Folding Up Tents

I grew up in a camping family. In fact, the first time I stayed in a hotel wasn’t until I was 17 years old and on a band trip. We started in a tent, moved to a tent trailer, and finally graduated to a comfy travel trailer in my parents’ later years. In the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul writes about tents in a wonderful way:

2 Corinthians 5 (Contemporary English Version)

5 Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth. But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live. These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever. 2 While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home. 4 These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan. But we don’t do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die. 5 God is the one who makes all of this possible. He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it..

I love the image of tents in this passage.  My family traveled all up and down the East Coast to campgrounds located near interesting, educational and often historical locations.  My first camping adventure was when I was 6 weeks old and my parents took my sister and me to the beautiful mountains of Central PA where we camped for two weeks in a faded green tent.  Every summer we would return to the Greenwood State Furnace and camp with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We all spent many happy moments in this temporary home. But then we would come back to our real home again, and the tent would be put away until next summer.

Last week I said goodbye to a very dear friend whose ”tent” had been taken down and folded away. He was an outstanding human being in every sense of the word, and his death leaves a void on the earth. But our faith in God assures us that we will see him again, and this brings us comfort. For all of our dearly departed, whose tents fell into disrepair and were taken down, we can rejoice in knowing that God has replaced their temporary dwellings with a permanent home in heaven. We indeed live by faith and not by sight.

For all believers, death is the beginning of life.  That is what we believe.  Our Lord has taught us that our finish here is but our beginning there.  It means we will have a new and glorious life in the Father’s home. Paul concludes with this reminder:

6 So always be cheerful! As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord. 7 But we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord.

It is hard to be cheerful in the face of loss, but we can be cheerful in the face of gain. We will all gain a place in our Father’s house … Jesus assures us that there are many rooms there, one for each of us.

John 14 selections (New Living Translation)

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”  “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

This last part may be the most important thing you will hear today:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The world, and all of it’s temporary things, will never give us peace. Only Jesus, with his heavenly mansion of many rooms, can bring us real and everlasting peace. So do not let your hearts be troubled! You can trust this, even to the end of your life.

A Sign From Heaven

God’s House

What or where is ”God’s house” for you? Is it a large modern sanctuary with rear projection screens? Is it a one hundred-year-old sanctuary with a beautiful wood ceiling? What image comes to mind when you hear the phrase “God’s house?”

Many years ago I was in the downstairs portion of our church sanctuary with my four-year-old daughter. I used my master key to get into the janitor’s closet to fetch a vacuum. Jamie had never been in that part of the church and her eyes got big as she looked at the large sink, the shelves and shelves of toilet paper and paper towels, and the rest of the supplies.

“Mommy, we’re in God’s house, aren’t we?”

“Yes, sweetheart, we are!” I replied.

“Well, then! THIS must be God’s bathroom!” she exclaimed.

The pandemic has completely upended our concrete notions of what “God’s house” looks like. Maybe that is one good thing we can claim from all of this mess. We have realized that “God’s house” is wherever God and God’s people are. It can be a parking lot, a lawn, a baseball field, your living room, the beach, a tall sand dune with a cup of coffee…God’s house is a movable place, just like it was in the very beginning.

The writer of today’s psalm is troubled. He heads straight for God’s house in search of justice. While others around him are up to no good, he has walked in integrity and avoided any contact with the wicked people. He would have done well with social distancing.

Psalm 26 (Common English Bible)

Establish justice for me, Lord,
    because I have walked with integrity.
    I’ve trusted the Lord without wavering.
Examine me, Lord; put me to the test!
    Purify my mind and my heart.
Because your faithful love is right in front of me—
    I walk in your truth!
I don’t spend time with people up to no good;
    I don’t keep company with liars.
I detest the company of evildoers,
    and I don’t sit with wicked people.

He prepares to go into God’s house with hands washed (!) and with thanksgiving on his lips.

I wash my hands—they are innocent!
    I walk all around your altar, Lord,
        proclaiming out loud my thanks,
        declaring all your wonderful deeds!

No matter where you are experiencing the house of the Lord, know that wherever you go, God is with you. When you come to him in an attitude of worship, his glory resides. Praise God! His presence cannot be constrained by four walls.

I love the beauty of your house, Lord;
    I love the place where your glory resides.

Also God’s House