Monday, June 15, 2009

Sermon for Proper 7B, Third Sunday After Pentecost, 21 June 2009

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Heaven Is Your Home
Proper 06 (B), Second Sunday after Pentecost, 14 June 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For his first sermon in a [beginning] Protestant seminary preaching class, Lawrence, an African seminary student, chose a text describing the joys we’ll share when Christ returns and ushers us to our heavenly home.
“I’ve been in the United States for several months now,” he began. “I’ve seen the great wealth that is here—the fine homes and cars and clothes. I’ve listened to many sermons in churches here, too. But I’ve yet to hear one sermon about heaven. Because everyone has so much in this country, no one preaches about heaven. People here don’t seem to need it. In my country, most people have very little, so we preach on heaven all the time. We know how much we need it.”
Each summer, church attendance typically takes a nosedive. I try not to take it personally. On one hand, they’re just numbers. Numbers go up and down, just like in our checking accounts. The Word is being preached. The Sacraments are being administered. Pastoral care continues year-round because the Devil doesn’t take the summer off. On the other hand, these are souls we’re talking about—lost sheep. And together, we can see more clearly the point of that African seminarian. With the lakes and mountains and all that summer in Wyoming has to offer, some people don’t seem to need heaven—at least not now. Perhaps many may think that they already live there.
I thank God for you, the flock gathered this morning around His Word. You realize that even with Church on a Sunday morning, there’s plenty of weekend to go around, even when 4th of July is on a Saturday this year. This morning, let’s let our text from 2 Corinthians 5 remind us of what faces us in this world, and for the Christian, in your heavenly home.

For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
I’m but a stranger here, Heav’n is my home. So goes the hymn. Many in our age live in fear of terrorism, especially in the Middle East. September 11th brought that reality to our shores. Some still refuse to fly. Others continue to live in fear of the unknown. Yes, a Christian may fear dying, but a Christian need not fear death. Death is not the end. Death, for the Christian, is the beginning of heaven, a building from God, a house not made with hands.
Matthew 10:28 is a good reminder for us, too. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
There is something worse than death. It is falling away from faith in Christ.
Accidents can kill the body. Disease can kill the body. Terrorists can kill the body. And if this life were all that was, we really would have something to be afraid of in the unknown. The Devil has been defeated. It is more important to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The unbeliever has to dread being eternally tormented in body and soul in hell, sent there by the Lord. That is something the Christian doesn’t have to fear. On the cross, Christ already suffered the eternal torments of hell and abandonment for you. Yes, we will all die. For the Christian, an eternal house awaits. Death is not the end! Heaven is your home.

Our trials and groanings in this life seem to be endless, but they are, in reality, only temporary.
For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
In the tent of our bodies we groan. You have experienced the realities of a fallen world. Sickness. Ridicule. Pain. Loss. Disappointment. Shock. Tragedy. Such is the heavy burden of the inhabitants of this vale of tears. Sin is the culprit every time. We sin. People sin against us. The unholy interest of all of history’s sin is compounding upon itself. We yearn for better things, for better times, for release from our burdens and groanings. No wonder the theology of glory is so tempting, so alluring. But we live in the reality of the cross, the theology of the cross, weighed down by the crosses the Lord has chosen for each of us—the crosses He has chosen for you for your ultimate good—but more about that later.

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
The gift of the Holy Spirit to every Christian is God’s guarantee, His down payment, a foretaste of the glory to come in heaven. The Lord says: Remain in me and I will remain in you. Receive my Gifts. Regularly receive them. I will never abandon you. You could run away from my love, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The Devil is a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Why go looking for trouble? I, the Lord have good gifts for you. They’re here. Just waiting for you. Even year-round!
And we sing in response: What though the tempest rage, Heav’n is my home; Short is my pilgrimage, Heav’n is my home; And time’s wild wintry blast Soon shall be overpast; I shall reach home at last, Heav’n is my home.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Are you “at-home” here, in the body, with the things and pleasures of this world? Then you are away from the Lord—you have set yourselves apart from Him—so writes St. Paul under the inspiration of the same Spirit. Here’s what I’m not talking about: It is good to be at-home in the place where the Lord has put you. It is not that all material things are evil and only the spiritual things are good. No, that’s gnosticism. To get back to the way the seminarian spoke about it, do you have a need for heaven?
We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Why? Why me? Why, Lord? Why did this have to happen? You’ve asked those questions. We all have. How would the text help us answer such unanswerable questions? Could it be that the Lord doesn’t want you to be too comfortable, too at-home in the body, in this fallen world? Could it be that He wants to help you live by faith in Him rather that what you merely see? Could it be that He wants to create in you a desire for heaven? Yes, yes, and yes!
By faith, our view of this world becomes clearer. Earth is a desert drear, Heav’n is my home. Danger and sorrow stand Round me on ev’ry hand; Heav’n is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home. Now, reminded of our troubles here, and the hope that is before us, St. Paul’s words make more sense, especially as he goes on from here.
We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For 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.

The life of faith is one that desires to please God. Without faith, one cannot please God. Even if the whole world lauds and acclaims the “good works” of an unbeliever, by Biblical definition, God calls them evil. Good works cannot save—not even in part. Are good works necessary? Yes, for the Lord Himself calls for them. We are to serve our neighbor. Are good works necessary for salvation? No. Absolutely not. When a Biblical text, like this last verse, confuses you, go to another Biblical text on the same topic that is abundantly clear.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 keeps us from misunderstanding 2 Corinthians 5:10. We see that we were created for good works as Christians. They are not part of our supplication to God, but our thank you in faith.
All must appear before the Judgment seat of Christ. Cling to Him alone. The Judge is also your defense attorney, and also He who went to death row in your place. He is and does all of this so that you may be clothed with your heavenly dwelling, your fatherland, your eternal home.

What is heaven like? Most of us ask that question once-in-a-while. This is how John Todd, a nineteenth-century clergyman answered that question in his autobiography. When he was six years old, both of his parents died. A kind-hearted aunt raised him until he left home to study for the ministry. Later, this aunt became seriously ill, and in distress she wrote Todd a letter. Would death mean the end of everything, or could she hope for something beyond? This is the letter he sent in reply:
It is now thirty-five years since I, as a boy of six, was left quite alone in the world. You sent me word you would give me a home and be a kind mother to me. I have never forgotten the day I made the long journey to your house. I can still recall my disappointment when, instead of coming for me yourself, you sent your servant, Caesar, to fetch me.
I remember my tears and anxiety as, perched high on your horse and clinging tight to Caesar, I rode off to my new home. Night fell before we finished the journey, and I became lonely and afraid. “Do you think she’ll go to bed before we get there?” I asked Caesar.
“Oh, no!” he said reassuringly, “She’ll stay up for you. When we get out o’ these here woods, you’ll see her candle shinin’ in the window.”
Presently we did ride out into the clearing, and there, sure enough, was your candle. I remember you were waiting at the door, that you put your arms close about me—a tired and bewildered little boy. You had a fire burning on the hearth, a hot supper waiting on the stove. After supper you took me to my new room, heard me say my prayers, and then sat beside me till I fell asleep.
Some day soon God will send for you, to take you to a new home. Don’t fear the summons, the strange journey, or the messenger of death. God can be trusted to do as much for you as you were kind enough to do for me so many years ago. At the end of the road you will find love and a welcome awaiting, and you will be safe in God’s care.
Therefore I murmur not, Heav’n is my home; Whate’er my earthly lot, Heav’n is my home; And I shall surely stand There at my Lord’s right hand. Heav’n is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.