************ Funeral Sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 11, 2010
Pete Hilvers Funeral
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
2 Corinthians 5:1 – Now 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.
As you heard in the reading of the obituary, Pete & Wilma spent 14 years in MMAP. They always took their home with them – because they would pull their Fifth Wheel trailer to whatever church or Christian school they would be working on. For eight of those years, the Fifth Wheel trailer was their only home.
Think about this. The Fifth Wheel trailer was not a home away from home. It was their residence. Between jobs they would park at Martha's. They used Martha's address for mail. In a day before cell phones and email became affordable and popular, you had to contact one of their children to contact Pete & Wilma.
Wilma told me more than once that she loved the work but it felt funny, weird, unsettled, to have no permanent address. So eventually she insisted and they bought their home in Tulare.
Paul has something like this in mind in our text for this morning. Paul was a tentmaker by trade so he mentions a tent instead of a Fifth Wheel trailer but the point remains the same. Paul's point is that the earthly body we live in is a tent. It is a tent that someday will be destroyed or – to use the literal Greek – it is a tent that someday will be taken down. Isn't that why we are gathered today? We are gathered together today because the earthly tent – the earthly body – of Pete Hilvers has been taken down and destroyed.
To fully appreciate what Paul is saying we need to go back to the Old Testament.
Who lived in tents in the Old Testament? Abraham did – he was a nomad, a shepherd, with his camels and sheep and goats. He wandered from place to place in search of water and grass for his livestock. The Israelites lived in tents for 40 years as they traveled through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Even God lived in a tent – before the Temple was built His dwelling place on earth was the Tabernacle that traveled with the Israelites through the wilderness.
On this earth we live in a tent. There are four things that we should learn from this.
First, our earthly bodies – like tents – are flimsy and insecure. We saw that with Pete Hilvers, didn't we? Towards the end of his life, he kept going again and again to the hospital – five times, I think, in the last year. We should expect this – especially as we get older – because no tent lasts forever. The psalmist speaks of this:
(Ps 103:15-16) As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; (16) the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.We see this every Spring in the foothills around here. One week the hillsides are covered with flowers – pink and yellow and red and blue. The next week the flowers are all gone.
Man is like those flowers: here today and gone tomorrow. Why? Because our bodies are but tents – flimsy and insecure.
Everyone thinks they will live forever – especially the young. It is true that people today live far longer than those in generations past – thanks to a better diet, medication, surgeries, and exercise. Yet, remember this, our bodies are but tents – flimsy and insecure. Destroyed so easily by age, disease, accident, violence, or fire – as we saw with Pete.
Second, our earthly bodies – like tents or Fifth Wheels – are but temporary living quarters. Wilma knew she couldn't live forever in a Fifth Wheel. She knew they eventually had to have something more permanent. Paul says our earthly bodies, like a tent, are not meant to be our permanent home. Which means we are not to get too attached to life in this body and on this earth. By God's plan, it is only meant to be a temporary home.
Third, to live in a tent means we are on pilgrimage. Abraham lived in a tent when he traveled from Ur to Haran to Canaan – because he was on pilgrimage. Israel lived in tents when she traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land – because she was on pilgrimage. Pete & Wilma lived in their Fifth Wheel when they moved from place-to-place – because they were on pilgrimage. On this earth, we live in a tent because we are on pilgrimage. We live in our earthly bodies because we are on a journey. If you are a Christian, you are simply passing through on your way to a better place.
The fourth lesson: we have a building from God as permanent living quarters; or, to put it another way, we have a building from God as the destination of our pilgrimage.
Paul is not talking about the believer's heavenly home promised in John 14. He is not talking about the intermediate life – the life we have with Jesus in heaven after we die. Rather, he is talking about our resurrected body, our glorified body made to be like Christ's glorious body.
What does Paul tell us about this resurrection body? It is a "building from God." That word "building" is used elsewhere in the New Testament for the Temple – with its massive stones and magnificent structures. It is "an eternal house in heaven." That is, it is a permanent, not temporary, home in the new heaven and new earth. What a contrast to our mortal bodies which come from the dust of the earth and return to the dust of the earth! It is "not built by human hands" – because it is the work of God.
Paul wants us to also keep in mind what he wrote earlier, in his first letter to Corinth. There, he tells us the resurrection body is imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (1 Cor 15:42-44).
"We know," says Paul, "that if/when the earthly tent we live is in destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven" (2 Cor 5:1). We know that Pete Hilvers has a building from God, an eternal house in heaven. We know this. We are confident about this. Why? How do we know? We know because of Christ. Pete Hilvers died like Jesus died. And, like Jesus, the body of Pete Hilvers will someday rise and be glorious. We know – not because Pete was so good or because his faith was so great. We know – not because Pete was so faithful in worship. We know – not because Pete raised his children in the ways of God. We know this because that is God's promise to all those who believe in Jesus. Like Jesus, their bodies will be raised.
"Meanwhile," says Paul, "we groan" (2 Cor 5:2). There is so much to groan about in this life. There is pain, sickness, loss, brokenness, cancer, disability, heart-attack, Alzheimer's, bankruptcy, divorce, addictions. But, notice, Paul groans about none of this. Paul groans because he longs to see Jesus Christ and receive a glorified body. Paul was groaning for glory.
The last two times I visited Pete in the hospital he asked me to pray for death. He wanted to go home – not home at 5131 W La Vida but home with Jesus. Like Paul, he was groaning for glory. Like Paul, he was groaning for Jesus.
This explains why Pete was not scared of death. He knew death was nothing but a departure. He knew death was but another step in his pilgrimage. He knew death was to take down one's tent and move on.
Paul is so quick to say "we know." We know this will happen. We know we will go from an earthly tent to a heavenly mansion. But what if you haven't seen Jesus the way Paul did? What if you have not had an encounter with the light and the voice the way Paul did? "We know." Where is the proof? Where is the guarantee? In the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's presence in the life of the believer is the "down payment" that guarantees our future inheritance (cf 2 Cor 5:5). You want a guarantee? Well, look at the Spirit and look for the Spirit.
"Now 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."
Notice Paul's use of the word "we." He says, "we know." Who is "we"? "We" is "the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints ..." (2 Cor 1:1). "We" are "those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:2). "We" are believers. Pete was a believer. So, he has a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. So, someday – when Jesus comes again – Pete's earthly tent will be replaced with something far more permanent.
Now, what about you? Do you know your body is a tent? That someday it will die? When that happens, as it happens, will you be groaning for Jesus or will you be groaning about the loss of this life?
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