Summary: Encourage one another with the greatness of the hope that is ours. This hope is so great that it’s all we need to motivate us. It’s a hope that will keep us from the fear of death, keep us from despair, because it promises God’s power to be with us moment
Someone suggested that today’s service is bit like a funeral, or at least a memorial service and the passage we’re looking at today might reinforce that idea. But I hope that’s not how you see it. This is meant to be a celebration of good ministry that’s happened over a long period of time and that’ll continue, albeit under a new name and with some additional players.
And in fact the passage in 1 Thess 4 isn’t addressed to a time when someone has died, though it does answer one of the questions that people often ask at that time. On the contrary it’s about issues that need to be thought about while we’re alive and kicking. It’s about being wide awake, working for God’s kingdom and being prepared for whatever Satan may throw at us.
One of the questions Christians often ask is the one Paul addresses in 4:13. Where is my friend who’s died. Are they in heaven already? Are they still lying in the ground where they were buried? Does it matter that they were cremated? These Christians in Thessalonica seem to be were worried that Jesus hadn’t returned in time to take their loved ones with him.
Do you remember from last week how they had such a strong belief in Jesus’ imminent return that some of them had even stopped working? They were waiting for him to return and take them to be with him in heaven. And now some of them have died. So what’s happened to them? Did they miss out?
So Paul sets out to reassure them, to set their minds at rest, first about their Christian friends and then, at the end of the passage, about themselves, about their own future with God.
Notice that he sets out to ease their minds by using their minds. He says "we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters." In so many situations despondency arises as a result of ignorance. Not knowing what’s going to happen is a major contributor to stress and depression, particularly when there are all sorts of possibilities you can think of, some of which are not very good.
So he wants them to use their minds even while they’re grieving. Notice he doesn’t say we shouldn’t grieve. I know there are some Christians who think it’s unspiritual to grieve. I remember a man in a previous parish whose wife of some 40 or so years had died and he refused to allow himself to grieve over her because that would be unspiritual. So he just didn’t mention her at all. I think that was a fairly unhealthy way to be.
But at the same time Paul says he doesn’t want them to grieve the way those do, who have no hope. There’s great sadness when a loved one dies and there’s no need to lessen the sense of loss being felt at their death but there’s also a certainty for those who die in Christ that heaven awaits.
Hope for a Christian is not something that’s uncertain. It’s not like our current situation where we’re hoping that St Andrew’s School will be able to buy the land on Burwood Hwy but it’s completely uncertain until we hear that a contract has been signed. No, our hope for the future is already signed and sealed because of what we find next.