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Let me tell you about my last camping trip. My brother asked me to go camping. Apparently, he reserved a nice spot beside a lake. I told him I did not have a tent, sleeping bag, or anything related to camping. He assured me he had everything I needed. When I got to the campground I said to my brother: “I don’t think that is a good idea to pitch my tent over a rock.” He said, “It doesn’t matter, I have an air mattress, it will be like sleeping at the Sheraton.” That night I got into the tent. When I laid on the mattress I heard a sound: Psssssssss. It was rather deflating, and so I had to lay on a rock all night. The next day, after we had dinner and hung around the campfire, I started to walk to the car. My brother asked me if I was going to buy a new air mattress. I said, “No, I am going to sleep in my bed.” And that is the last time I went camping. I tell you this because, for many years before the Temple was built, God dwelt in a tent. So my question is this: why would God want to dwell in a tent. The reason why God prefers a tent is that a tent is easy to move.
Remember the book of Exodus. It is a thrilling read. God appears to Moses through the burning bush. Then we read the episode of the ten plagues against Egypt. Pharaoh was so fed up that he threw the Israelites out of his country. Then he regretted it and sent his army to destroy them. Their chariot wheels got stuck in the mud, the waters of the Sea of Reeds fell over them, they were destroyed, and Israel was again saved by God. Do you remember the last seven chapters of the book? They describe the building of God’s tent of meeting. I am sure you do not remember the chapters because you probably skipped reading them and for good reason. They are very boring chapters because in excruciating details they describe every stitch and ornament of the tent. Why would an exciting book have such an anti-climactic ending? If you read the last seven chapters you begin to realize that the tent is described with the same details as the garden of Eden. So God is building a miniature Garden of Eden out in the middle of the desert. Remember, we were banished from the garden, but now God has brought the garden back to the Israelites. Why is this important?
My father gave me the answer. My community had given me a mini-sabbatical. I had been doing hospital on-call work for 17 years and I got to take a break from it. I decided I wanted to use the time to help Dad with our retreat house in Milton. One day we were ripping out a wall together and I asked him, “Why are you not like other bosses. Why don’t you wear a nice tie, make phone calls in an air-conditioned office, and play golf in the afternoons with clients like other CEOs?” Dad put down a chunk of plaster from the wall and said, “Peter, do you remember the time when they delivered the lumber and half of the two-by-fours were twisted and I sent them back?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Do you remember the time the painters came and they didn’t know what color to paint the bedrooms on the second floor?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Do you remember the last time someone came to the job late?” I said, “NO.” And he said, “That is the reason I am the first person on the job and the last person to leave. If there is a problem on the job here, if there is a question or someone is having a difficulty, I want to be the first person to know about it, not the last.”
That is why God built a tent in the desert. So He could be with the Israelites. No matter where they went, or what happened, God would be there with them. If they were dying of thirst, or if they encountered poisonous snakes, pesky neighbors, whatever the problem, God would be the first to know. He loves the tent because he is always with the people.
In the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples that the Temple would be destroyed. The reason the Temple was destroyed is because God prefers the tent. So God replaced that temple with another tent. Through Christ, God made us the new tent, the tabernacle. So that where ever we go or no matter what happens to us, God will be the first to know our every need.Back to All Homilies