Since I wrote the post about excessive meetings, I have been both encouraged by the number of people who have said they agree and discouraged by the relentless number of meetings that keep popping up. The need is for discernment to know which are important and which are not.
I have been working on the sermon for this week and next, which will both be based on the second reading for the day from 1 Thessalonians. The theme will be the same for both: death and the future. Readers of this blog and those who know me will know that I am not a big fan of death. I really dislike the flippancy with which some Christians discuss it.
Anyway, looking at what the New Testament writers, in general, and Paul, in particular, have to say about it, I am struck more and more by difference in perspective between us and them. The emphasis in most Christian preaching and pastoral care today is on the destiny of believers once they die. Understandably, we want to reassure bereaved families and those facing death - whether that of their own or a loved one - that the deceased or dying are going to heaven to be with Jesus. Hope is expressed very much in terms of what happens when we die.
In the New Testament, however, this is not the emphasis. The emphasis is not on what happens to us when we die, but on what will happen to us when Christ returns. Now given that Christ's return has been delayed, from our point of view, for a very long time, it is understandable that we should focus on what happens at the point of death and not at some apparently very far off moment when Christ comes again - if we still believe he will, which many do not.
The problem reflected in the passage from Thessalonians for this coming Sunday seems to be that the Thessalonians were very worried about what would happen to those who had died before Christ came again. Paul writes at the start of the letter:
'...how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.'
(1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy in their preaching of the Gospel seem to have stressed the fact that Jesus will return and we are to wait expectantly and be ready for Him. Perhaps because of the relatively short time they were in Thessalonica, they did not deal with the issue of what happened to someone who died before Jesus returned and it is this question that they are now answering in their letter.
Their answer is interesting: they do not say, don't worry those who have died are safe with Christ, but, don't worry those who have died won't miss out when he returns. In other words, they remain focused on the return of Christ as the ground of Christian hope. It is then, and only then, that we will be raised and forever be with the Lord.
This still leaves hanging the question of what happens to the dead in the meantime. Some people think that Paul either changed or developed his theology in his future letters. Personally, I think it is a case of him explaining it in the light of different situations and questions. But more on that in another post!