Remember Your Hope!
Pentecost 2214 – “Remember Your Hope!” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon meditation is taken from the 1st Epistle of St Paul to the Thessalonians, the 4th Chapter:
“13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
So far the reading.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We hope for many things in the time we are given on earth. Many times these hopes are only wishful thinking. Other times we are able to turn our hopes into realities. A doctor searching for the cure to a disease or an illness will labor long and hard in the laboratory doing research with all kinds of medicines and chemicals. Sometimes the answer comes from unexpected sources. The discovery that mold can fight infection being one in particular.
It seems that in 1928, Dr Alexander Fleming was growing staphylococcus bacteria that became contaminated by mold. This mold was eating bacteria. Dr. Fleming did further research and found that the mold killed a wide variety of disease causing organisms. Dr. Fleming named this mold penicillin. He published his findings and said the mold might be therapeutic if it could be produced in large enough quantities.
St Paul reminds us of another hope, a more certain hope. It is the certain hope of a country that is without politics and a nation without illness, sorrow or death. It is the certain hope of a future in which can trust. This hope sustains now in times of uncertainty, and carries us forward in joyful expectation of a better world and a better life when our Lord returns in glory. St Paul exhorts us to “Remember your hope in Jesus Christ!”
No doubt, many people were anxiously gathered in front of the television last Tuesday to see the results of the mid-term elections. Everyone who voted had certain hopes regarding the candidates they chose. Regardless of whom we have elected, the good thing is the participation of the people in this election process. The people were focused on marking their ballots and making their choices known. They were confident in their choices.
Oh that there would be a similar confidence for all of God’s people who have been redeemed by God and chosen in Jesus Christ to receive eternal life. We at times fail to remember the precious gift of eternal life that comes through Jesus Christ. We often look to other places for redemption and escape from the trials of this life. Some will ignore what is happening and go on as if nothing happened. They think that as long as they do not acknowledge their situation it does not exist.
Yet St Paul reminds us that there is one condition that truly does exist. This condition cannot be avoided, ignored or let go. For, this condition has earthly and eternal consequences for all people. St Paul talks of those who have no hope and who grieve the events of this life. The event that weighs heaviest, being the death of a loved one.
The world views death and sorrow as enemies to be feared, enemies that speak of hopelessness and despair. The world does not know how to approach death without fear and trembling. For some death brings a deep cry of despair. Such people see that thee is nothing for them after death. The grave consumes it prey and does not give back anything that could be even a glimmer of hope.
For others death becomes a brief stop on the cycle of life. They believe that they will come back to this earth to live again in another body, whether it would be human, animal or insect. They live again to accumulate good works so that eventually they would escape the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth and rid themselves of the physical.
How sad to think that your hope is in the good you have done, expecting to be rid of this life. Then you die, are placed in the grave, and you awake to the cruel joke of another life on this earth. A cruel irony indeed.
There is no hope for us or for the world without Jesus Christ. Look at what St Paul teaches us in this epistle: “Jesus died and rose again.” At first glance, these words may seem to be somewhat understated, even subdued. Many would hear these words and grasp only part of what is being said. They would hear about the dying but would not think much about the rising from death. For their minds would silently check off such rising from death as being impossible. So they roll over the thought and give it little consideration.
Yet, as you think on these words and what they mean a whole new picture begins to emerge. Jesus died and rose again. Jesus died and rose again. The emphasis is on the thing that seems impossible, rising again to life from death. Jesus body, lifeless and once laying in a tomb, revives and lives once again. Wow, something great has happened here, something out of the ordinary. Something that brings peace to the heart troubled by fear of death and the grave. Something that gives birth to hope where hope did not exist before.
Why is there hope in these words Jesus died and rose again? Because Jesus gives this same resurrection to those who believe in him. If you read through the four gospel accounts, the resounding hope that is given is the hope of the resurrection from death to life. Jesus spoke often of being betrayed into the hands of sinners, suffering death, and then rising from death on the third day. Jesus was very clear about this same hope when speaking to Lazarus’ sisters. His words of assurance and hope are these:
“I am the resurrection and the life he who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
St Paul speaks of this certainty too when he writes these words:
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. … And the dead in Christ will rise first.”
When Jesus was crucified long ago, it appeared from the outside that all was lost. He preached atonement for sin in his shed blood. He preached his body offered upon the cross as an expiation and victory over death. He preached a bodily resurrection as the visible power of God over the grave. All this seemed for naught, appeared to be loss, statistically hopeless.
Yet, in this seeming failure, God established eternal hope. For this same Jesus who died rose from death as he said. With these words we echo not only our Lord, but also His messengers who attended his empty grave. These messengers exhorted those who came to the empty tomb of Jesus to rejoice and live in hope. Your Lord is alive again.
Is this not the message and the hope of Holy Baptism? What does the Word of the Lord teach us?
“[Y]ou have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. … having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.”
“Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood– Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” I John 5:5-8
There is an eternal connection between the water of Holy Baptism and the hope of the resurrection. God revealed His salvation in the water of Jesus baptism. John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” God fulfilled his salvation in the blood of Christ shed upon the cross. The Holy Spirit confirmed this truth of John by appearing in the form of a dove and resting on Jesus at his baptism. The same spirit of God confirms this truth in us when he comes to us in Holy Baptism and creates faith in Jesus Christ.
In this, we have passed from death to life. We are heirs of eternal life and children of God. Then when the last trumpet sounds and the archangel’s voice is heard we may lift our eyes in hope and see our Lord coming on the clouds and all his angels with him. In loud procession, we will rise with all believers past and present to greet the King of heaven and earth. We will then process with our king to the new heaven and the new earth prepared for the faithful.
Rightly, St Paul exhorts us to encourage each other with these words. Life at times seems empty, and a struggle. Evil abounds in so many places. Fear fills our hearts because of economic turmoil, fears of recession, loss of financial stability. We watch as nations are at war with each other and as the forces of nature take their toll throughout the world. There is illness, sickness and disease. There is strife within families. Sin seems to be a distant old fashioned thought.
Yet, we do not lose heart. The Lord of Life Jesus Christ will come to release us from this present evil age and usher his faithful people into the New Jerusalem, where we will be with the Lord always. Amen.