2 Corinthians 4:13- 5:1
We are More
When I was a kid my family moved a lot. I mean A LOT.
I was brought home from the hospital to a trailer outside a military base in Belleville Illinois. By the time I was a year old, my parents had moved to a little house with marbled orange and brown shag carpet.. By age two, we were moving back to the state that was my parent’s closest state to home- Arizona. First an apartment, then a little white box house in the desert of Black Canyon City, then back to Phoenix, to a couple different apartment complexes.
Things began to settle down when we moved to Las Vegas, shortly before I started Kindergarten- first an apartment, then a condo near the university. Then to Carson City for 10 months, back to Las Vegas… then to the other side of Las Vegas.
And finally to Colorado. By the time I was 12 years old I think I’d called 12 different places ‘home’.
While my dad was in the military for a short time- our moves weren’t due to military life directly, but perhaps were impacted by the reality that my parents had both come from military families- and frequent moves had become their rhythm that would never break- even to this day.
While this sounds like a terribly unstable environment for a kid- and just reflecting on all of the moves is a bit exhausting for me even now…
At the time, I knew no different. And.. Where we were didn’t matter so much- as long as my family was there. If my parents and my sister and pets were there- we were home.
No matter the external circumstances- then and now- I learned early that my center could not be tied to external circumstances. Home was more than a house and stability was more than consistency.
Paul writes to the people of Corinth to assure them and to strengthen them. 2 Corinthians is thought to be one of the later letters that Paul wrote to the Christian community in Corinth- as enough time has passed that the community has experienced conflict- they have experienced frustration with Paul- and they are a bit deeper into the messiness of life. Early on they thought Jesus return was imminent, and now they have experienced illness, death and doubt. They thought the early exhilaration of life in Christian community would last forever. They thought Paul would be perfect, and life would be perfect and it would all last forever. And now people are dying, and fighting and losing hope.
In his letter, Paul affirms his own determination to never give up, to not lose heart- to practice resilience.
These momentary setbacks and experiences of diminishment are only passing illusions in the light of the unseen eternity that awaits.
Paul calls the people to live from a deeper place. To look beyond that which passes and dies—calling up images of tents and clothing and buildings. And he calls them to find their center in that which is permanent- a grounding in God, a home in Christ.
This is a tension we find again and again throughout the Bible Old and New.
Permanent vs. Impermanent
Physical vs. Spiritual
Here and now vs. ever after
From the beginning of time, people have held tension between these two seemingly at odds ways of being… a need for permanent and physical structures and institutions—
and a focus beyond- a realization that life is something more than what we can see, a life beyond- that is bigger than our current structures.
We can see this tension in the Hebrew people’s early longing for a temple— moving from nomad people to settled people- from Samuel to Saul, David to Solomon … the earliest leaders of Israel sought to build a physical home for God- a tabernacle or temple that would last forever from generation to generation.
In the time of the early Christians- communities of followers met in homes, and hidden places outside the center of power. Over time Christianity shifted from a movement- a branch of Jews following the prophet Jesus— to a religion endorsed by the state complete with elaborate institutions and extravagant churches at times losing sight of a grounding in God and grasping to property and power and permanence.
We - as the Christian church of the 21st century continue to struggle with the need for buildings and institutions as the old falls away and the new is born.
Our churches are changing- as we hear again and again- less people are attending Sunday worship, institutions struggling to figure out how to be sustainable into the future…
While the old may be passing away- We know that our buildings matter, our communities still matter. We still need ‘a home for God’ - a place to gather and to worship, pass on our faith, and work for justice.
And, while we need buildings and value buildings, we know these buildings and institutions will not last as we know them now. The renovation that is now underway- the updating and hard work to be good stewards- to prepare a place for future generations— will one day itself be outdated. The work that is currently being done will one day need to be torn down, renovated, and adjusted itself.
Knowing they ultimately will not last, some dismiss the need for buildings and institutions at all.. However- I think this is missing the point.
Knowing our bodies will one day fade and pass, that our buildings will one day be outdated and lose their usefulness, that our institutions will not always serve us in the ways they do now- should not lead to a nihilistic dismissive view of bodies, buildings or institutions— nor a clinging to keep things just the way they are forever…
rather — this reality should invite us to care for, honor, appreciate all of these things now, while at the same time holding them lightly.
We know that most things in this life pass. The people we love, homes that hold memories, seasons, our possessions that bring comfort and joy, pets, and even the spring tulips and iris that have already faded.
Knowing they will pass- Paul reminds us- don’t get hung up on the passing- appreciate all things while you have it- take care of it… but don't grasp, cling, hoard— hold gently- with gratitude and awe— and release when the time is needed to release.
For we know that there are things that are permanent.
Our center is in God’s love is always there and always available.
The laws of love are permanent; treating one another with justice and compassion passes from one generation to the next. Our relationships and connections tie us together in ways that surpass time and space.
I have a confession- My habit of every time I clean the house or the car I think… ok— It is going to stay like this for-ev-er.
Within 20 minutes one of our three kids or two dogs has walked through and dropped a backpack, or a wrapper, or a muddy footprint— and for-ev-er has passed.
I can whine and complain- and you can bet I do— and then I can move on- either clean it up or not worry about it.
For all these things are passing- just like the homes of my childhood, just like the buildings and places we love.
What is permanent is love. Is God at our center. Is the relationships and the connections that call us to something more.
May we know what is permanent—
That we might experience the grounding in God that lasts - that pulls us to share love and grace and compassion.
And may we know what is passing—
what is now and and is important- but not to be clung to… to be held gently.
May we say:
For all that has been— Thanks.
For all that will be— Yes!