Sermon Ordinary 10 Year B DB Home Worship and Preaching

Our eternal home

"For we know that if this 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

Here is Paul again affirming the promise of God to welcome us into a heavenly home. In his first letter to the Corinthians he had written of Christ's resurrection - of our hope to be raised to a new life. He challenged people to believe in the gift of our own resurrection – a possibility that was opened up in a new way by Christ being raised from the dead. He linked belief in the resurrection of the dead to faith in Christ:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. - 1 Corinthians 15 17-19.

Similarly we have in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved – Romans 10:9

To know that Jesus is Lord, that he came from God, and was God, is also to believe that he was raised from the dead. On Easter Day I spoke with you about the central importance of belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and I linked it briefly with the hope we have of being raised ourselves to a new life with God.  I would like to share more with you today about that new life that Paul spoke of in his two letters to the Corinthians. It was of great importance to the early Christians. Belief in the “resurrection of the dead” or “resurrection of the body” was an article of faith expressed in the ancient creeds.  I will come back to these statements of faith, but first let us listen carefully to St. Paul.

Tent and Building

Paul's letter to the Corinthians refers to a tent and a building. "For we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." When "the earthly tent" is destroyed "we have building from God." I like camping, and used to go camping in a tent with my family often when my children were young. Now that I am old I prefer to use our caravan, or perhaps a motel. The thing that counts about a tent is that it is an aid to travel, to mobility. If you are living in a tent you are not settled. You are constantly moving on. On the other hand when you have a building you are settled; you are securely in place and well protected. Paul refers to an "earthly" tent, which he contrasts with a "building from God" or we could say a heavenly building not “made with hands”, as Paul said "eternal in the heavens". We travel through our earthly life with temporary accommodation, like a tent; but when we eventually settle down in a heavenly building it is more secure.

When Paul talked in his second letter to the Corinthians of living in an earthly tent that would be destroyed, he was talking about our physical bodies that will be destroyed when we die. And this tent was not only our individual physical body that would be destroyed in death, but our whole place in an earthly life, including our membership of a community, a history and culture, our earthly hopes and fears would all be destroyed. It was the whole of this passing life that would be replaced by "a building from God" or what Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, called a spiritual body that would replace the physical body. It too would be more than an individual existence. It would be a place in a new community, a new creation. A little further on in Chapter 5, a few verses after the text about an earthly tent and a building from God, we have:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! -- 2 Corinthians 5:17

Before we think a little more about the nature of this building from God, let us gasp the central point of being in a tent. This earthly tent in which we live now is not our true home. Our true home is in heaven. That is where we belong. We are citizens of heaven, living aboard until we are called home. Paul called the Christians at Philippi “citizens of heaven”. It was an illustration they could easily understand because they were living in a Roman colony where at least some people would, like Paul himself, have had the rights of a citizen of Rome. So our true homeland is not here where we live now. It is where our Lord is:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. -- Philippians 3:20

We belong with Christ, in whom we place our trust, the one who is the object of our faith, our allegiance and our devotion. Our home is with him.

It is he who will welcome us home, for he has gone before us to prepare a place for us. As he said when he was saying he farewell to the disciples:

In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also -- John 14:2-3.

Christ the way to our true home

So if live in the temporary homes of our earthly tents for a time in this life it is that we may prepare for our true homes in heaven which we may enter by the way that Christ has prepared for us. We recognize that he is himself the way:

He said to them,

And you know the way to the place where I am going." -- John 14:4

But it was all too much. Typically, it was Thomas in his somewhat resigned enthusiasm mixed with exasperated scepticism who said,

"Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" -- John 14:5

Then we have those immortal words, about his being the way, the truth and the life calling for faith through personal knowledge of Jesus. It is an expansion of what he said at the beginning about there being plenty of room, when he had said Believe in God, believe also in me. To believe in him was to know him as the way to the place where he was going.
Jesus said to him,

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. {7} If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." -- John 14:6-7

When we follow him, we will be with him in our eternal homes.  Jesus encouraged people to prepare in their earthly lives for life in their eternal homes (Luke 16:9), and to believe that by faith they could follow him and be with him for ever.

The body of our resurrection

What do you think when you say the Apostles Creed, where it refers to the resurrection of the body?

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Nicene Creed has 'resurrection of the dead' and so does not raise quite the same question as “resurrection of the body”. People in certain ages have thought that resurrection of body meant literally that our physical bodies would be brought back to life.  Early Christian graves in Europe are distinguished from pagan graves by being arranged on East-West lines, so that when the graves were opened at the resurrection the people would face East, towards Jerusalem, when they rose from their sleep.  But people of Paul’s day knew better, although they had puzzled about it. 

The Christians in Corinth also wondered about that - the resurrection of the body. Paul had been writing about having confidence in their own resurrection because Christ has been raised up from the dead. But, how? They wanted to know. Does it make sense?

Paul said it was like a plant coming up from a seed:

You might still ask, “Can we really know anything about it anyway?” Would anything we say be mere speculation? Well, people often say we cannot know these things, and that we are only guessing or seeking the fulfilment of our wishes, but I don’t think so.  We do have direct teaching from Jesus and quite a lot elsewhere in the New Testament and other ancient scripture as well as the witness of the faithful through the ages.  It makes sense to me to say that when we are raised to a new life after death it is to life in a spiritual body, as different from our former physical bodies as the life of a plant is different from the seed from which it grew – as Paul said.

The debate among the Jews about resurrection

At the time of Jesus the resurrection of the dead was a topic of great debate. Some of the Jews, like the Pharisees, believed in it and some, like the Sadducees, did not. The teaching of Jesus and later of Paul is similar to that of the Pharisees.

Prior to the period just before and during the time of Jesus earthly life there is very little evidence of belief in life after death among the Jews or the ancient Israelites. Scholars suggest that they had a vague belief in the dead existing in a kind of sleep under the earth, in the "realm of the dead", "hades" in Greek, but no thought of their being raised to a new life. A little later, there is interesting material in 2 Esdras 7:32, 37; 4:35, 40-43, dating from about the same time as the Gospels were being written, of how the caverns under the earth were thought to be like a womb about to give birth to the resurrected beings they held
Some change was necessary for the qualities of life to be experienced again by the people who had died, and when they came to belief in resurrection they understood it as something brought about by God.

The main thing was that death is not the last word. It is part of the natural order of things, and terribly destructive, but not the end if Christ has indeed won the victory over evil that we believe he has. As all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. -- 1 Corinthians 15:22
It was so close to the centre of what they believed that Paul saw himself as being on trial, when he was before a court, precisely for his belief in the "hope and resurrection":

No doubt he saw the possibility of starting a dispute amongst them.
Some of the debate is reflected in the disputes with the Sadducees such as when they asked Jesus if a woman married several brothers who all died whose wife would she be in the resurrection in Luke 20, and again in Mark chapter 12.
The Sadducees asked him, If a woman had had seven husbands in succession, who would be her husband in the life of the resurrection? It is a silly question, really, once you understand that the new life to which people are raised from the dead is not simply a continuation of this life. It is much the same as Paul was saying when he spoke of how people would be changed, and of how the spiritual body of the resurrection is different from the physical body of this earthly life.

So there are some big differences:- there is no marriage (they neither marry nor are given in marriage); and there is no reproduction, no births and no deaths (they cannot die anymore). There are relationships, but they are different and it is difficult, perhaps impossible, for us to understand -- they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. The story is not really about marriage, but rather about the possibility of resurrection, but we might just note that when people who are parted from loved ones by death look forward to being re-united with them I believe that their hope is well founded; its just that in the spiritual bodies of the resurrection the kind of relationships we can have are different. The particular relationship of marriage belongs to the life of our material bodies, created as male and female, in which it is possible for two bodies to become one flesh. The bodies of the resurrection are different.
In the other dispute Jesus spoke of how God is God of the living rather than the dead:

It shows that Jesus had in mind the potential of people of earlier times to be alive with God. That was how Jesus understood it, but the idea that the dead could be raised to a new life with God is not found in the Bible until the very last part of the Old Testament to be written, that is, in Daniel which was written about 167 BC:

That was a time of extreme persecution, the struggles of which are recorded in books of the Maccabees and other writings of the period between the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament and the time when the New Testament was written. Those "Apocryphal" books contain evidence of the debate and the commitment that some of the patriots (believers) had to the faith that God would raise martyrs who suffered for their beliefs:

So said one of seven brothers who each in turn resisted pressure to deny their faith and conform to the idolatrous religion of their conquerors. As each of them went to their death their mother encouraged them to face death rather than give in to their tormenters with such words as:

Their understanding of God's mercy and his rule over all things meant that death could not triumph in the end. Such beliefs in the possibility of resurrection were known to give strength to both Jewish and Christian martyrs. So for example Paul refers to his own experience:

So the Christian hope inspired the kind of life they led:

DB Home Worship and Preaching