Pentecost 4b

Preached: June 21, 2015

Keep Walking Heavenward by Faith
2 Corinthians 5:1-10

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit increases our eagerness to see Jesus is 2 Corinthians 5:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10 NIV11).

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Some of the movies we watched with our kids several times as they were growing up were the Homeward Bound movies. We watched the remake and the sequel as well as the original from the 1960’s that was called The Incredible Journey. It’s the story of two dogs and a cat that make it home through the wilderness.

We, too, dear Christians are headed home through a dangerous wilderness. But unlike those three pets this is not a home we’ve been to or grown up in. It’s a home we have never seen. And that sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? How can it be home, if you’ve never been there? But that’s what heaven is for you who are God’s children through faith in Jesus your divine Savior. So keep walking in that direction. Keep walking heavenward by faith. That’s the theme to day. Keep walking heavenward by faith, longing to be at home with the Lord, courageous to do what pleases him.

A. Longing to be at home with the Lord

The Apostle Paul calls our earthly existence a tent. A tent is no permanent home. How long will a tent last before the fabric tears or a rod snaps? For a night or two camping out in a tent can be fun. But the ground is hard to sleep on, and what if a storm comes? After a few nights in tent, we long to be back home in our own soft, dry, warm bed!

How much more so our heavenly home!

To a certain extent you could say our earthly existence is the work of our own hands. Of course, we would have nothing without God’s providence. All belongs to him, and he reigns over all. Yet so much of what this life is depends on our actions.

How different our heavenly home! It’s not built by our hands in any way. Jesus has prepared that home for his people. He has purchased it with his own blood. He has prepared a place there for all who follow him in faith. “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” he said on the night before his death. “I’m going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2 NIV84).

And what Jesus builds does not pass away. How unlike a tent heaven is! We will be with our Lord forever, never to be found naked or without a place, but always at home with our Lord. Share in Paul’s longing for our heavenly home as he writes, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed,we will not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:1-3 NIV11).

But what about this present groaning? Yes, we do feel the burden of this sin-sick world. We feel the burden of the change and decay all around us. We feel the burden of our own bodies growing weak with age. We feel the burden of hurt relationships and inner struggles. But our longing is not an escapism, that kind of thinking that says, “Whatever comes next can’t be as bad as what I’m going through now.”

Rather, our longing for heaven is to be with our dear Savior, to live in the glory of his love, to marvel at the brilliance of his majesty, to find true fulfillment in the beauty of his presence. We long for the mortal to be swallowed up by life, life with God, life in perfect harmony with him. We long to sing that final victory chant “ ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NIV84).

Walk heavenward in faith for God has given you the Holy Spirit. He has come to you through Baptism and the Word. He brought you to call on Jesus as your Lord, who has redeemed you with his blood to be his very own. He works in you through the Gospel to fight your old self and resist Satan’s lies. He instills in us that true longing for heaven, not an escapism but that longing to be with our Savior who has loved us so dearly.

Keep walking heavenward as the Holy Spirit continues to work in you through the Gospel. For he is God’s deposit, you could say. Just as we might put a deposit done on something we’re buying so that it will still be there when we come to take it home, so God has given you the Holy Spirit so that you can be sure that Jesus will come and take you home. Keep walking heavenward in faith longing to be at home with your Lord.

As you walk heavenward, take courage. Yes, be courageous to do what pleases God.

B. Courageous to do what pleases God

The Apostle writes, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:8, 9 NIV11). Obviously our motive to please him isn’t to curry his favor. Look at all the favor God has already shown to us undeserving sinners. The Father gave up his Son for us. The Son laid down his life for us. How could we imagine that our efforts could ever merit more favor than what he has already shown us! Likewise, our motive is not fear-driven, terrified that we might take a wrong step and bring down his everlasting punishment on us. In Christ, we have full and free forgiveness, which frees us from that kind of terror.

Rather as we walk heavenward in faith, that faith eagerly desires to do what is God-pleasing because of all that he has done for us. Faith does all things, even eating and drinking, to the glory of God. Faith shines out to show God’s love toward others in our words and actions. Faith places God and his word first in our lives. And as faith does all this in this broken world, we need courage. The world belittles faith in Jesus. The world wants us to follow what we see, not what God promises. The world wants us to place the earthly first. It takes courage to walk heavenward in faith.

But keep your eyes forward looking at the judgment seat. Doubt and unbelief worries questioning, “What will the verdict be? Have I done enough good? Does he really know all my sins? Is he going to hold me accountable?” Doubt and unbelief cope by trying not to think about Judgment Day or by imagining that the Judge can be swayed by our efforts or sincerity.

Faith, though, sees who the Judge is. Who is that on the judgment seat? None other than my own dear Savior, Jesus Christ. Faith calls out, “Guilty sinner though I am, you died for me, dear Jesus.” Faith knows the verdict that has already rung out from the Easter tomb: “Forgiven, because Jesus has risen!” Faith knows and believes that Jesus’ blood has washed my record clean. Faith knows and believes that even though sin corrupts even the best that I do, Jesus purifies my works. Faith eagerly waits him to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come … take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:23, 34 NIV84).

This gives us courage, courage to do what is pleasing to our God no matter what hardships or dangers we must travel through. For we already know the final outcome as we walk heavenward in faith. We know the verdict. What’s more, even though the world rejects and despises the good we do in God’s name, our Savior knows and he does not forget. So boldly, courageously do what is right good with your faith focused on Jesus Christ, the righteous Judge, who freely credits you with his righteousness.

Those homeward bound pets faced many dangers and challenges as they journeyed home through the wild woods. We, too, walk in danger all the way. But are walk is heavenward. We walk by faith, faith in Jesus. Keep walking heavenward by faith, longing to be with your Lord, courageous to do what is pleasing to him.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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