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Posts Tagged ‘camping’

3107459732_dc14f72b60Even if a tent is not our home, it should still provide shelter.

The first time Elizabeth and I went camping together, we brought with us a little rinky-dink tent. If I remember correctly, it was a metallic silver color, because, it turns out, you can judge a book by its cover some times.

It was about 3:00am when the rains started, and that was when we realized that the tent failed at what was really its only job: keeping us dry. We leapt out of the tent, picked it and everything inside of it up, and threw it into the back of our fancy Dodge Cargo Van, where we spent the rest of the night.

I learned an important lesson that night: even if a tent is not our home, it should still provide shelter.

In our lesson this morning, as Paul continues his second letter to the Church at Corinth, he sends them a word of encouragement about the challenges they are facing. And as he does, he focuses on the glory that awaits them one day. Bodies may break down, but spirits are strengthened. What we see is temporary, but what is unseen is permanent. The earthly tents we live in can be destroyed, but our true home is an eternal, heavenly home.

Yes! And, what happens to us now still matters. What happens to the body matters. What happens to the temporary matters. What happens to the tent matters.

There is a temptation to read Paul and declare that the “here and now” is irrelevant, that all that matters is what happens in heaven. If that were the case, we would have to ignore everything else Paul wrote or did. Remember that Paul had an existential crisis that turned him from persecutor to Christians to promoter of Christ. Remember that this conversion sent him to Jerusalem to argue for the inclusion of Gentiles in the fledging Church. And remember that Paul spent the rest of his life traveling, preaching, and teaching the crucified and risen Christ.

If none of this mattered, then Paul could have rested on his laurels after his conversion, waiting for his earthly tent to be destroyed so he could take up his permanent, heavenly residence. Instead, Paul earned his living as a maker of literal tents and spent his days and nights as a maker and mender of spiritual tents, earthly churches, bodily communities that followed Jesus.

So rather than seeing our lesson this morning as a call to disregard the “here and now”, the invitation is to keep the “here and now” in healthy perspective.

If that space-age monstrosity that advertised itself as a tent had been our only earthly shelter, it would have been insufficient to say, “We seem to be getting wet! Oh, well. Good thing we’ll be eternally dry in the sweet by and by!” That’s not faith; that’s delusion. Then again, if we had reacted to all of this by abandoning the tent for some kind of indestructible bomb shelter, declaring, “We’ll never ever be wet,” then we’ve missed the point once more. That’s not faith, either; that’s paranoia.

The call of faith is to live, somehow, with the in-between. It means holding these gifts God has given us, but with a loosened grip, recognizing that they are not ours to begin with.

One of the things that I have always appreciated about Oglethorpe Presbyterian is the ability to keep these kinds of things within a healthy, faithful perspective. If we were to give into the cultural perversion of bigger, better, faster, stronger, then our building isn’t even a mere shadow of what it should be. That said, neither should we neglect it.

And while there is no shortage of projects around this place, in the past few years we have checked a number off the list. We have new roofs! We installed new, secure doors at the back parking lot! We have updated our antiquated HVAC system! We even have a bathroom for grown ups on the Sanctuary level! We have just, thanks to your generosity, finished phase one of replacing asbestos-backed floor tile. And as we speak, we are finalizing drawings to convert the basement of the Chapel into Kindergarten space and the lower courtyard into an outdoor classroom.

This may never be the most elegant building in Brookhaven, nor do I think it should be. After all, at its very best, it is still our temporary home. And yet, the care we give it while it is in our hands should reflect how we value what it is that God has entrusted to us. We are situated in the midst of perhaps unprecedented growth with a piece of property that is vacant more often than it is occupied. To put it a bit more crassly, we are holding onto empty real estate in a place where land is at a premium. What an opportunity God has given us, God has given you, to be stewards of this place in a way that reflects the character of God we see in Jesus.

And that’s the point after all, isn’t it? If Paul knew anything at all, it was the gift of Jesus as God incarnate, as God embodied. If the world we live in doesn’t matter, the crucifixion doesn’t matter. We know that’s not the case. The fact that the body of Jesus was tortured and suffered is of vital importance. And one of the many ways it matters is that it calls us to minister so that others never have to live with that kind of suffering.

It’s one thing to mend our own tents, whether literal or metaphorical. It’s another thing altogether to look after the tents of others.

Our latest ministry is a perfect example of that, as we embark on becoming partners in New American Pathways in refugee resettlement. Sometime over the next year, Oglethorpe Presbyterian and Emory Presbyterian will work together to furnish a home for a family of refugees. It is possible that they may very well come from living in a literal tent. And your welcome of them not only follows Jesus’ command to welcome the stranger and the exile; it shows that what happens to them matters not just to you, but to the same God who created and loves and yearns for them.

It is my hope that, in all of this, all of us will call to mind what it means to live faithfully in the earthly tent that God has provided for us. We know it is temporary. And yet, if it leaks, we know we deserve better. And the same is true for all of God’s precious children and the tents in which they live. God has given us the ability and the means to make and mend tents the world over so that they, too, would reflect God’s promises of love and hope.

The table is the perfect image for what we are saying here today. The bread and cup we share are not enough to feed the hungry or satisfy the thirsty. They do remind us of the eternal feast that awaits us in God’s perfect presence. And at the same time, they stand as a challenge to our conscience that we should do what we can to make sure that none of God’s children ever hunger or thirst.

After all, even if a tent is not our home, it should still provide shelter.

Amen.

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It can be hard to know what to leave behind.

I was a Boy Scout for less than a year. I made it to the rank of Tenderfoot only because they gave it to you automatically once your check cleared. If there had been a merit badge for “not good at scouting”, it would’ve been my only merit badge. In short, it was not an illustrious career. I will not be asked to do public service announcements for scouting any time soon.

In my defense, I didn’t have a lot of help in that regard. I was ten years old. No offense to my parents, but it’s not like camping was in their wheelhouse, either. My Dad had been a Boy Scout, but he liked to say that his version of roughing it was a black and white TV.

On my first (and only) Boy Scout camping trip, I was well-stocked. I had my bright orange pup tent, my duffel bag full of clothes, my canteen and aluminum pots and pans, my sleeping bag and air mattress, my igloo cooler filled with ice packs, canned drinks, a couple of potatoes for baking, a few eggs for frying…you get the picture.

We arrived at our camp site. Before we could unpack, our scout leader announced the first activity: an orienteering exercise. All of the Tenderfoots would be driven, blind-folded, a few miles away. We would be given a map, but wouldn’t be told where we were, and had to find our way back to camp. And: we would be carrying all of our supplies with us.

I still remember the chaperones’ attempt to hide their look of horror at what I had brought. I didn’t even own a backpack. One of them came up with the clever idea to put as many supplies in my air mattress as possible, roll it up, tie it at both ends, and then drape it around my neck like a cobra. I then carried my tent in one hand and my sleeping bag in the other. The cooler stayed at the camp site. Apparently even scouting has its limits.

Everything else from the trip is a blur. I remember crying a lot, needing help to get my tent pitched, unable to catch my breath to inflate the air mattress, failing to get my fire started. It was not an auspicious start. And, probably not too surprisingly, I ended up quitting scouts before the next meeting.

In short, I was ill-prepared; which, it turns out, is not the Boy Scout motto.

In retrospect, it’s so clear to see where we went wrong. One look at the others’ supplies made that obvious. There was only one air mattress and one cooler among us: mine. Powdered drinks and powdered eggs were the norm. My family’s frame of reference for what was “needed” was clearly way off. But we didn’t know any other way…

Part of the purpose of Advent is an effort to shift our frames of reference. As a church, we set aside the four weeks leading up to Christmas. And in doing so, hopefully we root ourselves and each other in the ultimate purpose of this season. It is so easy to get caught up in what we think we need to do. But how can we strip away all that is unnecessary, all that distracts, all that tempts us, all that leads us away from what God desires for us and for all of creation?

It’s a similar challenge that confronted John the Baptist. By the time he arrives on the scene, Messianic expectations had been built up from Isaiah’s prophecy. Someone was coming to cry out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord! Move those mountains! Fill those valleys! Straighten out the curves! Once that highway is built, ya’ll, that’s it. The Lord is coming! In power! Ready to repay enemies and reward allies!

A few centuries pass, and John comes along, doing his best to get the people’s attention. He dresses funny. He eats funny. He probably smells pretty funny, too. And there he is, calling out to anyone who would listen: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Get to work on that highway! We need to clear this place! Start choppin’!”

The people are ready for the Messiah. They know the prophecies well – or at least, they think they know what they mean. After all, they’ve been taught what they mean. And that’s the paradox. Part of John’s message is to tell them that, among everything else they need to clear away, their expectations are part of what needs to go. But it is by virtue of his preaching that those old expectations are re-kindled, re-invigorated, re-calcified. And John will ultimately pay the cost with his own life.

We paint ourselves into these corners by thinking that we know how things ought to be when we often put the focus on what we have known rather than whom we have worshiped.

In her popular book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert relates the story of an Indian guru who had a beloved cat. The problem was that when the people were called to meditation, the cat was so affectionate that it would enter the temple, too, rubbing up against the worshipers, driving them to distraction. So the guru ruled that when it was time for meditation, the cat would be tied to a pole outside the temple so as leave the worshipers free to focus.

Years passed. The cat outlived the guru. And one day, the cat died, too. The first thing the community did was to search for another cat to tie to the pole. The cat had become part of the ritual – a necessary part, so they now thought. They had become so wrapped up in the practice that they had forgotten the purpose.

Friends, what about us? What are our cats? What are the things we do because we are so used to it, but really aren’t necessary? What are our igloo coolers? What are the things we have packed in good conscience, but are ultimately going to weigh us down for the journey ahead?

Yesterday marked the six years since I was installed as your pastor here at Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church. And like many of us do when such occasions arise, I have spent the better part of this past week reflecting on what has happened over those six years.

There are three traditional markers of church that are intriguing to note. In membership, we’ve had slight growth. In worship attendance, we’ve dropped slightly. In financial contributions, we have seen virtually no change. I’ll refrain from quoting Mark Twain on statistics, but you can take these numbers for whatever you think they’re worth.

I have my own take, of course. But my concern ultimately is that, if we focus so tightly on what’s happening here at OPC, we miss the bigger picture of a world that is shifting dramatically all around us. The question we ought to be asking is: because the world is different, how do we live out a faith that calls us to incarnate God’s desires? How do we stay faithful to what is really important while we necessarily adapt to the new realities that confront us in the 21st century?

Like many, I’m convinced that what is happening worldwide is no less historic than what gave way to the Protestant Reformation several centuries ago. Just as movable type and circumnavigation changed science and politics and religion in ways that still resonate out today, the internet and extra-terrestrial exploration are doing the same thing in this day and age. And we will not know the result for years to come.

The great church Reformers, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, wrestled mightily with their own cats tied to poles and igloos filled with ice packs. They made some bold decisions, like translating Scripture and liturgy into the languages that people spoke, or putting hymnals and Bibles in the pews. From where we stand now, these seem like no-brainers. But at the time, they were literally declarations of war.

What are the choices we face? What keeps us from preparing the way of the Lord? What distracts us, tempts us, weighs us down, ties us up in knots and ends up binding us to the pole outside the temple?

Friends, today is just the beginning of the conversation. So let’s be honest: there is work to do. Are we ready?

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