With These Words… A Sermon on 1 Thesalonians 4
With These Words…
1 Thes. 4:13-16
† I. H. S. †
May the word of God, which reveals to you the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, so comfort you that you can remember His plan for you, to spend eternity in His glory!
What good did their words do?
In the aftermath of last Sunday’s shooting in a church in Texas, a very odd discussion broke out on social media.
The discussion concerned this question, “was about whether God was listening to the prayers of the people in the church that was shot up.”
It started by a reaction to all the politicians and others who said things like, “our hearts and prayers are with the people of Texas.” To which many people asked, well what good did their prayer do them in the first place.
And then the war of words ensued…
Rather than face the actual issue, death, tragic, traumatic death, Christians and non-Christians alike were attacking and counter-attacking each other about whether the words of the people’s prayers that day protected them from a madman’s rampage.
We need words to make a difference in times like these, but it is not the words of those praying that will make the difference, it is the words of the of the Lord they pray to, the words of the promise He has made us, and the words, like in the epistle today, that reveal His promise to us.
When the apostle Paul talks of grief, he notes the following,
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.
I’ve heard over the years sincere people telling others not to grieve, usually, with something like, don’t grieve, you will see them again! I even once heard some explaining patiently that grieving is evidence of a severe lack of faith.
That is so much rubbish! That is not what Paul is saying here, he is simply saying the grief is different for those who know God. For them, it is a different kind of grief than the grief of those who don’t have hope.
Literally, it is those without something to hold on to, something to that sustains us and keeps us afloat. Those without God don’t have promises to hold onto, they don’t have the promises we are given in our baptism, the promises we remember if and when we make the sign of the cross.
Here is how that promise is described in scripture,
4 But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)
Look at the promises here,
God washed away our sin,
We are born again and given a new life through the Holy Spirit
That Spirit is poured out on us in our baptism,
We are declared righteous and holy,
and we are, as we confessed in our creed, given confidence, we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!
Our grief is real, it may be felt more powerfully, it may last longer, and yet, we have something to hold onto, the hope we have in God.
This isn’t a theological epistle,
Which is the point of this letter from Paul, and the description of Jesus second advent, His second coming. This letter of Thessalonians isn’t about an end times calendar of events. it is not a theological calendar.
It’s to remind us that before we see Jesus return if we are around at the time, those who died, those who are his will have risen from the dead. They will see Him, We won’t meet Him before they have joined Him. That is why in the liturgy we see the Sanctus with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven. It’s not just about doctrine, is about knowing God’s plan, and being encouraged by it.
Encouraged you say? But we are grieving!
But God’s encouragement is not just a friendly pat on the back, like a coach sending you back into play after an injury. Nor is that the kind of encouragement that scripture talks about His people giving each other.
Godly, Biblical encouragement is the kind of thing where we weep and laugh together, where we share each other’s pain, just as Christ shares our pain. The word is the verb form of the word to describe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the One who comes alongside. lifts us up and carries you.
That’s what the word paraclete means – to call alongside to comfort, to encourage, to lift up and help carry.
And that is what God does. every day for us.
Through His word, through the sacraments, through each other, He makes Himself known, and the presence of the Holy Spirit comforts us.
As does the hope, no, the knowledge that eternity is ours, with God, Dwelling in and sharing in His glory, with all those who trust in Him.
It is for this reason Jesus came, to ensure our sin would never stop us from that eternity, to provide the Holy Spirit to minister to us, and carry us, to ensure us of all the promises of God, so that even now, we can live life in expectation of eternity, and thereby dwell in peace.
God’s peace, which passes all understanding – the peace in which Jesus keeps us, our hearts and minds! AMEN!