************ Funeral Sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 28, 2015
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
2 Corinthians 5:8
"At Home with the Lord"
Nellie Voortman Funeral
Nellie was upset. She was upset when she woke up in the hospital and realized she was still alive. With tears in her eyes she told me more than once that she was ready to die and wanted to die. To use the words of our text, she "would prefer to be away from the body" (2 Cor 5:8).
Why? Why did she have this attitude?
First of all, she was unhappy that she was moved out of her home. She didn't like it that she was in unfamiliar surroundings. She didn't like the way food was prepared in her new home. She didn't like the loss of most of her stuff. She didn't like it that she was no longer driving and that her car was gone. She didn't like it she was on oxygen. She didn't like the loss of her independence. That she was no longer in control. That others were making the decisions. Yet, at the same time she kept telling me it had to be done and she knew why it was done; but this did not mean she had to like it. That's the Nellie Voortman we knew and loved -- feisty to the end. One person told me she was a real pistol. Another told me she was a spitfire.
Do you know what Nellie was experiencing? To use the language of the Apostle Paul, her "earthly tent" was being "destroyed" (2 Cor 5:1). When it comes right down to it, Nellie did not like it that her earthly tent -- which is her body -- was being destroyed. That it was letting her down. That it was making her helpless.
Nellie's earthly tent not only grew old and weak and helpless but it was also filled with sin. Two days before Nellie went into the hospital she admitted to me that sometimes she said things she shouldn't have said. "No kidding, Nellie" I thought to myself. As a grand-daughter said to me, "She had no filter." She would blurt out whatever was on her mind. This, too, is part of the earthly tent. And deep down Nellie knew that hurtful words and other sins would remain with her until she died.
Do not think Nellie was unusual. She was the same as Paul who called himself the "worst of sinners" (1 Tim 1:16). And, except for Jesus, she was the same as you and me and every person who ever lived. We all are sinners who fall short of the glory of God. We all have an earthly tent filled with sin.
So, as Nellie watched her earthly tent decline and sin and blurt out things, she wished more than once that it would all end. She preferred to be "away from the body" (2 Cor 5:8). Like Paul, she groaned and was burdened (2 Cor 5:4).
Why was Nellie upset to find herself still alive? We can also point to a second reason. Nellie wanted to be "at home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8). She wanted to be clothed with her "heavenly dwelling" (2 Cor 5:4). She wanted to be in glory. She wanted to be with Jesus. She wanted to be with Rich. She wanted to experience life without weakness and sin.
To fully appreciate all the imagery of our text we need to go back to the Old Testament and what it teaches us about tents. Tell me, 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. As for the New Testament, early in the Gospel of John we are told that Jesus -- like God -- tabernacled among us (Jn 1:14).
On this earth you and me and Nellie live in a tent -- just like Abraham, and Israel, and even God and Jesus. And, we look forward to a building from God, an eternal house in heaven. There are four lessons we can learn from this.
First, our earthly bodies -- like tents -- are flimsy and insecure. We saw that with Nellie, didn't we? In the last couple of years she kept being brought to the hospital. We should expect this -- especially as we get older -- because no tent lasts forever.
Nellie knew and admitted something that younger people never admit. Those who are young and middle-aged rarely or never think that someday their earthly tent -- their body -- will be destroyed. Those who are young can't seem to get it into their heads that someday they will die. Remember what the psalmist says?
(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.When we have Spring rains we see this 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.
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.
Second, our earthly bodies -- like tents -- are but temporary living quarters. Traveling through the wilderness, Israel was not planning on living in tents forever. God was the same way; He was not planning on using the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, forever. When Paul says our earthly body is a tent, he is telling us it is 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. 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. Our earthly tent, our body, means we are simply passing through.
The fourth lesson: our pilgrimage has a goal, an end point. The goal is being "home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8). Or, as Paul put it earlier in the passage, the goal is "a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands" (2 Cor 5:1).
What can we say about this goal, this home, this building? At Rich Voortman's funeral I told the story of a woman who asked to be buried with a fork in her hand. Some of you might remember this story. Nellie asked me to say it at her funeral.
There was a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer and had been given three months to live. Her doctor told her to start making preparations to die (something we all should be doing all of the time). So she contacted her pastor and asked him to come to her house to discuss her funeral. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what she wanted to be wearing. The woman also told her pastor that she wanted to be buried with a fork in her hand.Now, do you know what Nellie said to me every time I visited since Rich's death? You guessed it: "The best is yet to come!"
The pastor didn't know what to make of this last request. So the woman explained, "In all my years of attending church socials and functions where food was involved my favorite part was when whoever was clearing away the dishes of the main course would lean over and say 'you can keep your fork.' It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming. When they told me to keep my fork, I knew that something great was about to be given to me. It wasn't Jell-O or pudding. It was cake or pie. Something with substance. So I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder 'What's with the fork?' Then I want you to tell them: Something better is coming so keep your fork too.'"
At the funeral people were walking by the woman's casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing and her favorite Bible and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over the pastor heard the question "What's with the fork?" During his message, the pastor told the people about the fork and about what it symbolized to her -- that something better was coming.
So I say to you, congregation, "Keep your fork ... the best is yet to come."
What we have now is a tent, an earthly tent, something temporary, something that is being destroyed. What we will have is a "building from God" (2 Cor 5:1). 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" (2 Cor 5:1). 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.
"We know," says Paul, "that if 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 is, "We are confident." We know that Nellie Voortman 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. We know -- not because Nellie was so good or because her faith was so great (I already told you she was a sinner just like you and me). We know -- not because Nellie was so faithful in worship. We know -- not because Nellie raised her 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. And they will be "at home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8).
"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. Paul was groaning to be "home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8). Nellie, like Paul, was also groaning to be home with the Lord.
Notice Paul's use of the word "we." He says, "we know," "we have a building from God," "we groan," "we live by faith, "we are confident." 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. Nellie was a believer. So, she has a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. So, she is at home with the Lord.
Now, what about you? Like Paul and Nellie do you know you are a sinner whose earthly tent is being destroyed? And, can you say you have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands?
Don't answer this last question too quickly. Why do I say that? Because not everyone will have a building from God. Not everyone can look forward to being home with the Lord. For some people it is not the case that the best is yet to come; rather, for them the worst is yet to come. It all depends on your relationship with Jesus. If you know Jesus -- like Paul did, like Nellie did, like Richard did -- then the best is yet to come even though all were sinners. If you know Jesus then, like Nellie and Paul, you can prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. But if you do not know Jesus then what awaits you are the eternal fires of hell. So, I implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. Believe in Jesus and you shall be saved. Believe in Jesus and the best is yet to come.
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