Sunday November 6, 2011.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Friends, crossroads in life often create grief for us. When something highly valued is lost, a crossroad is created and we have to make choices about what was once a sure thing, because the straight road we were on has now become a fork in the road or a crossroad. We grieve what was and have to face a more uncertain future.This is what has happened to us now with me announcing that I will no longer be the pastor of this community. What was stable and trusted is now being removed and the future looks more like a crossroad than a straight road.
I spoke to the secondary school Thursday about all of this and focussed on that thing that happens to us all the time; grief. I told the kids that grief is a normal part of life that can happen over many things – from a breakup with and girl or guy, to a the death of a loved pet, to even grieving over childhood simplicity lost in the teen years.
When you think about it, hardly a week or a month goes by when we don’t grieve the loss of something. We still grieve the loss of a loved one years after the actual event. Time heals the pain of it but we remember and even years later, feel some sense of the loss. We grieve the loss of our working life when we retire, the loss of our schooling life when we graduate, the loss of a our dreams in a divorce, the loss of constant contact with kids in the same, the loss of our pristine beauty as we age, the loss of our hair……..
Sometimes of course, there is shocking kind of grief – a loss we did not expect, or even if we did, never really thought it would happen – like a Pastor leaving a congregation. You know it would probably happen one day, but you are never really ready for it when it happens.
It is interesting that God’s word suggests there is a difference between how those who are in relationship with Jesus and his people grieve these things and those who are not in a faith relationship with him and his people. St Paul, in our text, speaks of those who “grieve without hope”, and those who “grief with hope”. So, we baptised people of faith in Jesus Christ can grieve like others, but somehow differently, with the gift of hope – even in our grieving.
This “hope” is the biblical kind of hope; not a wishful thinking for the future kind of hope, but a sure, solid, bankable hope; a hope not in our own ability or wisdom and skill, but a hope in God’s grace, power and future – a hope standing solid on God’s solid promises kind of hope.
So we grieve with solid hope in God’s future for us. Paul outlines the final end to life as we know it – both for those who won’t taste actual physical death, and those who will before Jesus delivers on his promise to bring all things to their rightful and timely end to begin the new age with him.
15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 …. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
In the hope that is Jesus.What does it mean for us to “grieve with hope”? One thing it doesn’t mean is that we will not grieve at all. Jesus’ followers will grieve as often as those who don’t know his grace and power. Grief will happen and grief is not to be denied or diminished as unimportant or treated as “bad”. Grief is grief and that is all there is to it. Grief can make us feel all at sea for a while. Grief can tempt us to give up on things and just go and hide somewhere to be safe. But grief approached like this will do damage and debilitate us further, rather than bring us to new insight, thankfulness and life. Paul is actually encouraging his people to grieve – or at least not shun or try and hide grief. He is saying, “you will grief”. But what he is offering those who suffer loss is hope in their grieving and a future well-being founded on Jesus and his promises and grace. Friends, you will grieve as things look and feel different for the next few months after Christmas when I am gone. This is not to be denied, minimised or shunned as unimportant or something to be hidden. In my experience and in this text, grief is best dealt with by talking about it, sharing it and “encouraging each other with these words” as Paul says. Grief is normal and talking about it with each other is how it is processed well so that grief passes and changes into thankfulness and even a quiet joy about what has been and what is to come in the Lord’s plan for us. I told the kids to think of grief this way Grief = I should talk about it
Grief can and does naturally produce anger, confusion and doubt of God’s plan and promises.
Can I encourage you with my words on this? Share your sense of loss at losing your pastor. Talk with me about it if you need to. Share it, speak of it and help each other through it. In this way you will pass over the crossroad before you and with faith in Jesus and his future for you in his plan and promises, grief will turn to thankfulness and even a quiet joy again.
In time I reckon we will all look back on these years together and be able to say, “Thank you, Heavenly Father, for all we shared and did together”. And with that will come hope. You will enter a Call process with the District president. You will be directed to ponder where you are at a congregation in mission and what you might need in the pastor you will eventually call. Eventually, a Pastor you have called will arrive and another leg of the journey will be before you and this will be good. It is then that this grief will be no more and only thankfulness will remain, and that will be good.
On a final note: If you remain a person in the Lutheran family in your life’s journey of faith in Jesus, this very text will be the first word from the Bible that your children, grandchildren and friends will hear as they gather for your funeral.
This text is the Word of comfort proclaimed in the Lutheran funeral rite. Even in that big grief, there will the sure hope of the resurrection from your death proclaimed to all who will hear it.
Ultimately this is all of our ending. Whatever happens, this will happen. You will be gathered into this hopeful “sleep” as St Paul calls it. Rest is as constant a companion as grief for the Christian – we rest in God’s presence every time two or three gather in his name. We rest in his presence every day that we remember our baptism and daily die to sin and live with him. We rest at the last trumpet call as we are gathered together in him.
Grieve with hope, friends. Hope is ours. This too will pass and new things will come and from beginning to end, we will be hopeful and thankful for all that the Lord has given and then gives. Amen.
Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm, whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm: be there at our sleeping and give us, we pray, your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope…