A Tent-Pitching People (Jer. 29 4-7, John 1:14)

Have you ever been camping?  Are you more of a cabin camper, all running hot water and walking out on the porch for a quick bit of sunshine and back in for some TV, or the primitive, hike for miles- McGyver type?

 

Me, I just went camping over fourth of July weekend, and it was somewhere in between… My friends and I took a tent, but we bought all the wood we would need, brought 3 coolers, air mattresses.  There was a Kroger right around the corner, in case of emergency.  You might say, we were camping-lite.

 

Camping is one of those things you sort of have to have a heart for.  Have you ever heard people compete about this?  “Real campers” don’t need bathrooms.  “Real campers” hike down the Appalachian trail with just a compass and a bottle of water.

 

You can camp for fun, but to really camp out, you’ve got to love it – to love getting dirty, smelling like wood smoke, not quite sure your food will turn out alright or if you’ll sleep comfortably.  It isn’t home, after all.  If you wanted comfort, you would stay home.

 

Camping is about going to a new place, and at least for a time, settling into a new home with completely new surroundings, in order to be in the world in a different way than you were the day before.

 

We Christians come from a long line of campers, you know.  The prophet Jeremiah talks about the Israelites being professional campers.  They’d been on the road, following the tent of God through the wilderness, for forty years during the Exodus.

 

Then, Babylon comes along and sweeps them off into the desert again and into exile.

 

They were all set to pitch their tents, enjoy a brief stay and head back home to Israel… but God told them something disturbing and surprising.  But we’ll get to that soon enough.

 

Did you listen to the scripture we heard just a minute ago?  Did you really HEAR it?

 

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

Or this version: “And then God got himself some skin, bones, and guts and had a with-us-ness, a presence in town that was so intimate, it was like he moved into the neighborhood, pitched his tent right in the front yard and wouldn’t move until we said, “Wait, I know you, where have you been?” and invited him in like a cherished long-lost friend.”

 

Moved into the neighborhood.  God hunkered down in the world, got real comfortable-like, and wouldn’t move til we noticed.

 

And he didn’t do it by buying the biggest house on the street, either.

 

The gospel uses the word “skenoo” – Say it with me… skenoo.  Know what it means?  It means “make one’s dwelling like a tent, to pitch a tent”.  God as Jesus was like a tent in the world.

 

When WE camp, usually what we’re saying is, “This is just a temporary situation, I can go home anytime I get too cold, or too hot, or too hungry or dirty.  I can go home when I don’t like this anymore.”

 

But when God camped, he decided it was a permanent change – there wasn’t any going back.  God’s promise was to give up the right to go home, to stick it out with us till the end, to the death, till everyone was saved.  Til it hurt.  Til the cross.

 

Remember, Jesus always said, “Follow me…  it meant, “if you want to follow me, do likewise, do as I do.”  If God really has camped among us as Jesus, then he was saying to us,  “Come camp like me.”

 

But what does that mean?  How do we respond?  Well, let’s visit those Israelites again.  Here’s what God said to them.  There they were, all ready to flee back home as fast as their sandaled feet could take them, all Scooby-doo style…

 

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.

 

6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

 

7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

 

God’s not saying, “Don’t hang around and just wait to go home… pitch your tent and make a commitment to be fully present, even though it’s not where you come from”

 

God goes and tells the Israelites – listen, camping, REALLY CAMPING, is when you go someplace you’re uncomfortable AND TO LOVE IT.  Make its wellbeing your own.

 

Seek the best for the place you’ve been sent, despite the fact that it isn’t where you’re from.  It’s not down home, but you have to treat it like it is.  Love the people there.  Share with them, and let them share with you.  Act like your tent’s your home.

 

And when you go there willingly because your presence is a witness to the Living God who saves, redeems and transforms every single day, in every place, in the darkest time.  God challenges the Israelites in exile to give up isolation and insulation and to invest themselves in it.

 

Pitching our tents is an opportunity to redeem fallen Babylon, to release captives, ourselves included.  It’s the way we live out our call to shalom, to peace, to love.

 

To be the stranger in a strange land until… one day, you’re the cherished long lost friend.  Like God was through Jesus.

 

Now, hear me, friends.  We know about camping of another sort.  There are homeless “camps” not just a stone’s throw from this street where people are camping, alright.

 

Some of you know first hand what those camps are like.  But they aren’t there as a result of the freedom that Jesus brings.  Their tents are temples to bondage – temples to the sins people have committed against them.

 

Their desert is one of suffering, not of accompaniment and trust.  We can not be confused about this –

 

if we camp right, we camp because we are called by Jesus to a place of sacrifice, of giving, of the cross, of freedom, not because of poverty, fear, abandonment, or loss.

 

Do you hear me?  Tell me you hear me.  Say, “We hear you, Jules”.

 

Because I don’t want you going out of here today thinking I’m saying that people who suffer involuntarily are at fault or do not need the people of God.

 

What they need IS FOR US TO LEAVE OUR COMFORT AND BE WITH THEM THERE.

 

That is true Jesus-camping.  That is incarnation.  But we will only do it if we have experienced Jesus as camping out in our own hearts.  Has Jesus ever showed up for you and waited you out?

 

How would we live, really live, if we believed God had camped in the front yard, on the front porch of our hearts?

 

We would give up what comfort we have in the name of Jesus, to camp as he camped among us, with those who have been abandoned (or believe they’ve been abandoned!) to

 

sin, to death, to pain, to depression, to addiction, to hunger, to loneliness, to hatred.

 

And this sort of accompaniment, to TRULY BE AND LIVE WITH SOMEONE ELSE, TO CAMP WITH THEM is difficult.

 

Probably even painful.  I won’t lie to you, my friends.  It scares me.

 

Remember, the fact that Jesus became flesh and lived among us was his death sentence.

 

He met the cross because he cast his love upon us, pitched his tent in our world.

 

Easiness? Perfection?  No.  But peace?  Joy?  True intimacy with our brothers and sisters on the edge?  YES.  By God, yes.

 

It means we’re rescued from the power of evil.  No longer in bondage, but free, even if we’re wandering, uncertain, and not “at home.”  Free to live.

 

And we learn this so we can invite everyone else who’s been captured by the lie, too – we are all just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread, after all.

 

Just campers teaching other wanderers how to pitch their tents.

 

God’s just showing us camping the way camping’s supposed to be.  The incarnation happened.  Jesus lived with us in history, and lives with us, in our community, in us NOW.

 

We have only to follow him and pitch our tents alongside his.  And he’s right here, on the Hilltop, waiting.

 

Amen.

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