On any climbing trip, one runs the risk that, for all the packing, training, hauling of loads, and preparation of logistical details, you and your friends could end up doing nothing more than playing poker in the tent, or telling stupid jokes, or singing songs from old sitcoms. If that happens, it's usually because of the weather. Some clouds have dropped in for a visit, reducing visibility so that you can't see the person in front of you on the rope. When that happens, your stuck in base camp.
Sure, cards, jokes, and sitcom songs are fun. But all that other stuff, those long bike rides, weight lifting, running, and cutting back on coffee (and if you want to know about sacrifice, let me tell you about cutting back on coffee) - it all becomes a waste of time. I mean, you can play poker at home.
No, you came here for the summit. You stopped below it and established a place to care for blisters, stretch out your back, brew some tea, eat some freeze dried somethings, sleep a bit, and then press on. But the point is pressing on, not playing poker. The point is summiting, not singing. The weather might have held you back, but your heart was all about getting out.
This 'purpose of the base camp' discussion has been in mind this week because the church where I'm the pastor is now four weeks into our life together in a new worship facility. The end result of much prayer, clear guidance from God, miraculous provision, amazing financial generosity, and talented craftsmen, the space really is a jewel. But you'll need to see that for yourself sometime, if you're ever in Seattle.
But it's just a base camp. The point of the space is to gather so that we can collectively hear from the Master; He has words of hope, healing, challenge. He reminds us of His character through prayer, fellowship, worship. It's a place of fortification, rest, sanctuary, healing, and decision making. All of that, though, is with the intention of getting out, conquering the greed, fear, lust, and complacency that so easily hinder our vision.
Like mountaineering, there are habits that we're invited to nurture as the means for fortifying our lives, gaining strength for the journey. These habits, like Bible reading, prayer, silence, solitude, and celebration, exist precisely so that we can ascend. But too often, we remain in base camp. Too often the habits becomes ends in themselves. Too often, we're doing the right things, but never really achieving the objective. Because you see, the objective isn't to sit in base camp singing songs and telling stories. The objective is to live differently in the real world.
Isaiah 58 captures this masterfully, especially in Peterson's interpretation in the Message:
1-3 "Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—
They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
'Why do we fast and you don't look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'
3-5"Well, here's why:
"The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won't get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?
6-9"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'
A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places9-12"If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people's sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.
And that, of course, is the point. For our church this means, unequivocally, that our next steps must move us out of the tent and into the world as a voice for justice, mercy, and generosity. The base camp with it's hot chocolate, warm down, and glowing lamps, can lull you to sleep. Now more than ever, our community will need to wake up to our calling and focus our energies on blessing our world. To quote from a leaflet written by the White Rose during WWII, "Rip off the cloak of indefference you have placed on your hearts. Decide - before its too late!" Yes we must decide - how we will serve the schools, the sick, the aged, the marginalized, the addicted, the homeless. Failing here will lead us to the paralysis and weakness that comes from prolonged base camps stays, and our only boast when the day is done will be that we were warm and dry; hardly a fitting boast for people prepared for greatness.