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Sermon November 12, 2023

Pentecost 24 A 2023 Christ Has Died and Rose Again Sermon

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

One of the hardest lessons that we all learn at an early age is that nothing lasts forever.  The toy firetruck with flashing lights, the latest game available at Game Stop, the new pair of shoes, the colorful dress. Nothing lasts forever. 

And as we learn this lesson, we often experience grief at what we lost.  The pets we loved to hold, the beautiful bushes that surrounded the outdoor deck, the flowing stream that now is a mud puddle.  Even the most experienced gardener knows that flowers don’t last forever.  Eventually they droop, and drop their petals, and dry up under the hot sun. 

Now, I bring this up this morning because we are fast approaching the end of the church year.  The year of Matthew will soon be over, and soon readings from the Gospel of St. Mark and St John will take its place.

But before we change lectionary years, our attention turns to talk concerning the end times, and we read about the time when Christ will come again, and the world as we know it will end.

And as we do so, we also look ahead to the time when our lives will end, and the time when we will pass through “the valley of the shadow of death.”  We don’t know when it will happen, but we know for certain that it will happen.

The church theologian St. Augustine is said to have stated “On the first day of our lives, someone might look into our crib and mutter, ‘I’m afraid, child, that you are in a bad way.  You won’t get out of this life alive.” 

Yes, you, me, our lives are terminal.  Life is a terminal disease. And the older we get the more we realize that life is short.  The Psalmist once said: “We are like weeds that sprout in the morning, that grow and burst into bloom, then dry up and die in the evening… Seventy years is all we have – eighty if we are strong… life is soon over, and we are gone.”  Psalm 90:5,6,10

Nothing lasts forever.  Everything that is all around us will one day come to an end.  Even the construction on College Hills Boulevard will come to an end…but that’s a blessing.

As one person once put it: “Looking at death is like looking at the sun.  A man can look directly at it for a moment but then must turn away.”  That is how most of us live with death.  Most of us have a hard time thinking about our death.  We cannot bear the thought of living out the last day of our life here on this earth. 

And so, the question becomes, is there anything that can ease our grief and help us to look ahead at our death with hope and comfort.

And the answer is “Yes, there is.”  And thankfully St. Paul tackled this very subject in his letters.  For instance, take our second reading this morning from 1 Thessalonians.  Paul wrote this letter to a congregation that was experiencing much grief.    Paul knew that the little church of the Thessalonians had risked a lot in the past few years, and that they had gone against their culture and the local authorities.  And throughout it all they had stood firm in their faith in Christ Jesus.

But now they were wondering when Christ would return.   Waiting day after day, year after year, the folks wondered if Jesus would ever come.  And as they waited, some of their most beloved leaders and saints died.   

Confused, and concerned, the people in the little church became alarmed when they wondered out loud whether the folks who had died would ever experience the glory promised to all who placed their life in the Lord.

And they talked amongst themselves and wondered if the folks now dead would ever experience that great day when Christ finally does come, and the final trumpet is blown.    

With great concern, St. Paul addressed their fears, and he told his readers not to grief as if there is no hope, as if there was nothing more to look forward to once the end of our life on earth has come. 

And the same is true for you and me.  St. Paul wrote in our Epistle reading: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again… therefore those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life… We will always be with the Lord.”  1 Thess. 4:14, 16, 17

St. Paul offered encouragement to the Christians who were anxious about the end times and worried about what would happen to them. 

Like the Christians in Paul’s time, we too are sad when a loved one dies.  But this sadness does not lead us to despair or cause us to lose all hope. 

Why??? Because Jesus has prepared the way.  He died to cleanse us from all our sins and so we can participate in the great feast to come.

St. Paul assured his readers that there is no doubt concerning our resurrection to eternal life.  Listen to his words recorded in 1 Corinthians.

“When the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed.  For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die.  So, when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: ‘Death is destroyed; victory is complete.’”  Thanks be to God.  1 Corinthians 15:52-54

Let us pray:  Almighty God, those who die in the Lord still live with you in joy and blessedness.  We give you heartfelt thanks for the grace you have bestowed upon your servants who have finished their course in faith and now rest from their labors.  May we, with all who have died in the true faith, have perfect fulfillment and joy in your eternal and everlasting glory.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.