Thursday, January 8th

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“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

 

It is one thing to experience gratitude for a shared life as Paul has been doing thus far through this first letter to the Thessalonians.  But what about those who are no longer there?  What about those who have died?  It is a real question that Timothy has brought back to Paul from his friends in Macedonia.

 

Why are they so concerned?  In “modern day” Christianity, if we are concerned about the eternal destiny of anyone, it seems to be for those who are still alive, not those who have died.  Why are the Thessalonians then so concerned about those who have already died?

 

In short, because the faith evolved.

 

Paul expected Jesus to come back any day, any minute.  He thought the end was coming soon.  Just around the corner.  My guess is that he preached “get ready for the end” sermons, “time is short” sermons.  Sermons that comforted and encouraged those who were already “on the boat” and perhaps frightened, at least convicted, those who were outside of the faith.

 

But it didn’t happen.  Days stretched into weeks into months into years and still Jesus didn’t come back.  He didn’t right all the wrongs.  He didn’t do in all the bad guys.  He didn’t take all believers to heaven via the elevator through the clouds.  He STILL didn’t set up shop in Jerusalem and usher in a new golden age.  And Paul began to change.

 

By the time Paul wrote Romans, he had settled in a bit more for the long haul.  The END was still clear for him (we belong to God, nothing can separate us from the love of God, God will not let us go and God will bring us home) but the MEANS (trumpet sounds and rushing angels and flying through the clouds) were a bit more…cloudy?…up in the air?

 

In short, over time and as he matured, Paul became more certain than ever in the lordship of Jesus and less and less certain about how all of that would work out.

 

Obviously, we all have to sort these kind of questions out for ourselves.  There are plenty of preachers who still make hay with “time is short” sermons.  The “Left Behind” series sold like hotcakes and even motivated a few people to attend a few worship services.  But the simple truth of the faith is that even Jesus seemed far more interested in the condition of people’s lives on earth than he was punching their ticket for eternity. 

 

He took care of eternity for us, to set us free to exercise care and seek justice and do our lives well in the here and now.  The problem is, we still tend to live only for today, rather than seeing our daily lives as a garden that needs to be tended for the long haul.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, bring us to yourself at the end of our time through the grace and mercy of Jesus.  But until then, keep us devoted to you, to our calling to be your people, and to the care of these lives you have given us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

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