The fire gathered the people together. We sat around the circle, laughing, sharing life. About twenty of us from the church, parents and kids and single folks and older folks, all sitting around, the aroma of burning wood and burning marshmallows filling the night. A couple of the kids patrolled the circle. “Want me to make you a s’mores?” Apparently at some point the fun comes in making them for others.
And then I stepped forward. “Imagine… nothing. There’s nothing. Not just a space with nothing in it. There’s actually nothing there. And then God said… ‘Let’s have some light.’ And bam! There was light! And there was evening and morning, the first day. And God said, ‘This is good!’
“Second day. God says that light is good, but it’s gotta shine on something! So he creates waters above and below. Look! A sky! And below, seas! And there was evening and morning, day two. And God said, ‘This is good!’
“Third day. God likes the oceans, but there’s gotta be something to break them up. So he raises islands and peninsulas and continents! And the rocks are great, but there’s gotta be something growing on them. Plants! Trees and bushes and grass and –”
And now the kids are paying attention. “Wildflowers!” one calls out.
“Moss!” yells another.
“That’s right!” I answer. “And God looked around, and what did he say?”
“This is good?” one child ventures.
“This is good!” I savor the answer.
“Day four,” I continue. “God looks up at the sky. Light is good, but lets get it gathered together. How about one big light for the day? And there, God places the sun in the sky. And then the moon! But the moon shouldn’t be alone. God fills the night sky with stars!” We all look up at the night sky, reveling in the bright points of light. “And God looked around, and what did he say?”
“This is good!” some of the kids shout.
“Day five. Oh, these waters are fantastic, but God had to put some animals in them! So fish and whales and –”
Oh, the kids have the idea. A cacophony of small voices chorus out, “Dolphins! Whales! Bluegill!”
The adults smile, listening closely, enjoying.
“And God looked around, and what did he say?”
“This is good!”
“Oh, but we’re not done with day five yet! Now God looked at the sky, and what do you think he put there?”
“Birds! Blue jays! Eagles!”
And God looked around, and he said…?”
“This is good!”
“Ah!” I pause a moment. “Day six. God decides to put some animals on the ground! What kind of animals, do you think?”
“Cows! Cats! Giraffes!”
“And then God stopped. He needed a masterpiece. The crown of creation. And so God gathered up the earth and breathed in to it… and there, there was the first man. And God took a rib from the man, and there! The first woman. And God looked at what he had made, and what do you think he said?”
“This is good!” yell the kids.
“No!” I smile. “This is… very good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day. Day seven. God looked around… and everything had been created. He didn’t need to create anything more. So he sat back and just enjoyed his creation.”
I take a deep breath. “We forget sometimes what a good gift creation is. Now, it’s broken, but we’re going to talk about that tomorrow. We’ll talk about what God did. But for tonight, I’d like for us to go around the fire and just say something, just one thing, that we appreciate about God’s creation.”
And we go around the fire. The adults, the kids, everyone. “The sun. Trees.” (Four people picked trees!) “My wife.” (Lots of teasing at that one.)
And then it got back to me. “I grew up in North Dakota. It’s… it’s really flat there. Just vast…. nothing. And then I came here. And there’s folds in the land. There’s hills. I’ll come around a bend in the road and see this amazing hill in front of me covered with trees, and I just marvel. Tonight, tomorrow, as we spend more time together in nature, I want you to just sit back and thank God for his good creation.”
And to the sound of the fire popping, I led a prayer thanking God for creation.
And thus began our church campout. One of our members owns 150 acres or so; he’s got forests and ponds and walking trails. He invited the church to gather there for the weekend, culminating in outdoor worship on Sunday morning. Apparently this is a first for the congregation. Eleven of us spent the whole weekend there, but each of the days several members of the congregation came out for fun and fire.
So Friday night wrapped up. Not long after devotion we started peeling away from the fire in two’s and three’s to go back to campers, tents, and cars. And that night was… chilly. Cold to the point I was worried about the kids; I slept no more than an hour at a time. I spent a lot of time in prayer. “God, bring your sun on your earth. Bring warmth.”
The kids were fine. Chilly, but fine.
And yes. I spent time thanking God.
Sausage and eggs prepared in a cast-iron skillet over the fire for breakfast. Kids playing in the forest. A scavenger hunt. Cornhole. Vegetable soup made over the fire. Lunch wasn’t well organized – we just snacked instead of eating together – so my lunchtime devotion didn’t happen. That’s fine – I combined the lunch and evening devotion later. And then supper. Buffalo grilled chicken. Bacon-wrapped pork loin. Moroccan-spiced ribs. Venison steaks. It was a good supper.
And then, again, the fire. Man, there is just something about the smell of burning wood that is pleasing. And again, so much laughter. The group was bigger Saturday night, and not all the same people.
I stepped forward. “Last night we talked about how good God’s creation is. Those who were here, do you remember what God said when he finished creation?”
“This is good!” one of the kids crows.
“Almost!” I answer. “This is very good!”
Kid just grins back at me.
“But it’s not very good any more, is it? Earlier today some of the girls got lost in the woods for a little bit. Parents were scared. Why? Because creation isn’t good any more. We just heard some coyotes howling. We weren’t pleased. Why? Creation isn’t good any more.
“God set the first two people, Adam and Eve, in a garden. And everything was good. God said, ‘You can eat anything. Anything! Enjoy my garden! But this one tree –”
One of the kids raises a hand. “Oh! I know this one!”
“What is it?” I ask.
“Um. The tree of. Um.” Oh, he thought so hard! “The tree of good and evil?”
“Almost! The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Don’t eat from that tree, or you’ll die! And that’s how Adam and Eve could worship God. They would pass that tree and know that God said it was bad, so they didn’t want to eat from it. They trusted God.
“But there was a serpent. Oh, he was tricky! And he slithered up to Eve and asked, ‘Is it true? Did God say you can’t eat from any tree in the Garden?’ ‘Oh, no!’ Even answered. ‘We can eat from any tree, but not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and not touch it, or we’ll die!’ ‘Ha!’ the snake answered. ‘You won’t die! God doesn’t want you to eat form it because it’s good! He knows that when you eat it, you’ll be like God! You’ll know good and evil! God doesn’t want you to have this good thing!’
“Oh, and Eve looked at the tree and saw… she thought that this thing that God said was bad, she thought it was good. And she reached out… and she took some. And Adam? He was no better. He was standing around. He could have said, ‘Eve, stop talking to the crazy snake.’ But he didn’t. And he ate some.
“And then God was walking through the Garden! So they hid! And God called out, ‘Adam? Where you at?’
“‘I was scared, so I hid.’
“‘Why were you scared? Did you eat from the tree I told you not to eat from?’
“‘It was the woman!’”
And here the gathered people laugh. “Yeah. We haven’t changed, have we?” I shake my head. “And Eve? She said, ‘It was the snake!’
“So God turned to the snake. And he said, ‘Because of this, you’re going to have kids. And she’s going to have kids. And one of her kids is going to crush your head, and you’re going to strike his heal.’ And that… that was the first promise that Jesus would come.
“We forget sometimes. When we sin, we’re not just damaging ourselves. We damage all of creation. All of creation was broken when Adam and Eve sinned. It’s not what it was supposed to be. It’s not very good anymore. Bodies don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Natural disasters. Pain.
“But then… Jesus came. And he showed he was master of creation. He calmed storms with just a word. Diseases? He pushed them aside. And even death itself turned back at his word. And when he died… he took our sin away. Every time we’ve damaged creation, he died for, to forgive our sins. Gone. You are forgiven. Your God cares for you so much, that even after you’ve hurt his creation over and over again with your sin, he still came to fight for you, to die for you, to make you his own.
“And Jesus turned back death itself. He rose again. Our Lord lives!
“But the story isn’t done. Jesus is returning. And when he does, all that is broken will be repaired. Everything will be made new. Everything.
“Tonight, I want to go around the fire. And I want you to share something you’re looking forward to in heaven. Something you ache to return to the way it’s supposed to be.”
And tonight… there was far less laughter as we went around the circle. “Cancer. Seeing old friends. Alzheimer’s. War.”
And after every addition, those around the fire, their faces lit by the flames, their eyes glistening, nodded and murmured their assent.
We ache for the restored creation. We long for that day.
I led a prayer, confessing our thanks to God for creation, for redeeming us, for promising restoration. One of our members had brought along a guitar. I asked him if he knew any songs that went along with the devotion. He played Amazing Grace, and we sang – all four stanzas. Enough of us knew them to join our voices.
We peeled away from the fire again, in two’s and three’s.
We slept better Saturday night. We got extra blankets. I felt so much more at ease. Still, as that pre-dawn dip in temperature hit, I again prayed, “Lord, send your sun on your earth.” And again, God brought the dawn. Those of us spending our nights at the campsite gathered around the still-warm coals and stirred up another bonfire. As the morning turned warmer, I asked the kids to make a cross to help us focus our worship. They did a fantastic job putting it together.
And then the congregation came for worship. That member brought his guitar again; the only music we had. I did three devotions on the Feast of Tabernacles – a festival that God ordained to remind his people how he had fought to free them from slavery. At that festival, every Jewish family was to live in a temporary shelter for a week to remember how God had freed them and they’d lived in the desert while he brought them to the Promised Land. A national camp-out! And at one of those national camp-outs, Jesus said, “He who sins is a slave to sin. But if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!”
We are by nature slaves to sin. We cannot break free. We are trapped by chains we are born into, and we only add more of our own forging as we grow older.
Ah, but Jesus. He fought for us. He fought for slaves, to free us! He has shattered those chains, dying on the cross, making us his own. We are free.
The congregation sang hesitantly; frankly, I had a hard time hearing the guitar. But it was good; a service that pointed to Jesus.
And then… lunch! Because what is a Lutheran gathering without even more food? Burgers, hot dogs, and brats on the grill, along with… oh, so many sides, and so many desserts! After eating, the pack of children went off to play some form of baseball that included a dog and riding bikes. I don’t know how it worked, but they had fun playing it!
Tents came down. Congregation members that didn’t camp out lent hands at every corner, cleaning up, packing away, getting ready to leave.
Camping is a temporary blessing. Everything is packed up, and we leave.
This world is a temporary blessing. We like pretending we’ll be here forever, but we won’t be. We are all immortal, but our home is not this earth. We were made for greater things. Where we spend eternity, though, well… those who reject Jesus are indeed condemned, but those who believe, who trust his forgiveness live forever in a place that will never perish, spoil, or fade.
We’re just camping here on this earth.
Creation will be remade. Everything will be new. And then, then we will rest. Then we will never fear the cold. Then we will never fear the forest nor the stranger. For the Lamb at the center of the Throne will be our Shepherd, and we will rejoice forever.
This is not our home. We’re just camping.
Home, though. Home is coming.
This weekend was so, so good. But you bet I looked forward to coming home. Our whole family did. We looked forward to showering (even the kids looked forward to showering!), to sleeping in our own beds. I personally missed the internet.
The Home we long for… it is so, so much better than this home, and so much more permanent.
This weekend I learned so much. I prayed so much. I grew in trusting God and savoring the good creation he fashioned for us. And I think I have a better grasp on the lessons of camping. That we long for our real Home.
I’m looking forward to repeating the whole process next year – but hopefully without the frigid nights!