Faithlife Sermons

Cleo Tolley

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I’ve had the privilege of being Cleo’s pastor for a little over 16 months. That’s not a long time, but you can learn some very important things about people in that period of time, especially someone like Cleo, who was pretty forthcoming about his life. The first time I met Cleo I was in the pastor’s office one afternoon in July and he stopped by. He introduced himself as the church custodian, and told me he had worked there for 25 years. He asked how my family liked the church, and how they liked Calvert County. I told him they were still adjusting, and as a family we were trying to figure out just what there is to do for fun around here. He had one suggestion that no one else had made: take them crabbing. Cleo then proceeded to speak in great detail and with great enthusiasm about chicken necks, trout lines, pull traps. He was passionate about it. Every once in a while he would follow up to see if we had been crabbing yet, and he would suggest a few places. It’s on my to-do list, but I think he would have been happy to hear whenever we decide to give it a try.
I’ve had the privilege of being Kenneth Stearn’s pastor this past year and a half. You can learn some very important things about people in that period of time. The first time I met Kenny he quoted from memory several Scripture verses -- I could tell they were from one of the Old Testament prophets. Something about God’s judgment, and urging God’s people to repent. He quoted this passage from the Bible, and then asked me, “You know where that comes from, don’t you pastor?” That was an awkward moment. Kenny loved reading Scripture -- entire books of the Bible. Whether it be Jeremiah, Isaiah or Proverbs, he took this very seriously.
I certainly don’t know first hand about all of his passions, but crabbing seemed to be one of them. He loved talking about the 3 homes he had built, some of which provided homes to his children. He once gave me a little history behind Super Janitorial Services, a business he helped start. And, as many at Huntingtown UMC know, he served as the custodian for over 25 years, a job that gave him a unique perspective of church life.
Cleaning the church Cleo often find surprises.  Sometimes, for Cleo, these surprises were the messes of careless living. Sometimes these surprises were the result of ministry that takes place here at HUMC. Sometimes the messes were just mysteries. Cookie crumbs in Celebration Hall, a pile of bulletins tucked in obscure places, smart phones and jewelry left behind, spilled coffee. Cleo had seen it all. He knew where all of the important activity was taking place. But for Cleo, even when he didn’t like the spills and wear on the building, he knew they were all signs of God’s blessing - just don’t scratch the floor, I’ve worked hard on that, Cleo would say.
Cleo took care of this building - he cared about this building and everything that happened inside of it. Cleo was a builder. He built 3 houses for his family. He and his wife Judy built a marriage and a family together - a family that continues to bear witness to their love and commitment to one another. He also contributed to the building up of his country through his service in the Army, where he served in Korea.
This morning I want us to think for a moment about a different building. In the Apostle Paul describes our bodies as buildings:
2 Corinthians 5:1–10 NIV
1 For 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. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
It might come as a surprise that when we read this passage from St. Paul that our bodies that we now live in are described as tents - not sure how often we do that. But notice that our bodies are later described as buildings. Think about that from a biblical perspective: Like Israel in the wilderness, and like modern day tents, our bodies are temporary, and have no permanent roots, have temporary addresses and they have no permanent foundation. Our life here on earth is temporary. The Bible refers to us as strangers and aliens. Don’t get too comfortable in this world. Like Israel in the wilderness we are sojourners, pilgrims, travelers, and wanderers.
Like Israel in the wilderness we have no permanent roots, have temporary addresses and live in a house with no foundation. Our life here on earth is temporary. The Bible refers to us as strangers and aliens. Don’t get too comfortable in this world. Like Israel in the wilderness we are sojourners, pilgrims, travelers, and wanderers.
It might come as a surprise that when we read this passage from St. Paul that our bodies are described as tents, and then later described as buildings. The bodies we live in now are referred to as tents. Think about that:
This passage speaks of the tent, the building, which we now have from God, and how that tent wastes away, how it comes to be destroyed.  This is part of our human condition. The "earthly tent" that Cleo lived in is no longer, it has come to and end. That's what this Scripture passage is about. Paul is talking about the human body.
This passage speaks of the tent, the building, which we now have from God, and how that tent wastes away, how it comes to be destroyed.  This is part of our human condition. 
The "earthly tent" that Cleo lived in has been destroyed, it has come to and end. That's what this Scripture passage is about. Paul is talking about the human body.
But in these words from St. Paul we also hear a promise.  The God who provides us with this earthly tent, the body that fails us sooner or later, promises us something else, "a building from God, a house not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens."
Cleo was a competent and reliable builder, yet he has hope in a builder far better than himself, one who builds building not for this earth, but for a glorious eternity. I’m not just talking about our homes in glory -- I’m talking about our perfect, resurrected bodies that followers in Christ will receive one day. By faith Cleo knew there was a building project taking place that we can’t see.
As a builder, Cleo would have understood that sometimes old facilities had to be demolished if another was to rise up on the same site. The same happens with Cleo and with us -- the old building (the earthly tent, the body) eventually has to be torn down so better building could be built -- a spiritual body, an eternal body -- a building not build with human hands, but a building from God, eternal in the heavens. God is the master builder.
Our earthly tents, our temporary bodies are still important -- they are the vehicles we use to follow Christ in this life. We will all have to answer for what we did with this temporary body. Did we follow Christ, or did we refuse to? I never had the chance to have deep spiritual conversations with Cleo, but I do believe that the deeds that we do on earth, what we do with our earthly bodies, are a reflection of our faith. Listening to stories about Cleo, I get a description of a man who used his time wisely: he served his family, he served the church, and he served Christ. And for that we can say, “Thanks be to God.”
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