When I graduated from high school I was like most 18 year olds. I couldn’t wait to get to college. Living away from home, away from my parents’ rules, with no curfews and no chores. And so off I went to Northwestern College in Watertown, a whole 90 miles away from home, moved into a dormitory and thought, “How can life get any better than this.”
When I left for a weekend and made my first trip home about a month later, I was a little surprised at how excited I was. I think I was even more surprised at how good it felt to pull in the driveway of the house where I grew up, walk in the back door, and say, “I’m home!” Of course, even better than that was sitting at our dining room table for a home cooked meal and then later that night sleeping in my own bed.
“There’s no place like home” isn’t just a line that Dorothy repeated 3 times in the Wizard of Oz. In our text for today, Paul has this same attitude toward his own earthly life, an attitude which we want to imitate. As wonderful as our earthly lives and homes might be, as children of God we realize that we have an even better home waiting for us, “an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” Our theme today:
There’s no place like home
- Appreciate your temporary tent
- Anticipate your heavenly home
Appreciate your temporary tent: Throughout his ministry Paul lived his life as a man who recognized his temporary status here on earth. In the verses that precede our text Paul says: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” During his ministry, Paul faced both the persistent opposition of his enemies and the nearly constant threat of death. Yet how does Paul begin our text? “Therefore we do not lose heart.” How could Paul appreciate an emotionally tortured existence in his temporary tent? “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Renewed day by day. Renewed how? Where did Paul always find his strength? “The gospel is the power of God…” Always and only in God’s Word. And with all sufficient power—from God’s Word: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.” Rom.15:4 Paul was renewed day by day because he was immersed in God’s Word—day by day.
Do you realize 2000 years later, it is no different for you me. What gives us endurance and encouragement? Where do we find our hope? God blesses each of his precious children with an earthly tent and a time of grace to enjoy that tent. And for so many of us, what a grand tent it us…bursting at the seams with every good and perfect gift from our Heavenly Father, packed to overflowing with more blessings that we could ever expect or deserve. And think of the hundreds of memories of blessings that we are able to hang on the walls of our tents: memories of childhood trips and family outings, of holidays and milestones, of grade school games and high school gyms and auditoriums, of Homecoming pictures and graduations, of baptisms and weddings, of travel to places that overwhelm you with the wonders of God’s amazing creation.
Appreciate your temporary tent? Many of us might say, “But of course I appreciate my life…why wouldn’t I? Just look at all of these blessings.” But…do we appreciate that this wonderful tent that God has given us is also temporary? Could it be that with all of the blessings that we enjoy as we pitch our earthly tent along our travels through life, we forget how tenuous the stakes are that hold us here? Could it be that because of the constant persecution and threat of imprisonment and death it was easier for Paul to recognize the fragile nature of his earthly tent?
I’m not so sure. Because as you and trace our hands along the walls of all those wonderful memories, there are other memories too, aren’t there? Memories of heartaches and disappointments, perhaps memories of broken relationships and personal failures, memories of trips home from a hospital, not with a bundle of joy snug in a car seat, but with a grim prognosis that seems to shatter all plans and dreams. As we know all too well, in the temporary tents of our lives there are scenes not just of baby beds, but of parents and grandparents death beds, of funerals and cemeteries.
But that’s where we find such comfort in the words of Paul in our text, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” What were Paul’s troubles? The word that Paul uses for “troubles” is translated elsewhere as “tribulations”…perhaps a word that gives a little better appreciation for what Paul faced. Later in this same letter Paul says: “I have been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked. 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.
The challenges that Paul was facing were hardly “light and momentary.” So where do these adjectives come from? “Light” because Paul knew they were insignificant compared to what awaited him, and “momentary” because he knew the suffering he was experiencing was brief compared to the eternity God had in store for him. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Not “achieving” in the sense that our troubles “earn” us an eternal glory. Jesus has already done that. But Paul realizes that these trials and tribulations are part of a Christian’s journey through a sin filled world before we move into our permanent home. Remember Paul and Barnabas’s words in Acts 14: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
Many hardships. What was Paul’s solution? What is ours? Paul says in our text: “ So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Fix our eyes not on the road in front of us, but rather on the horizon beyond the limited scope of our vision. What is unseen? The home in heaven God has prepared for us. What is eternal? The lives that await us in the presence of our Savior.
There’s no place like home: Anticipate your heavenly home. Paul says “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
Anticipate your heavenly home. So are you looking forward to your home in heaven? “But of course,” you might say. Yet would you agree that it’s often very difficult to really fix our eyes on what is unseen, on the eternity that awaits us in heaven? What am I looking forward to? I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving and having my whole family around the same table. I’m looking forward to even more family time at Christmas. What are you looking forward to? Many of our grade school and high school students are looking forward to a short week of school. Deer hunters are looking forward to a 12 pt buck in November. Some of you are looking forward to a wedding or a confirmation or graduation, or the birth of a child or grandchild, or a family vacation. How many of us are ready to trade all of those plans in tonight for a home in heaven tomorrow?
We know heaven is a happy home beyond our comprehension. We know, as he reminded us in our gospel lesson, that Jesus has gone there to prepare a place for us, and that he will come back to take us to be with him. We know that God is the architect of this home and that Jesus’ own blood holds the foundation of this home together.
You and I have a tendency to cling to our earthly tent, and for good reason, for as we’ve already noted, it’s a tent filled with such wonderful blessings. But Paul reminds us that this earthly tent we live in will be destroyed. “Destroyed” can mean a sudden destruction. It can also mean a “dismantling” of the tent. And isn’t that what God does for many of his people? As we pitch our tent ever closer to our long awaited home, he slowly dismantles our tent, and so our sight, or our hearing, or our agility and energy, or our memory isn’t what it used to be. And isn’t that part of God’s way of preparing us for the move from this temporary, transitory tent to a far better permanent dwelling? The more “light and momentary troubles” we experience here on earth, the easier it is for us to focus on our unseen eternal home.
Yet I wonder if the great struggle for many of us is not that we cling to our own tent, but that we cling to the tent of others. How can our earthly campground ever be the same if there are tents missing from our campsite? My grandma lived with us for 5 years of her life. Her last 2 years were a struggle. I remember listening to my mom say bed time prayers with grandma, most of which they prayed in German. They always closed with Luther’s evening prayer, and at the end grandma would add, “Lord, please take me to be with papa.” And my mom would inevitably say, “Mom, don’t say that.” I remembered that 30 years later when I sat in a nursing home in Baraboo and my mom said, “David, I’m ready for heaven.” Not the words I wanted to hear, but certainly words of faith and confidence.
It struck me as I was studying our text how often the New Testament apostles pointed themselves and their people toward heaven. Paul, in the words of our text, Paul in Philippians: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter in his first letter: “In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” And the apostle John in the second last verse of God’s Word: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
18 year old college guys don’t want to admit it, but there can be a homesickness that is very intense and very real. Whether we are 8, or 18, or 88, it can be far more difficult to be homesick for heaven, for it’s a home where we’ve never spent a day. And life here…there’s just so much we love, and so many we love. But by the faith that God’s promises give you, living in anticipation of the far greater joy of heaven. Think, just for a moment, of the ones you love who have left their tents behind, and are living in that mansion that Jesus built for them. This morning there isn’t a single parent or grandparent, a spouse or child who longs for his earthly tent. This side of heaven we groan. The other side of heaven, we only rejoice.
In preparing this sermon I was reminded of a popular story that I share with the seniors in Ephesians class. An older woman was nearing the end of her life and asked her pastor if she could sit down with him and plan her funeral. She gave him a list of hymns and scripture lessons, and she wanted to have her old confirmation Bible in her left hand. And she asked for one more thing. She said, “Pastor, I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” Her pastor unsuccessfully tried to hide his surprise, and the woman smiled and said, “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” The pastor admitted he was puzzled. And so she told him, “Ever since I was little and we’d go to someone’s house for dinner or Thanksgiving or Christmas, once the main course was over and they were clearing the plates, inevitably someone would say, “Keep your fork.” And I learned that mean there would be pie or cake or ice cream for dessert…it mean the best was yet to come. And so in my casket I want to be holding a fork in my right hand, and when people wonder what’s up with the fork, you can tell them, “She knew the best was yet to come.”
“The best is yet to come,” for we have a home in heaven not built by human hands. May God grant us such a faith, and the faith to say with John, “Lord Jesus, quickly come.” Amen.