Summary: Paul provides three insights for a congregation faced with the death of one of its members.
Friday was a difficult day for this congregation when we learned that a person who often worshiped with us had suddenly passed away.
We all recognize that life can be cut short at any time, but when it happens without warning to a person so young, whose family we have come to appreciate, we struggle with our grief and wonder how we can find hope and comfort. Yalonda’s death affects not just family members and friends, but her absence affects this entire congregation. All of us will miss her. And I hope the message God has given me will strengthen all of us gathered here today.
As always, in times like these, we turn to God’s Word for insight and courage. And this morning, in addition to the scriptures, prayers, and hymns we have already heard, I invite you to consider the words we find in a short New Testament letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to a congregation that was facing similar circumstances. Some of their number had died and they were faced with the reality of that loss. So the question is, How can the community of faith keep its focus when death invades the congregation?
I want to highlight three words from this scripture as we consider what God might be saying to us today. Those words are grief, hope, and comfort, as you find them listed in the bulletin with the hymns we have sung. They form the outline for today’s message – death brings grief, God gives hope, and the congregation shares comfort.
We find these thoughts in the paragraph that I read from I Thessalonians 4. The church Paul was writing to was quite young. If you read Acts 17, you will see that this church was born in the midst of turmoil. You recall that Paul had traveled throughout the known world to spread the good news of Jesus. Many people accepted his message, but there were some who opposed Paul and insisted that he was a threat to the government because he talked about another king named Jesus. Some of these people formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. And Paul had to leave the city and the new church after just being there three weeks.
After he left, the church evidently continued, because later Paul sent one of his co-workers back to see how they were doing. And after that, Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians, in which we learn that all had not been well. The small church there had suffered some hard times because of their faith. The persecution that began when Paul was there had continued. And that reality sets the stage for our scripture today.
Evidently, some of their number had died - possibly because of the persecution. Members of the congregation may have been troubled by their death because they thought anyone who becomes a believer in Jesus should be spared that kind of trouble. Even today, some people seem to think that Christians should not have to go through hard times. Whatever happened, verse 13 tells us that the congregation was grieving. And Paul accepts that. He doesn’t scold them for grieving. He doesn’t say to get on with it or to get over it, because the reality is that death brings grief. Many of us have experienced it. We know how it feels.