I Thessalonians 4:13-18

November 9, 2014 by Ken Dale

In his letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul opens by speaking of their threefold expressions of Christianity ? their work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope. In our reading this morning Paul addresses a situation in that early church where they are looking for the return of Christ ? very soon ? within their life time. What has happened is that some in the church had died ? would they miss out on that return? Paul tells them not to ?grieve as others do who have no hope.? And the hope Paul shares is that those who died will be called to Christ first in that return and then those who are alive. Paul speaks of a great gathering of the faithful in the sky. Do not grieve without hope.

That?s what I would pull out of this text for us today. Those early Christians were filled with hope and they had a sense of urgency about what was coming. I think that is something lacking in many of our churches today – that sense of urgency. I?m willing to bet that there aren?t many in this congregation with a great sense of urgency for a great gathering in the sky with those who have gone before us. Maybe that would nice ? but I haven?t heard anyone state that as a priority.

Do not grieve without hope Paul says. We grieve ? the times in which we are living, that life in church is not what it used to be, the needs in our community and the needs around the world that have so many faces. We grieve the political situation in our country. The list goes on. But may we not grieve without hope. Hope is such a powerful thing! Henri Nouwen writes: Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things ? the weather, human relationships, the economy, the political situation, and so on ? will get better. Hope is the trust that God will fulfill God?s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands. All the great spiritual leaders in history were people of hope. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Rumi, Gandhi and Dorothy Day all lived with a promise in their hearts that guided them toward the future without the need to know exactly what it would be like. Let?s live with hope!

We are called to be a people of hope ? we need that sense of urgency – to trust that all of life including this church is in good hands ? in God?s hands ? that God will fulfill God?s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. Gandhi captured it with these challenging words ?become the change you wish to see???? As a people of faith ? who trust God?s promises ? we are to become the hope we have for this church. On this stewardship Sunday ? filled with hope I cannot help but think of the shifts that Renee mentioned are needed in the church today ? not just here but in many if not every place? Remember the shifts? They sounded pretty exciting but they also sounded like they would require intentional effort. She mentioned five shifts: From Fellowship to Hospitality; From Worship as an Event to Worship as a Lifestyle; From Membership to Discipleship (a good day to be mindful of that one! ?new disciples not members); From ?Serve Us? to Service; and the last one was From ?Survival Mentality? to Generosity (a great day to be mindful of that one!!).

How do we capture that last one? Maybe shifting from Eeyore ?numbers (pick whatever numbers you want) are down? to ?I live in hope for new beginnings and a bright future for this church.??? We can give out of out of grief perhaps cutting back sharing our time and our talents and our treasures because things are not the way they used to be. Or we can give ? maybe even increase the offering of our time and our talents and our treasures because we are looking forward, to become the future we hope to see. I think it goes back to the 60?s that saying if you?re not part of the solution, you?re part of the problem.?? If we are to shift from survival mentality to generosity ? we also need to shift from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. By faith ? as people of hope ? as people committed to that call of Christ to be the church and to be the living sign and presence of God?s peace and God?s divine love in this community and in this world ? how can we not choose to be part of the solution ? part of the hope ? part of that change we wish to see – part of that future we understand God calls us to.

If we are going to shift from ?Serve us? to Service we need to be willing to know the joy of that generosity ? giving of our selves, to take the time to get to know each other and practice hospitality which is deeper than the fellowship of just being together. ?There are some simply amazing individuals in this church. Have you met them? Do you know them? We need to reach out and get to know those new people in the church – or if you’re new to the church maybe reach out to get to know some of those shy withdrawn folks that have been here for a while. We need to take that risk of reaching out and going in those places we avoid so quickly because they are uncomfortable. Then we need to take it beyond the walls of this church to others ? especially those in need.

You see it isn?t just about money. In the Renee interview results summary, ?the church is always asking for money? was only mentioned by a couple of people. Is it money or what the money does? Personally, I support Habitat for Humanity and CHIP and the Carpenter?s Boat Shop just to name a few and it is a joy to do so. I don?t see it as sending them money ? I see it as my part in enabling affordable housing for those in need, and home improvements and heat for people in this general area that are blessed by the work of CHIP and the amazing difference, learning to put hands to work and hearts to God in boatbuilding, makes in the lives of individuals who are blessed by the ministry of that boat shop community. That list goes on as well. It?s not about money but who those organizations are and what those organizations do.

My support of this church ? financial and otherwise – is totally different. First and foremost it is an expression of my faith ? of my trust in God ? and my love for God. It is an offering to God. It is also an affirmation that the church is the church ? the Body of Christ ? who I am and what I offer of myself in time, in talents, in treasures is offered to God through the life of the church ? that is not true of organizations that receive my support. It?s about my relationship with God. It is supporting the being of that Body of Christ ? in the ministry of music under Jane?s leadership, the work and the fruits of that work of Laurie Chandler, the fruit of all that happens because of Christian Outreach, the continuing presence of this building, handed down from generations that came before, for all that it means and does for the community in which it stands including those benefiting from AA meetings and bereavement support group, and the good work of Rotary, the Food Pantry and that list goes on and on. All of that happens in this building. How can I be anything other than generous when I affirm it?s got to do with God- this is the Body of Christ ? Renee touched on that last Saturday as well.

So my challenge to us today is quite simple ? let us give and let us give joyously and generously for this is the Body of Christ. Are we perfect? ? not by a long shot ? but we are who we are and we are what we are ? and may our giving be an expression of our faith in God and an expression of our desire to be the change we want to see ? to be the hope we have for our future together. Amen.