Sunday, June 16th, 2024

A Tent is Good, but a Building is Better

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen. As many of you already know, my family and I are about to go on vacation. Actually, my family is already gone. I fly out to meet them later today. Now, the way that we have vacationed has changed over the years. Back when we lived in Michigan, we lived close to family. And so, we saw grandparents and cousins all the time throughout the year, which meant that when vacation came, we could go anywhere we wanted, travel around the country, visiting national parks. Then we moved to Houston, which meant that we had to dedicate some of our vacation time to going back to Michigan to see family. It meant fewer trips just the five of us. But a few years ago, we went to Washington, DC, and as part of that trip we stayed in the glamping tent. If you’ve ever done glamping, it’s glamorous camping. And so, it was a tent, but it was a nice tent. It was built over a wooden deck. There was electricity in there. There was a ceiling fan, even a TV that wasn’t hooked up to anything. But it was still a tent. And so, one night when we were there, a significant thunderstorm rolled through. You could feel the canvas pulling in the wind. You could hear the thunder and lightning as if you were standing right outside. You could hear the water hitting the roof. But ultimately, we stayed safe and we stayed dry. We had a similar experience over 10 years ago. We took a road trip through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and across the northern United States to come back down towards Mount Rushmore. And one night of that trip, we stayed in a teepee. Again, it had a concrete slab for the floor, but that was it. The rest was canvas and cots. And that night, a thunderstorm rolled through. And so, we figured out how to close the door to the tent. We shut it up, figured out how to close the roof. And we soon understood why all the cots were bolted to the floor on the perimeter of the tent, why there was a table bolted right in the middle. Because as the rain came down, it came right through the hole in the top of the tent. The table got drenched, but we stayed dry. All the cots on the perimeter stayed dry. And there was one time when we went camping in seminary in northern Indiana. And then again, this time the rain was so hard that the weight of the water actually caused our tent to collapse while we were sleeping in it. I was brand new to camping. I was definitely clueless. So, Becky went outside to restake the tent while I stayed inside with baby Elizabeth, and Becky got soaked, but I stayed dry. Elizabeth stayed dry. All of this is to say that when it comes to shelters, a tent can be very helpful. It has its limits, but it can keep you dry in a storm. They can provide some shade from the sun. And if it’s built right like a teepee, it can even keep you warm if you build a fire inside. The tent is good, but a building is better. Becky and I experienced that first hand on a different vacation, different weekend getaway. This time we were staying in a hotel and yet again, a thunderstorm rolled through. This one had tornado warnings. We were told to go into the hallway to get away from the glass of the windows in the hotel room. When we got into the hallway, we were met by a crowd of about a dozen or so people who had driven in from the campground. They were worried that their tents and their campers would not provide enough protection from the storm. They wanted the safety of a building. They wanted the security, the walls, the ceiling, the concrete. Because a tent is good, but a building is better. That’s the image that Paul gives us this morning. We just heard it from a second Corinthians. A tent is good, but a building is better. Paul compares our life in this broken, fallen, sinful world, the bodies that we currently inhabit. He says they’re like tents. They’re good for what they are. They provide dwelling for our souls. Not that the soul is somehow more important than the body, but the bodies that are currently the home for our souls are enfleshed souls. These bodies are temporary. And not only are they temporary, they get sick, they breakdown, eventually, they die. And yet, Paul says we don’t lose hope. We have courage. We don’t lose hope in the face of disease. We don’t get discouraged by old age. We don’t need to live in bondage to the fear of death. For as Paul says, “We know that if the tent which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  And that building is the resurrected body. “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.” What was sown in corruption is raised incorruptible. “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.” What was sown a natural body is raised a spiritual body. Yes, a tent is good, but a building is better. It’s a theme that we see throughout Scripture, actually. Just think of the story of the Exodus and the Promised Land. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, they lived in tents. They slept in tents as they journeyed to Mount Sinai. Then they slept in tents as they journey to the Promised land. And then, after they did not enter the Promised land, they lived in tents for another 40 years in the wilderness, but when the time came for them to finally enter the Promised Land, Moses unfolded the gift that God had prepared for them. This is what he said. “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob to give you–with great and good cities that you did not build and houses full of all good things that you did not fill and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant–and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget that the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  The Lord had certainly provided for his people in the wilderness when they lived in tents. But he promises something even better for them. He has something even better in store for them, houses in the Promised land. Because the Promised land is better than the wilderness. Not that God wasn’t with his people there, but he had something more in store. So, the Israelites would commemorate this reality each year at the Feast of Booths, sometimes it’s called the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Tents. Jews from all over would travel back to Jerusalem. It was one of the pilgrimage feasts, so anyone who wanted to be in good standing under the Law of Moses had to go to Jerusalem to observe it. And part of the observance included setting up camps outside Jerusalem, and living in tents for a week. It was a reminder that the Lord had protected his people in the wilderness, but even more so that he had delivered them into the Promised land. Tents are fine, but buildings are better. So also, the house of God himself, began as a tent. The Tabernacle constructed at Mount Sinai was made of fabric. It was collapsible. It was portable. It was the home of the Lord. It was the place where God dwelled among his people. It was the place where he forgave all their sin, but it was a tent. Tents are good, but buildings are better. And so, King David tried to build the Lord a building, and eventually his son Solomon did just that. The Tabernacle was replaced by the temple. And all of that was replaced when the Word became flesh and tabernacled among his people. Yet even that tent was replaced by the temple of the Church, built on the foundation of prophets and apostles, Jesus himself being the cornerstone, and we, the living stones, built together into a dwelling place for God. Throughout scripture, tents are good, but buildings are better. Paul applies that promise and that hope and that comfort to us. Our present existence in this fallen world is like a tent. But Paul reminds us of the heavenly existence waiting for us. He says that existence is a building. And in this tent, in this life, we may groan, longing to put on that heavenly dwelling. Life this side of paradise is difficult. We deal with the brokenness of creation every day. The sickness, bloodshed, temptation, sin, shame, failure, persecution, famine, nakedness. While we are still in this tent, we groan because we are burdened. Not that you want to be naked in the sense of being homeless without any tent at all exposed to the elements, but more so that we desire to be further clothed, in the sense that we want to be moved from this tent into something more secure, into the building so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life. And the beauty of it is, that’s exactly the promise our Lord has already made to you. That’s the promise of baptism that we saw applied to Edward just a few moments ago. As difficult as life in this world may be, it is still life. It is still a gift. A tent may not be the best housing in the world, but it’s still shelter. Yet the promise is that this life is not all there is for us. This tent is not all that there is for us. There remains something better for the people of God. A building, an eternal existence in a world free from sin, where God himself wipes away every tear from every eye, where we feast on rich food full of marrow aged wine well refined, or we eat from the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of all people. Tent is good, but the building will be better. So don’t lose heart during the battles of this life. Don’t be overcome by the storms. Don’t let them drive you to despair. They’ll be crushed by the dread of death. Your Lord is already with you in this tent, and he is preparing for you a room in the Father’s mansion, a building where the sun will not scorch you, where the storms cannot drown you. That is your promise. That is your hope. And your Lord is faithful. He will see it done. In Jesus’ name, Amen.