Monday, June 15, 2015

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, "Body and Home"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul uses the analogy of a tent to describe life in our earthly body. Not everybody loves tent camping, but for many it’s a fun, summer family activity. But even die-hard campers—have stories of the frustrations of tent-living—floods and leaks, mosquitoes, cooking problems or food issues. And mostly we can laugh about them—because tent living is usually no more than a temporary vacation for us. But for Old Testament Israel, for 40 years, a whole generation of hundreds of thousands of people lived in tents on the move. Generations of Israelites afterward were to commemorate this in the Feast of Tabernacles or “Tents”, when they would live in a tent for one week, as a reminder of how God preserved Israel through the 40 years in the wilderness. The 40 years was no “fun camping trip” that could be cut short when things got uncomfortable and they wanted to head home early for the comforts of a bed and solid shelter overhead and underfoot. It was long-term.
When we think of it this way, Paul’s analogy of a tent to describe life in our earthly body is very fitting. There are frustrations of long-term life in this “tent” this body. But still, just like camping, there are incredible joys and freedoms to be experienced—and with the proper attitude of seeing God’s providing hand in it all—life in the wilderness for 40 years, and life in our physical body can be a joy and blessing as well, however long God grants us. If we’re not so narrowly focused on only the problems of “tenting”—we can actually enjoy the goodness and beauty of what God has made. Part of the enjoyment of this situation is to come to terms with the fact that this is not our permanent home or dwelling—that this “tent” or body is due for a permanent replacement. A building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Looking forward to moving into our new and permanent home in heaven is exciting and encourages us. At the same time, we are not to “hate”, loathe, or despise this physical body, as though our objective were to be rid of the body.
We do groan in this tent, being burdened. This is a simple realization that bodies ache, they suffer, they feel the effects of sin. They age and wear out like a tent. Tents aren’t made to be permanent structures, and anyone determined to live permanently in a tent is going to need a replacement much sooner than they think. Modern medicine can only extend our earthly lifespan so far, and despite the audacious claims of some to find a “cure” to our mortality—we all face the eventual wear down and failure of our body, the earthly tent. Young people mostly don’t feel or fear the limitations of their body, until they have a broken bone, or close call, that reminds them they are not invincible. Some lives undoubtedly are cut short long before we would expect, and filled with greater suffering than others. Older people tend to be more aware of their bodies’ aging and deterioration. Sometimes it brings on depression, despair, or even anger.
As an American culture, we are very uncomfortable in many ways with signs of aging, disease, and seeing death around us. Multi-billion dollar industries make their profits by exploiting our fears and insecurities about our bodies’ changes and signs of aging, and sell endless products to delay, mask, or repair any of these signs. It becomes dangerous and sinful when this turns into vanity, self-loathing or hatred. Going to extremes with our bodies—either buying into the false promises that we can forever hold onto youth and life, or on the other hand abusing and mistreating our bodies because we “don’t care anymore” and wish to be “rid of our body”. Both attitudes are unhealthy, but easy to fall into with the influences and messages we hear around us.
Paul draws us back to the Biblical ethic. We groan—we know this frail, mortal body has its problems—but we are not seeking to be “unclothed” or stripped of our earthly body/tent. Rather our longing is to be further clothed, so that what is mortal is swallowed up by life. The Christian’s attitude is not “how soon can I get rid of this awful body?”—but “I’m longing for the eternal body that God has promised me in Christ.” Your eternal destiny is not to be “homeless,” “tent-less,” or “body-less”, but to have the “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The eternal destiny of believers redeemed in Christ Jesus is to have an eternal home that’s not perishable, that doesn’t wear out, suffer, or “get broken”, but enjoys the fullness and goodness of the imperishable, spiritual body that God has made for us in Christ Jesus. This new body is our “further clothing”—the life that swallows up death.
This is a long-standing promise from God. In Isaiah 25, He describes the heavenly banquet He’s preparing for all peoples on His holy mountain. God says He will “swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Is. 25:8-9). It’s an amazingly beautiful promise, that God is going to swallow up death with life, and take away all sadness and reproach. Reproach is all the shame of our sins. All of the burdens, groans, and evil of this mortal life traces back ultimately to sin as the root cause. Our lives are broken and decaying because of the effects of sin. But Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection both swallows up death and removes the reproach of our sin. We are forgiven and made alive through Jesus’ saving work—so let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation!
This is the antidote to fearful, anxious thinking that our life is being swallowed up by death, and that we need the miracle drugs or surgery to put the brakes on aging. It’s not the grave that yawns to swallow us up—but life that swallows up death. By faith we believe this, and death should not terrify us, but we should be calm in the hope of eternal life. That is our permanent home. It’s also reason for us to see the value and purpose for our bodies, and what God has left for us to do in them, as we live in this earthly tent, the body. More on that later. But facing death, aging, and all the other groans of this body are not matters for the faint of heart. We walk by faith, and not by sight, Paul says. It would be easy-peasy if we could see and know every step of the way. You don’t need trust when you can see plainly and place your steps with certainty. But God calls us to walk by faith. Not that God is planting obstacles or stumbling blocks in our way—sin does that, Jesus warns. But we do have to trust that Jesus is going to lead us, guard our steps, and keep us from stumbling, even when we can’t see the way.
But the faith we are called to is not blindly walking off a cliff. God who have prepared us for this future life and resurrection has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. The Holy Spirit in you, is God’s guarantee, His down-payment or deposit, that He’s going to complete the whole thing. God is invested in you, and is not going to back out of it. We indeed might foolishly back out of God’s gifts and risk losing them, but God does not break His promises or guarantees, and even when we are unfaithful, He is faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. The Holy Spirit as God’s down-payment or deposit, means that God, who has “begun His good work in you, will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). God is not going to leave the job half-done, or “default” on the “debt.” God is true to His Word, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is shown in the fruits of faith in Jesus Christ and in love toward our neighbor.
This is why we have good courage to “survive” this “tenting” experience, and have the right heart and mind in trusting God and His faithful care for us. God shows Himself to be reliable, so that we can trust Him through the inevitable dark times and places where we cannot clearly see our path, and walk by faith and not sight. The times when the fears and weaknesses of living in this tent/body are no joking matter, and it seems to our eyes like we’re left on our own. From the perspective of eternity, it won’t seem so, but here and now there will be real trials and tests of your faith.
But here and now, we have reason and purpose to live. Whether at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. We are a new creation in Christ Jesus. God has invested in us, body and soul, with His whole self. His only Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for us, fully in for our salvation—so that rising to life again, He has a true stake in our lives, as God’s redeemed and adopted children. We were redeemed, bought with a price, therefore we are to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). If you have trouble, for any reason, in believing or understanding what purpose and use God has for you and your body (you are a package-deal, after all—can’t have you without your body), then please talk to your pastor or another mature Christian. Our value and purpose in life does not slowly diminish and fade in this life, till eventually you are basically worthless. That is the lie of our culture—don’t believe it. Rather, know that you are redeemed and precious to God, bought with a price, and no matter the condition of your earthly tent, Christ has everything in store for the final redemption of your bodies, and the raising of them to glory. From that side of eternity, everything we experienced in this “tenting experience” will seem but a light, momentary affliction, in comparison with the eternal weight of glory.
The final note of the passage is judgment. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” All people, believers and unbelievers alike, must appear before the judgment seat of Christ—as we confess in the Creeds, He will come again to judge the living and the dead. But this passage also speaks of rewards—receiving what is due for what we have done in the body, whether good or evil. So how you live your life matters. But is Paul saying that salvation is by our good works, and damnation is by evil works? We find a little help by reading further in the chapter. Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation—the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Then he goes on to add that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). And “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21).
Judgment before the seat of Christ is not a simple weighing of good versus bad deeds in a scale. Christ has removed our trespasses or sins from us, and He has made us a new creation in Him. All good works we do, that are counted and rewarded by Him, are by virtue of the new creation that He has made us. Further, He became our sin so that we could become His righteousness. The scales are turned to the good for our sake, because of the incredible goodness of what Jesus has done. We are saved by God’s gift through faith in Jesus. Rewards in judgment for the believer, are simply the overflow of God’s generosity on top of generosity toward us, as He works out the fruits of His new creation in us. Punishment for those who have done evil in the body, comes by rejecting God’s free gift; rejecting His forgiveness and righteousness. Then our guilty deeds remain with us, and we receive the just penalty.
But God has not prepared us for wrath, but for salvation, and because we face the judgment as a new creation in Christ Jesus, and with His generous gifts, we can do so with good courage. We come to the judgment not based on our own merits, but solely on the merits of Jesus Christ. Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:1). Our redemption stands secure only in Him. Take heart! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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    1. What does the “tent” or “earthly home” represent, that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2? What is the “building not made with hands” talking about? Why is it “eternal”? 1 Corinthians 15:42, 49

    1. What does 2 Corinthians 5:2-4 tell us about an appropriate Christian attitude toward our body? Is self-hatred or self-loathing of our created body acceptable? Explain in Christian terms why not. What then is our desire and hope?

    1. How does God guarantee this hope? v. 5. How is the Holy Spirit like a “deposit” or “down-payment?” Ephesians 1:13-14. Why can we be sure that God makes good on His promises? 2 Timothy 2:11-13.

    1. How does our confidence and courage in what God will do shape the way we live here and now, and how we think about and treat our bodies? 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.

    1. Is it wrong to have a longing for heaven? How is that longing balanced by a regard for our body and the Lord’s purposes for us here and now? Philippians 1:20-24, 29; 2 Corinthians 5:9

    1. How does facing the judgment seat of Christ at the end of everyone’s life, direct our attitudes and behaviors? Does Paul state this in a threatening way, to create fear? Why can the Christian face the judgment seat of Christ with confidence? Romans 8:1-17. How does this assure us that our justification, or being declared right in God’s eyes, is still by faith alone in Christ alone? How does this transform the way we live?

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