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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

II Corinthians 5:6-17
“At Home”
June 14, 2015 - Third Sunday after Pentecost

         Before I can remember, we lived in Venice, California. My first childhood memories are of kindergarten in Flagstaff, Arizona. By first grade we had moved back to California and lived in a duplex on Bay Street in Santa Monica. Then we lived in rentals on Hill Street and on Marine Street. At college I lived in a dorm in Santa Barbara. Then I packed my Chevy Vega wagon and drove to Indiana to go to grad school. I lived in an apartment in Mishiwaka, followed by married student housing with Beth. During seminary we lived as caretakers in a cottage on an estate near Mundelein, Illinois. At my first church in Lincoln, Nebraska, we lived in a duplex for several years until we bought our first house on Cedarwood Drive. When we came here 22 years ago we lived on Ivy Street in Springfield for 15 years before moving to our current home on Timberline Drive.

         So where is home? I’ve lived here in this area longer than anywhere else. This community and church are definitely home. But as far as a house goes, it’s hard to say. The house I’ve known all my life, but never actually lived in, only visited, is our cabin in Arizona. It feels like home, but not quite. I never stay longer than a week or two. Where is home?

         Paul addressed that question spiritually. Verse 8 is often misquoted in King James language as a principle about what happens to us when we die: “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Not quite. In the KJV, the verse reads, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” But “away from home” and “at home” are better translations than “absent” and “present.”

         Paul is not so much telling us about life after death and the relation of the soul to the body. He is expressing his own feelings about where home is, what he says in verse 6, “So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” Weigh those two options, at home in the body versus at home with the Lord, and guess which wins?

         I’ve said this often. Christian belief about the body and life after death is not that we get out of our lousy physical bodies in order to be better. Being out of the body at death is a temporary situation until Jesus returns and our bodies are raised like Jesus’ body. Bodies are wonderful gifts from God. He’s going to raise them and reunite us with them in the end.

         It’s not Christian at all to think the point of spiritual life is to escape the confines of our physical bodies. That’s an ancient heresy called Gnosticism or Manichaeism. As a first century Jewish Christian, Paul would never have imagined being without a body as desirable in itself. As we heard last week in the verses just before this, verses 2 to 4, he calls that situation being “naked,” unclothed. God is going to save us from that.

         The only reason Paul prefers being away from the body is that it means being at home with the Lord. That’s why we as Christians are able to be at peace, even rejoice in the midst of the sorrow when one of us leaves our home here in the body. We’re not happy the body is gone. We’re happy that the one we love, like Carolyn and Mimi love their father, is now at home with Jesus.

         The real point is in little verse 7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” We have confidence in the things we cannot see. What we see now is this physical world and our physical places in it, houses and apartments we call our homes. But we also have faith in an unseen reality, an unseen Savior who died and rose again to guarantee us an eternal home, no matter what happens to our current homes, whether it’s a house or a body.

         Skip down to verse 12, where Paul says, “We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.” He was talking about critics in Corinth who did not understand the importance of the unseen, who cared too much about the outward appearance of their bodies. They were like people who keep their house perfectly painted and the lawn mowed but never clean the inside or get the furnace fixed. It’s the opposite of what I said last week, washing and waxing the car, but never changing the oil. It’s all about what’s seen on the outside with no concern for the inside.

         The Bible does not give a physical description of Paul, but an ancient apocryphal book tells us he was, “a man small in size, bald-headed, crooked thighs [bow-legged], well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace.”[1] If there’s any truth in that, then the Corinthians’ image of Paul was a short, bald, bow-legged, big-nosed guy with a monobrow. Outwardly not too impressive, except for that intriguing “full of grace.”

         In chapter 10 of II Corinthians we find that Paul was not regarded as an impressive speaker. He was not eloquent. He was stronger in writing than in person. In the flesh, he was weak. The Corinthians wanted a leader demonstrating visible strength. They wanted results. If you read through I Corinthians you find a church very much into the more visible, dramatic spiritual gifts. They liked speaking in tongues. They liked words of prophecy. They liked miracles of healing. They wanted faith they could see and an impressive leader.

         Yet Paul says, “We live by faith, not by sight.” In chapter, 4, verse 18, he said, “we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” That’s why Paul is willing to be to leave the home of his body. It’s not that he hates his flesh or wants to die. No, he is confident in his faith that he has an unseen home with the Lord. He has a home, no matter what, even when he is no longer at home in the body or on this earth.

         Verse 9 says, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” That’s the point. It doesn’t make all that much difference if we are still living in our present bodies or if we are in heaven with the Lord. Our aim is to please Him, to trust Him, to live for God. Don’t just count off the days until you get to heaven. Live for your Lord now, whether your body is healthy or growing weak.

         Verse 10 talks about the future expectation of Christians. “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” If our aim were to be bodiless souls, we would think what it seems the Corinthians thought, that we could do whatever we want with our bodies as long as we have a good soul. But that’s not Christianity. What we do in and with our bodies matters. Christ is going to judge us for it.

         At the heart of how we live in and use our bodies is how we relate to each other. Verse 11 says we know “the fear of the Lord,” in regard to that coming judgment, and so, “we try to persuade others.” As I said last week, referring to C. S. Lewis’ sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” one of the most important things we do now, in this life, in these bodies, is to help each other toward the eternal glory of being with God, at home with the Lord.

         So we can speak gently and encouragingly or we can shout with anger. We can smile in kindness and friendship or frown and turn away in disgust. We can offer a hand to help or we can give a kick to hurt. We can dress to impress or we can wear humble clothing that makes others feel comfortable around us. All the bodily actions we direct toward those around us can either help them toward the Lord or hinder their spiritual journey.

         Those of you who’ve studied psychology know about body language. Even the smallest gesture or facial expression or movement of the eyes can tell another person that they are valued and loved or that they are insignificant and annoying. What we do in our bodies, even in tiny ways, is constantly planting spiritual seeds in the garden of others’ lives.

         It’s the same point in our Old Testament lesson and Gospel texts today. God starts His work in small, invisible ways. He plants a tiny twig as in Ezekiel 17:22. He plants seeds, even a miniscule mustard seed, as in Mark 4:31. And His plantings grow almost invisibly at the beginning, in the middle of the night when no one’s looking, says Jesus. Yet in the end there is a huge tree that spreads it branches over the world. God grows His kingdom from small, unimpressive beginnings, from you and me.

         Paul on the outside, in the body, was not impressive. He’s a man that’s been beaten, stoned, left to rot in a jail cell. He’s gone without food and without sleep. If you met him, he might look to you like one of the homeless who come to our warming center. Ragged. Old before his time. A weakling. Even, as he says wryly in verse 13, “out of his mind.” That’s the appearance. That’s what Paul looks like. But the reality is completely different.

         Paul has confidence and faith moved by something that you can’t see in a physical body, or hear in an audible voice. Verse 14 says, “For the love of Christ urges us on…” Another version says, “For the love of Christ compels us…” Christian life is not centered on success in the eyes of those who look for beautiful bodies, strong voices, and tangible results. Our faith is focused on the nearly invisible work and power of the love of Christ. As I said at our anniversary celebration two weeks ago, that love of Jesus is the heart and soul and center of all we do. It compels us.

         The rest of verse 14 and then verse 15 are the “Gospel in a nutshell,” telling us just exactly how Jesus loved us, “because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died and was raised for them.” That’s the tiny seed of the Good News, of the invisible kingdom of God growing up in this world so that one day everyone will see it. Jesus Christ loved you and died and rose for you, so that you can die to yourself, live for Him and love those around you.

         We walk by faith, not by sight. That seed of grace planted in someone may be almost invisible right now. That’s why Paul says in verse 16, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” Faith doesn’t look for a good appearance. Faith doesn’t look for success. Paul himself once looked at Jesus and saw only a pretend messiah, a failed false prophet who got himself crucified. Now he knows better. Now by faith he sees Jesus for who He really is, the true Messiah who died and rose again.

         For Jesus, we don’t even have a  bogus physical description. We’ve no idea what He looked like, except we can be fairly sure it was more middle-eastern than blond-haired and blue-eyed. But if we take prophecy seriously, then Isaiah 53:2, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him,” suggests that Jesus, like Paul, was totally un-godlike in His appearance. So we should not expect those who are most filled with the Spirit of Jesus to be any different.

         We walk by faith not by sight. So it’s easy to miss Jesus in each other. I get surprised sometimes. I watch a mischievous child grow up in the church and then suddenly hear him express deep faith in a Confirmation paper. A person I thought was hopelessly shy or not very committed suddenly volunteers to teach Sunday School or clean the church or minister to the homeless. Someone I thought was walking away from faith turns around. And for a moment I glimpse how a seed of faith in Christ is growing into a majestic tree.

         We walk by faith, not by sight. Verse 17 tells us, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Don’t look at each other with the eyes of this world, looking at appearances. Instead, see the new creation Christ is making in each other. See despair turning into hope. See addiction transformed into freedom. See heartache become joy. Look at each other with the eyes of faith and see Jesus at work. Then, with Paul, long for the day when His work will be complete in all of us.

         We walk by faith, not by sight. We are at home, but not yet at home. We won’t live forever in the houses and apartments we build and buy and rent. We won’t always feed and exercise and get medical care for these bodies. They are home for now, but we know that a better home is coming. It’s with the Lord. There will be new houses there. There will definitely be new bodies when He raises us up. But most of all, there will be the Lord.

         Charlie Daniels sang a song with the line, “Alabama could be heaven, if the Lord was there.” He’s right. Heaven is not a place in the sky filled with clouds. Heaven is where God is, wherever people are completely in His glorious presence. It could be Alabama… or Oregon. It could be Iraq or Nepal or Cuba. Being at home is not a matter of geography. It’s a matter of being with the Lord.

         That’s why we have such confidence, says Paul. God is working in us now, making us new, making us ready to be at home with Him. So we will be ready for the move, from this home to a home with God. It takes time for God to get us ready, to build that kind of confidence in us.

         Last time we moved, it took weeks to get ready. Even when we found a house near church, even when we had our belongings all boxed up, even when we laid down to sleep for the first night in the new place, we weren’t at home yet. And that was a move made with sight. We had seen our new house, walked all around it, measured it, thought about how the furniture would fit, whether we could sit and eat and work and play comfortably there. We saw it all before the move. It still took time to be at home.

         We walk by faith, not by sight. To be at home with God takes time. In Jesus Christ we learn to live in a way which creates confidence in our new home with God, even though we have not yet seen it. We let God make us into new people ready to be with Him.

         In A.D. 125, a Greek named Aristides wrote a defense of Christianity to the Roman emperor. At the end, he told how Christians loved and cared for each other, how they supported widows, gave shelter to strangers and fasted so they could share their food. A slave who became a Christian was treated like an equal. If one was imprisoned, other Christians visited. Then Aristides says, “If any righteous man among these Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort the body with songs of thanksgiving, as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”[2]

         Aristides went on to say that when Christians do these good deeds they “are careful that no one should notice them… they strive to be righteous as those who expect to behold their Messiah and to receive from Him with great glory the promises made concerning them.” That is walking by faith and not by sight. That is heading for home. May you and I walk like that, so that all the Aristides of the world will be able to see what they cannot see otherwise. There is a way home. It’s Jesus. There is a home for everyone. It is with Jesus.


Valley Covenant Church
Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

[1] From The Acts of Paul and Thecla, approximately 190 A.D.

[2] The Apology of Aristides, section 15.

Last updated June 20, 2015