On Father’s Day I suppose I should take it easy on my dad, because I think this really sounded like a good idea to him way back when many years ago… There were four kids in our family ages 2-10 at the time, and my dad had to attend a convention in another state hundreds of miles away, so he thought that maybe we four kids and our mom could join him while he was away for what would be about ten days. Good so far, right? But since we couldn’t afford a motel, he thought that the next best thing was camping in a tent – for ten days – when we had camped maybe one or two nights in our entire family existence before – with six people sleeping in sardine-like fashion on one half of this not very big tent – and a coat rack of business suits and shirts and ties occupying the other half of this not very big tent. It was all good for a day or two, if I remember right, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to understand that by the end of those days every one of us showed by our increasing impatience with one another and our general disgruntlement with our circumstance in life that the inescapable conclusion had to be that ten days of tent camping was far more than enough…
In our lesson for today the apostle Paul compares our Christian life to living in a tent. The opening verse says, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” What he is saying is that our life on earth is like living in a fragile tent and that our life in heaven will be like living in a house that cannot be destroyed. So while living in this earthly tent of our earthly bodies in this earthly world has more than enough troubles and problems and sins — all of which certainly sadden our lives and will eventually end the life of this body — we can be thankful that we have a guarantee for a much better home down the road.
And that is really a good thing, because ten days of tent camping in this earthly life is enough. It’s interesting, I think, that the Bible uses the expression “ten days” in another way, and that is what I am getting at in this message. In the book of Revelation where we have that verse that many people know very well, “Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life,” right before that verse Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you the devil will … test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days – but be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” In other words, the expression “ten days” is used in the Bible to describe the entire time of our life on earth, and during the entire time of those “ten days” the devil is going to be with us every step of the way. Isn’t that a reason to say in a very good and thankful way, “Ten days of tent camping is enough. Thankfully I have a guarantee for a much better home.”
Verse 5 at the end of the first paragraph tells us what that guarantee is. Verse 5: “Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” When someone makes a deposit or a down payment on a house, that is supposed to be a guarantee that they are going to buy that house, right? Sometimes that doesn’t work out, even with a guarantee. When the down payment is God the Holy Spirit himself, it will always work out. We can know for sure that heaven is our home. God has placed himself in our hearts to let us know that his word is good. Because Jesus gave up the earthly tent of his own body by going to the cross to take on the “ten days” of the devil’s temptations and lies and the “ten days” of your and my cruelties to others and our failures to show gratitude to God, we can know that we will someday live in the same eternal house not built by human hands in which Jesus now resides. That’s why when he returned to heaven he talked about preparing a place for us in his Father’s house and said that he was going to someday come back to take us there. The Holy Spirit has placed into our hearts the faith to believe God’s promise, making the Holy Spirit the one who has made the guarantee of that truly better home to come.
And that is why those verses in the middle of the first paragraph tell us that we “groan” right now We groan right now because during these days we are spiritually “naked,” St. Paul says, because we don’t have the right clothes on to live in that home, at least not yet. For example, if you buy a special suit or a special dress for a special occasion — like maybe especially during this summer wedding season – perhaps you can’t wait to have the opportunity to wear it. It wouldn’t make any sense, however, to wear it to work or on a picnic ten days before the wedding or three days before the wedding or even one day before the wedding, because it was for a specific purpose at a specific time. It only makes sense to wear it at the wedding.
God is preparing a wedding banquet for us in heaven, and in the Bible he talks about giving us the right kind of clothes at just the right time so that we can enter that wedding banquet of heaven – clothes that don’t have any wrinkles on them, clothes that don’t have any spots on them, clothes that are just the right color for us, clothes that make us look the best we could possibly look. Brothers and sisters, it’s going to be great to wear those clothes some day…, but we aren’t there yet – and that’s why we groan when we think of the hurts someone has caused for us; that’s why we groan when we think of the hurts we have caused for someone else; that’s why we groan when we are hurt in our heart by the death of someone close to us whom we are going to miss so much – something that may be on some of our minds in a very special way on this Father’s Day. But we have a guarantee that we are going to get there. We have a guarantee from God that we will get to a much better home where we can all wear the special clothes of God that we want so much to wear right now.
And you know what? God says we actually are wearing those clothes right now in a spiritual way, because as verse 7 says in the second paragraph, “We live by faith, not by sight.” I can’t see my special clothes because of all the junk that goes on in my life, but God tells me that I am covered by what the Bible calls the righteousness – yes, the holiness — of Jesus. There’s a hymn in which we sing, “Jesus, your blood and righteousness – my beauty are, my glorious dress.” Jesus is our dress. Jesus is our tent. We can say that the eternal tent we are looking forward to living in is something that we are really wearing by faith right now. We are covered by the tent of Jesus right now on earth. So not only do we have a guarantee of a much better home later on, we also have a goal for a much better life right now.
Look at what verse 9 says in the middle of the second paragraph about that goal: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” The last thing I want to do when I’m “wearing Jesus” is to make a mess on Jesus. “Forgive me, Jesus, for that dirt stain I made on you when I thought that. Forgive me, Jesus, for that huge tear I made on you when I did that. Forgive me, Jesus, for that burn mark I made on you when I said that. Jesus, I know as that last verse says, that all of us must appear before your judgment seat and receive what is due us for the good or bad we have done. Thankfully you consider all my efforts to please you as ‘good,’ because I am doing them as someone who believes in how good you have been to me to forgive me for all my bads and to replace them with all your goods, so that even when I do the simplest thing of being kind to someone, you tell me that it is just like I have done it for you. And that makes me want to make it my goal to please you all the more. I want to show everyone I know that life is better with Jesus than without Jesus, for once I was lost, but now I’m found; I was blind but now I see. I live by faith, not by sight. And, thankfully, because of the faith that you have given me in your forgiving love, in your sight I am your special child, wearing the most beautiful clothes possible, even though the earthly tent beneath those clothes will someday be destroyed.”
That earthly tent of ours on that camping trip has long since been destroyed, and my mom and dad learned the hard way that a tent – especially for ten days – was not the best way to go, at least for our family. We needed a better vacation life, so we graduated to a pop-up tent camper, only to have us four kids wake up during the middle of one of those first nights to the sight and sound of my parents lying on the ground, since one of those support brackets that held up one of the tent camper extensions crumpled and caused a near fiasco, which thankfully we can still laugh about to this day. With Jesus we never have to graduate to something that we think will be better in this life, because the ten days of tent camping that we have on this earth are just enough – just enough to serve our Lord who has so served us – just enough to help us look forward to the next life where nothing will crumple and bring us down – the next life where we will thank God every day for the ten days he allowed us to camp in the tent of this body while we were alive, since he considered that enough time for us – the exactly right amount of time for us– to be about the work he has given us to do. I pray that that is enough of a reason to do just that. With God’s guarantee in our hearts for the future let’s all make that our goal for our lives right now. Amen.