The Temporary Tent and the Heavenly House

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“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
My wife does not do camping in a tent. She has made that perfectly clear: “Why spend the night on a leaky air mattress in a hot, humid tent when I have a perfectly fine bed in an air-conditioned house?”  
To be honest, I can understand where she is coming from. It’s based upon previous experience. One year we went camping for the weekend near Yankton, SD. We borrowed a tent from some friends. The first night it rained 1 ½ inches. The floor of the tent sloshed up and down like a waterbed without baffles. The water found every pinhole in the bottom of the tent, each of which seemed to be strategically placed so as to soak every sleeping bag. The next night it rained over 2 inches in just a little over an hour. The lightning flashed often enough that we didn’t need a lantern to look for the leaks coming through the roof. Aimee and a couple of the kids spent the rest of the night in the car.
A few years later, we went camping at Chain of Lakes State Park in Indiana. We purchased a brand new tent, capable of comfortably housing all six of us. The weather was wonderful, we had a good time, and everything went fine until our last night there. I got up in the early morning to go to the restroom. The next thing I remember is waking up on the floor of the restroom in a pool of blood. I stumbled back over to the tent and asked Aimee if she could get me a towel. Even in her grogginess, it seemed rather early to be taking a morning shower, so she asked me why I needed a towel.  “I’m bleeding” I said. “I think someone must have hit me on the back of the head. Could you take a look?”
Needless to say, Aimee hasn’t stayed overnight in a tent since. I’ve done it a few times, but I always make sure that I don’t do it a park that is getting renovated with labor from state prison trustees. Camping can be fun. But the comfort of your own house is always much, much better than the tent. Tents are fine for temporary use, but houses are much better suited for permanent residence.
St. Paul expresses a similar opinion of our life now in the body: “We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). The tent of which Paul speaks is this temporal body; the building from God is the resurrected body we will receive for eternity, redeemed, restored, and transformed by God Himself. In this tent we groan, and the source of our suffering goes far beyond rain and leaky air mattresses. Because of our sin, our bodies and lives face the afflictions of worry, trouble, disease, and death. Still, while we live in this tent, we rejoice amidst the groans because we believe that we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
This confuses the world to no end. It asks: If heaven is so great, why cling to life here so tenaciously? If the resurrected body is so wonderful, why suffer the indignities of this body any longer than is absolutely necessary? If you affirm that this is a world of sin and suffering and death, why do you Christians seek to preserve life in this world? Why do you speak out to protect the life of the unborn if they are born into a world so evil? For that matter, why especially do you fight to protect the life of the unborn child who is known to be disabled, who will have a lower quality of life and less of a defense against the assaults of this world? At the other end of life, why pursue treatment to extend life when the disease is terminal? Why continue to live when the suffering will only grow worse? Why not instead reduce suffering by pursuing euthanasia, or—as the world so euphemistically puts it—“death with dignity”? Why preserve the tent when the heavenly home awaits?
All of this perplexes the world, and so they seek to come up with an answer. But when the world answers on behalf of the Church, the world is always wrong. You see, the world believes that we seek to preserve life only because we’re afraid of disobeying God and that we seek to impose our narrow beliefs upon the world.
How ironic! Many of these people who fear Christians and accuse us of trying to legislate morality find it so easy to speak kindly of another religion that actively seeks to force its beliefs on all upon penalty of death. Not only that, the world insists that anyone who legitimately criticizes that religion must be silenced. But the world is wrong. We do not seek to preserve life because we wish to force the world into Christianity. We seek to preserve life because life is a gift from God. Every human being—born or unborn, vigorous or frail—is one created by God in His own image. Every human being—no matter what stage or state of life—is one for whom Christ died. Both the tent and the house are gifts from God.
As much as man would like to pretend otherwise, life didn’t just happen. As much as man desires otherwise, he can’t create life. He can’t restore it when it’s gone. All the money in the world can’t buy a new one. Therefore, this body and life are priceless. The house in heaven is priceless, too. It has been purchased solely by the holy precious blood of Jesus, and His innocent suffering and death.
Now, when you have a priceless gift, you don’t get rid of it, do you? No, you hold on to it for as long as you can—even if it becomes marred or tarnished, it remains a priceless gift. It has great value to you, if for no other reason than because of who it was that gave it to you in the first place.
I’m not telling you a secret when I say that sin has terribly marred this tent. You’ll groan. You’ll groan from disease, disability, physical and emotional pain. Sin will work to drive you to the point where some days you may hate that gift of life. You may regret that you were ever born, or pray for a speedy death. Like Job’s wife, Old Adam may even taunt you: “Just curse God and die.”
At such times, remember from God’s Word that it is not life that makes you miserable; it is sin and its consequences that bring misery. The devil seeks to destroy you and rob you of the gift of life. His fiery darts, however, do not make life less precious: it remains a gift of God.
When an unborn child is diagnosed with a physical or mental disability, the world recommends termination. The child is going to have a low quality of life, we are told, and shouldn’t have to suffer through it. Do you see what happens? The world blames life and the body for the problem, not the sin which seeks to afflict it. And it makes us curse the very gift of life. But the Lord declares that He is the one who forms us in the womb, and He declares that that child is one for whom Christ has died. Therefore, He has prepared both the tent and the house for that little one, according to His purposes. And no matter the troubles of this tent, He desires to deliver that little one through Holy Baptism to a perfect mansion for eternal life.
Likewise, when an adult is diagnosed with a terminal illness, the world argues that he should be able to end his life whenever he desires. “No one should have to become a burden to their family or to society,” it argues. Eventually, the suffering can grow so great that life is seen as the enemy and death becomes the friend. Once again, the world blames life, not the sin that brings suffering and seeks to destroy life, and then looks to death to help. But death is never a friend; death is an enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed, but an enemy, nevertheless.
In the case of both the unborn child and the terminally ill, we do well to remember that we are always God’s instruments. Sometimes, we are active instruments whom the Lord uses to serve others in need. Other times we are passive instruments whom the Lord uses to teach others to serve. The disabled and terminally ill are often passive instruments, but they remain God’s instruments all the same. You can be sure that God is still using them for His purposes and according to His good and gracious will even in suffering and death.
Dear friends, many of our departed brothers and sisters have given good testimony to family, friends, and medical staff as they sought to honor God’s gift of life in the midst of their suffering and last days. I’ve seen firsthand where some of you have given good witness of Jesus as you’ve prayed and read Scripture at the deathbed of your loved one. Such words and actions bear witness to this truth: life is a gift from God. Death is no friend. Death is the enemy, but it is the enemy that has been conquered by Christ. And because our sinful flesh cannot forever sustain God’s gift of life in this world, our Savior uses that last enemy to deliver us from this earthly tent to our home in heaven. But despite the sufferings and groans we experience now, life in this world remains the precious, priceless gift of God.
Don’t kid yourself! This is not an easy confession of faith to make. When it is given you to agonize about events that you have suffered, you will blame life—not the sin that afflicts it and you. When you must witness the suffering of loved ones, the devil will whisper the lie that death with dignity is far better. If it is given to you to care for someone with a disability, those special needs will completely reorder your life and rewrite the personal plans you had, and you will find it difficult to not be resentful of your loved one. You’ll find yourself jealous of your time and energy. In such circumstances, it will be next to impossible to recognize life as a gift when all the evidence seems to indicate otherwise. 
Yes, be sure: it will be hard for you to rejoice in the gift of this tent, this body and life, when you must groan to the depths of your being—and when all you see in the world is change and decay, suffering and death. It will be hard to believe in the heavenly home when all you see is the grave. This is why you walk by faith, not by sight. That is why, when it comes to the tent and the house, you close your eyes and you open your ears. You hear God’s Word, and it is there that you find your comfort and joy, because it’s there that you hear the faith in which you walk.
This is that faith: because man brought sin and death into the world and destroyed the tent, Jesus was born into this world of sin and death. He became flesh and dwelled—literally “tented”—among us. He took on the fragile, scourge-able, crucify-able tent of this body and life, humbled Himself, and was made man. The Son of God became flesh in order to die for you. He took every infirmity that afflicts your body and life, and bore it to the cross so that those may not curse and torment you forever. He bore every sin that would rob you of life and suffered God’s judgment for them—so that you might be forgiven your sins and delivered in God’s time from this tent of suffering to the eternal home of heaven.
Hearing that, you walk by faith. This suffering world is not God-forsaken; rather, God so loved the world that He came into the world to suffer, that the world might be saved through Him. Your Savior, who made you His by Baptism, still visits you by His Word and Supper, bringing you forgiveness and life in His body and blood, keeping you in the faith the resurrection of your own body unto life everlasting. The suffering of this world does not contradict God’s Word; rather, it confirms what God’s Word says about the effects and wages of sin. Those who suffer from disability or disease are not to be dismissed or destroyed. They are numbered among those for whom Christ died, and it is given to you and me to serve them. They are among the neighbors who are given you to love
And as for you, you live in this tent—and you groan. And you’ll fail to always appreciate this body and life as the precious gift of God that it is. But walking by faith, you know this: you are also among those for whom Christ died. For His sake, this tent of body and life are not the end, the heavenly home is yours. Take heart, dear Christians, and be of good courage in suffering and trials; your mortality and groans will be swallowed up by life everlasting. In view of God’s mercy, you are pleasing to Him. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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