomes His precious child. God is willing to spend any and every moment with us when we ask.
This is part of learning to walk by faith and not by sight.
At the start of the service we read from Psalm 40. It is a prayer of David asking for help. The Psalm ends with the words,
“But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’
As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer…”
It is a prayer maybe many of us have said as we too seek God more intimately in our lives. Seeking God’s joy in our lives and trying to put our trust in Him as our helper and our deliverer.
Faith is not easy. We are a people conditioned to knowing through scientific facts. We like to think this is a chair because it looks like and functions like we would expect from a chair.
God doesn’t work that way.
God waits on us to put our trust in Him so that we may become more like Him, following in the steps of Jesus. You could say when we put our trust in God we begin to look like and function like God would He would expect us to. Instead of acting like the world wants us to act.
God invites us to be vulnerable. Faith is an act of vulnerability. Putting our faith and trust in God means we are saying “God knows better than I do.”
And it makes us feel exposed, naked.
Why? Because when we put our full trust in God, it means we are being counter-cultural. It means we are saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” And when people say this, when people see this, it is a sign of weakness.
The world tells us we need to be strong. We need to be confident. We need to be self-assure.
What we really need to be is strong in the Lord. We need to be confident that when we follow Him, God will give us His assurance.
Paul said that when we are weak and naked that’s when God makes strong. We will find a home in God, not in these weak tents, plastic wrapped around branches, we will find our home in God, we will find ourselves in a fortress.
Let us trust in God.
Let us feel His presence.
And let us be made strong through our weakness when we trust in our Father in heaven and become His precious children.
Amen and amen.