06/14/15 Sermon (June 14, 2015)

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:45 AM by David Hawkins

“Are We There Yet?”

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

We are always confident; even though 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 do have confidence, 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 all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Sermon: "Are We There Yet?"             Rev. David Hawkins

When I was a kid, we would go visit our cousins down in Phoenix, Arizona, and that was quite a trip from the western slope of Colorado. In those days, we were still in the era of 55 mile per hour highways, and it seemed like it took an eternity to get there. It probably seemed even longer for my parents, who had to endure us asking, “Are we there yet?” over and over and over and over again. To this day, I don’t know how we made it there without them leaving at least one of us kids somewhere out there in the desert. I’m sure it was tempting. Who would know? And it would serve as a warning to the rest of us.

But somehow, my parents would persevere through 13 hours of constant wondering if we were there yet, and, of course, when we actually did pull into the driveway of my cousins’ house, we kids were invariably fast asleep in the back seat, and would miss the big moment. We were there, and we didn’t know it.

As I’ve gotten older, I still sometimes wish that I could just beam myself from one place to another, especially when my family travels to Germany. It generally takes us 24 hours door to door for us to get to my in-laws house in Berlin, and that’s plenty of time to wonder if we were ever going to get there yet.

Those of us who live in Texas know all about the length of time that it takes to get anywhere. I mean, we need to pack a lunch just to go to the post office. Texas is a big state. Thank God and Mike Craig and Heath Bozeman for great highways and 75 mile an hour speed limits.

But I have found that recently I have begun to enjoy to driving a little bit more these days. Maybe it’s just the fact that we all have to drive so much more in Texas, but even though I’m still wanting to get to where I’m going, I’m finding ways to enjoy the journey. I’m starting to pay more attention to what’s going on outside the windows. I’m thinking about each of the little towns I drive through, and I like to say their names: Paducah, Matador, and my personal favorite, Quitaque.

I especially like driving with someone else. It’s a chance to just talk, and not have any other things to do, or other places to go, other than what we see in the front windshield.

And you, know, a funny thing happens as you drive around the panhandle a few times. It seems like the time between places gets shorter. Somehow, knowing the route seems to make the time go faster, that having been down this road before lessens that feeling that we’re never going to get there. Yes, we’re going to get there. No need to worry. Let’s enjoy the drive.

I think Paul is encouraging us to enjoy the drive today.

Paul puts his finger on the sense that for most of us that this world is not our home. That this life is not all there is, that there must be more to our existence than what we experience day to day. We believe that there is a bigger story to our lives than just waking up, working, eating, sleeping. We believe there is more to the universe than just atoms, gravity, and light.

To be honest, we don’t know exactly what that is. We don’t know exactly what it is that awaits us at the end of our earthly journey. We’ve got lots of images and ideas: heaven might be a house, a kingdom, a tree, a field, a banquet table, a city. But these images can’t possibly describe the real thing. We don’t know, we can’t know what the heaven looks like --  but we do know it’s the place where we are going, the place we’ve always been meant to be, the one place that we can truly call home.

My wife Karen just this last week had a very powerful reminder of this feeling of not quite being at home. She realized that Friday marked the day that she had spent the same amount of time in America, 23 years, that she had spent growing up in Germany. I’m not sure that I can fully appreciate how strange that feeling must have been.

But Paul knows this feeling that we have, this feeling of wandering, of being a sojourner, a traveler through life, not quite at home anywhere. Paul knows this longing that we have for a place that seems to be just out of reach, a place of rest, of renewal; a place of peace and the presence of God. A place where our questions are answered, and our fears are quieted, where our best efforts are rewarded and our worst moments forgiven.

And Paul knows very well that we’re not there yet. He knows that we’re not home yet. There are miles to go, and the road isn’t likely to get any easier for any of us.

Last week, I understand that Elder Dee Rice talked a little bit about the background of this letter to the Corinthians. As you already know, Paul is responding to criticisms of his own ministry, and in some cases to criticisms of his own person and his own relationship with Jesus Christ. You can tell that from time to time he gets impatient with the way he is perceived, especially by his own congregation. I think any of us can understand and appreciate that. It would be tough to be judged and found wanting by your own church, especially if these criticisms were being stirred up by outsiders.

But Paul’s indignation is rooted not in his own sense of pride and desire for respect, but in theology. His critics have made the mistake of preaching a Gospel that is based on outward appearances, rather than on faith. And, Paul’s problem is not only with their message, but that they have based the validity of their message on the attractiveness of the messenger.

Their criticism of Paul is based on what Paul’s ministry looks like, rather than on what his ministry actually is. And apparently, Paul doesn’t look like the kind of Apostle that people want him to look like.

Now, we don’t know what Paul looked or sounded like. But many times in his letters he makes a point of saying that he might not be much to look at, and that he might not be the greatest preacher of all time, so we can assume that maybe he wasn’t the David Hasselhof of early Christian evangelists. But, he says,  this doesn’t matter. What he looks like doesn’t matter. What he sounds like doesn’t matter. What matters is Christ, and the message that Paul brings about him, namely, that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we are all reconciled to God.

And this is it. This is the Gospel. It’s no harder or more complicated than that. We love, not in order to be loved, but because God first loved us. We serve, not in order to be saved, but because we are already saved. We live the lives we live, not out of fear for what might happen if we don’t, but out of gratitude for what has already been done on our behalf. Our lives are a mirror, not a lever. We respond to grace, rather than earn our salvation. In this journey of life, we are already there, even if we are not quite there yet. Everything old has passed away, and we are a new creation.

The problem for Paul is, there are other folks who preach a different Gospel, one that is based on works, one that promises blessings in reward for following a particular code, a sort of set of instructions, one that insists that in order to receive the love of Jesus Christ, we must first do this, we must say that, we must wear this, we must eat that, and drink this, and not that, and think this, and pray that, and on and on and on.

And the worst thing for Paul is that they are so persuasive. These are the folks that Paul has the hardest time with, the ones that Paul is constantly fighting with, the ones with the nice clothes and the nice words, and a message that seeks to find salvation in obedience to the law, rather than in the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.

And the remarkable thing is, these ancient letters, the words written to a little church two thousand years ago still speak to us today. Because the Gospel message is still very simple, but we still have folks preaching love based on what we think, and say, and do and believe, and pray, rather than on a love that that was freely given for us all.

In Paul’s day they were called super Apostles, in our day we know them as televangelists. In Paul’s day they insisted that their followers become circumcised in order to receive God’s blessing; in our day, all we have to do is plant a financial seed so that Creflo can buy a new 65 million dollar jet. Their words are different, but their intent is exactly the same.

“Look at me, they say. Just see how successful I am. Look at how God has blessed me. I must be telling the truth. I am thin, and handsome, and rich, and you can be all these things as well, if you just do these easy five steps, if you believe these four things, if you just pray these three words, if you just buy these two books, if you just send one thousand dollars, God can’t help but bless you.”

It’s a persuasive theology. We want it to work like that. We want to be in charge of our grace, that we get to decide when and where and how and why we are blessed. We want to think that by our living well, we can earn God’s favor. It’s a terrible temptation. Even in presbyterian churches I’ve heard it preached that if you follow God’s laws, the road smoothes out, there are no more potholes, and life becomes a superhighway.

But it’s not true. It wasn't true for Paul, and it wasn’t true for Peter, and it wasn’t true for any of the early Christians. And Paul is telling us that it’s not true today. Sometimes life is hard, even for the most faithful. Sometimes life is unfair, even for the best of us. We are all sojourners in this life, and there are no shortcuts to get home, we’ve got to travel the road in front of us.

The reality is, for some of us, that road is wide and smooth, and for some of us, that road is a goat track. Sometimes we’re driving through the Rocky Mountains, overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation, and sometimes it seems like we’re driving aimlessly through the Sonora desert, wondering if we'll ever see trees or grass or water ever again.

But regardless of whether we are driving through deserts or mountains, Paul reminds us that this world is not our home.  He also knows that this is sometimes a hard truth to bear. The road of life is long, with lots of twists and turns, all of which are surprising, not all of which are welcome. But he reminds us that that while we are not home yet, the journey itself is worth taking. Our lives are not lived in vain. There’s always something new to learn, always someone new to meet. And there will come a time when we are welcomed home, with open arms, and we will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Our lives have meaning. It would be easy to check out sometimes, to go to sleep, click on auto-pilot, to simply wish the drive was over. But Paul reminds us that while we’re here, we’ve got stuff to do. There are things to see on this drive, there are experiences that we must face, people that need our help, a world that needs to hear about the love of God. This is what keeps Paul going, even when life seems overwhelming.  

And so, if the drive gets to be too much sometimes, remember that we won’t be on this road forever. There is a feast waiting for us, and there will be all the comfort and peace we could ever imagine when the time comes to put up our feet and rest.

But until that time, look out the window and take in the scenery. Find ways to enjoy the drive. Look for opportunities to get out of the car from time to time and stretch your legs, to reach out and be the hands and feet of Christ for someone else.  

And above all, make sure that you got some folks that will go on the drive with you, folks that can keep you company, that you can talk to, that you can cry with and laugh with and just be with.

Because having someone to take the trip with you makes all the difference.

To the Lord who speaks to us,

and strengthens us,

and blesses us with peace,

be all glory and honor forever. Amen.