For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
—2 Corinthians 5:1
The older we get, the more this passage speaks to us. As the years go on, we become more acutely aware of how temporary this earthly tent in which we live is.
It is interesting that Paul uses the metaphor of a tent to speak of things temporary and things eternal. He also speaks of being clothed and never being truly unclothed, even when naked, to further talk about this idea of the things in our lives that can be taken away or destroyed, worn down by old age, and those things that cannot ever be destroyed. Coming on the heels of the treasure stored in clay vessels, we might fall into the easy trap of many Greco-Roman, gnostic, religious ideas of the body as being a frail and inadequate trap for our souls. But rather Paul is not just speaking of the limitations of our human bodies, but of how big God is.
Remember in the days when the Israelites were first wandering in the Sinai wilderness, God called for them to meet in a tent. This was a God who was so overwhelming that you could not meet or see God’s face out in the open, otherwise you would face death, so their needed to be some place that mediated the meeting. And yet, this God of ours intended to remain with God’s people, not far away, at a mountaintop altar or temple, but in the middle of their lives. So a tent was set up as they camped. A beautiful and detailed tent, festooned with fine embroidery and gold, but a tent nonetheless, something that could easily come down, travel with the people, and be set up yet again. And though the people entered the tent to encounter God, God did not live in the tent. God only visited the tent, when God chose, not just because the people called God’s name. Our God cannot be tamed and certainly cannot be contained in even the fanciest tent.
This seems to be Paul’s point. The tent is not for God; the tent is for us. We cannot meet God without the tents, the very bodies God made. We cannot meet God without human language, through which we can hear the Word and words of God, and share our experiences of God with one another. Still, these human things, so necessary to our lives, created by God, simply cannot contain God. These human things break, change, and die, but God does not break or die or change. Even though the works we do in God’s name might not last forever, God is forever. We can trust in that.
Reflect: In what temporal things have you placed your trust? On what eternal things do you rely? How do you tell the difference?
2 Corinthians 5:1-15
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
—2 Corinthians 5:14-15
A recent New York Times article states that thinking about God causes people to make bolder choices. A Stanford study showed that reading about God before making choices involving risk caused people to more often choose the riskier choice with the greater payoff. Similarly, in another study by the same scientists, people were shown advertisements for skydiving, video games and classes on “how to bribe with little chance of getting caught.” For each product people were shown two different ads, one including the tag line, “God only knows what you’re missing!” Interestingly, all risk is not the same – with the added tag-line, more people showed interest in trying sky-diving, whereas there was no increased interest in learning how to bribe. So, thinking about God can get us to act boldly, but not thoughtlessly.
With confidence in God, we can take risks for the kingdom: starting new ministries, volunteering for things that might scare us (like prison ministries, mission trips to impoverished and/or foreign places or feeding the homeless), talking to people we don’t get along with, leading worship, being on the music team at church; and so much else. It is with this confidence that we see elderly people risk getting arrested for simply feeding hungry people in their cities. It is also with this confidence that we see people fighting for the rights of all: marching with protestors of injustice, speaking up for immigrants, standing by the side of young women seeking abortions just to make sure they are safe.
What wild dream do you have? What dreams do you have for your church, your life in faith or the Church universal? We can get the confidence to take risks to follow those dreams (and sometimes fail spectacularly) by keeping God in our lives and minds – by reading scripture, praying, being part of a church community. It seems so simple, and yet even science says confidence in God can free us.
Reflect: Where do you need confidence? What is the wildest dream you have for your life? For your family? For your church? Write them down, stick them somewhere readily visible, and pray about them today, and each time you see them.
Notes are from A Heart for Reconciliation, by Megan Hansen and Michael Rinehart. Available on Amazon, it offerers daily readings through 2 Corinthians.
The texts for the six weeks in the Narrative Lectionary are as follows.
- 5/22/2016: 2 Cor 1:1-11, Consolation
- 5/29/2016: 2 Cor 2:1-10, Forgiveness
- 6/5/2016: 2 Cor 4:1-15, Treasure in Clay Jars
- 6/12/2016: 2 Cor 4:16—5:10, Walk by Faith not Sight
- 6/19/2016: 2 Cor 5:11-21, Reconciliation
- 6/26/2016: 2 Cor 8:1-15, Generosity