1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 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. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 5 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words
Sermon: “The Waiting IS the Hardest Part”
“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part”
What I just read is not from any of our Scriptures today.
It is not from Proverbs.
It’s a song from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
It’s called…appropriately… “The Waiting.”
And today the act of waiting is a major theme in our scriptures, especially in the second lesson, which is where I want us to focus.
I can be a very impatient man.
I am the kind of guy who will stand in front of the microwave and complain that the Minute Rice is taking too long.
Maybe some of you are that way too.
I know that churches can certainly be impatient.
For example, let me share with you some of what I like to call “Grace Waits”:
When are we getting a new church sign?
When are we getting new church doors?
How long until we get a new boiler?
Those are some examples of “Grace Waits.”
Today in our second lesson, from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, we hear the concerns and “waiting issues” of another church.
Before we get into the lesson, there is some context of which you need to be aware:
The church in Thessalonica is new.
It has not been around for a hundred years like our congregation.
At the most the Thessalonians’ church is 20 years old.
So they are still in the “diaper” stage (which as the father of a newborn I know a little something of).
Even though they are a young church, Paul is very proud of the work they have accomplished.
In chapter one of this letter Paul praises “their work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).
But by the time we get to the third chapter, while Paul still talks about the congregation’s faith and love, he leaves out one aspect.
And that is when we get to the waiting.
The people in Thessalonica are not waiting for something.
They are waiting for someone.
The problem is these Thessalonians, has convinced themselves that Jesus is coming back…now.
And as each day passes with no Second Coming, members of this new church have started to die before the big event.
And so not only are the people mourning the loss of loved ones, they are also mourning what they believe could be their loved ones lost chance at salvation.
The people did not know what to do.
Where did the hope go?
Sometimes in our lives there are moments when hope seems to…vanish.
Moments of wars, famine, nasty politics, the fragile economy, health concerns, and the like.
When hope disappears (or it looks that way), it’s hard…sometimes impossible…to be told to wait.
Or to keep waiting.
So when the Thessalonians are faced with difficult circumstances, Paul stops being “Paul the Apostle” and becomes “Paul the Pastor.”
And what he tells the Thessalonians can give us some peace and comfort.
Paul tells them, “You can cry. You can grieve. You can mourn. But don’t lose hope. Let your grieving be defined by hope.”
What Paul means is when a church, a community, confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, there is an interconnectedness between the profound emotions of grief and hope.
Paul is reminding us that death is not how the story will end.
That those who have died before the second coming will not be left behind.
Those who have died are not dead but sleeping.
And they will awake at the sound of the Second Coming.
Talk about a loud alarm clock!
And to bring some excitement back to the people, Paul uses images that would be familiar with the Thessalonians.
Paul describes Christ’s arrival with the same pageantry and fanfare that would announce the arrival of an imperial messenger or even the emperor himself, an event that was often accompanied by a declaration of “good news.”
So one can hear this description of the coming of Christ as an event that has more power and influence than any Roman emperor.
By doing this, in a way, Paul is a steadfastness of hope that is solid, steady, and certain of what and who is to come.
Now, another point I want to make this morning.
In our world today, there are many Christians who refer to this passage ,especially verse 17 where “being caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” as Biblical proof of the Rapture.
And they are wrong.
The word meaning “being caught up”in the Greek (“arpozo”) actually means “to snatch away.”
Usually in the New Testament “to snatch away” has a negative connotation of being taken by force (see Matthew 11:12; 12:29; 13:19; John 6:15; 10:12, 28–29; Acts 8:39; 23:10; Revelation 12:5).
But in a few instances, including this one, “being snatched away” conveys a more positive picture of being taken up into something good or out of something bad (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Jude 1:23).
Paul has started crawling.
And he loves to crawl towards our cats.
And our cats, for the most part, are very tolerant of him.
Other times, the cats, especially Daisy, are ready to whack him.
And so right before Paul faces the wrath of Daisy I quickly “arpozo” him! I snatch him up from danger and back into my safe arms.
So this verse is God snatching us all up from the dead end of sin and bringing us to the Eternal Life that can only be found in him.
We want the wait to be over.
We want that Second Coming to happen.
But we talk so much about the future hope, let me assure you that God is in our present as well.
God is present in the waters of baptism, the bread and the wine of communion.
God is present
in the handshakes at the passing of the peace,
in the voices of our prayers,
in the songs we sing, and
in the silence that surrounds us.
God is in the love that is given to us by family and friends,
And in the kindness of strangers.
God is the warmth of a summer breeze and even in the chill of a winter’s day.
And while we wait for Jesus to come back, we can live as witnesses to what God has done, is doing, and will do.
We can rest in knowing God is with us.
And we can wait in another way.
By serving our neighbors, working for justice, and that those in need have someone looking out for them.
I don’t want you to think that God is only present in your lives.
God is present everywhere.
And we are called to bring that gospel, that good news, to everyone.
So while we wait for a new church sign, WE are the church sign.
Tell people about our church, and our community, and what we are doing to bring the Gospel to the world.
While we wait for new church doors, WE are the doors and we can choose to open them or close them.
While we wait for a new boiler, WE are the ones called to warm those who are in the cold.
The waiting IS the hardest part.
But it’s only a part of the story.
The final part is yet to come.
And that final part is something…someone…worth waiting for.