It wasn’t a competition. But if it was, I am pretty sure I lost. A couple weeks ago Chris Griggs gave his “Sex Talk” sermon. I imagine both the title and content received some serious, curious and yet, nuanced, attention. I was on vacation at that time, so I missed it. But upon my return I listened to it; twice even. Not banking on it, but if anyone listens twice this week, I’ll give you a hug, if you so choose.
Money, sex and politics, to name a few key ones, are topics we are culturally taught to not bring up in most conversational settings; if we know what is good for us. But they sure do garner attention. Not surprisingly, the Apostle Paul headed straight into such topics in writing to the church in Thessalonica. Why? He saw them as critical for the Christian to engage with and to understand. And foundationally, he was urging the young believers to approach these things in a profoundly different way than the surrounding culture.
This week’s powerful, encouraging and yet sobering section of the scripture speaks to another “let’s avoid this topic”: death. The average person sidesteps conversation about death like the Plague. To give you a realistic taste, I found a short article in Esquire by David Holmes reflecting our culture quite clearly:
“When I was young, and began to contemplate death, I was of course a wreck about it. You mean I’ll just stop moving, and then I’ll be in a box underground forever? I ran to my parents for comfort. “Yes,” they told me, “someday you will die, and so will we, and so will everyone. But here’s something you can do: Just don’t think about it.” Don’t think about the fact that someday I will simply cease to be? “Yes. Don’t think about it. You’ll be surprised how much easier it gets when you’re older.” I’ve thought about that idea a lot, particularly as I have grown to the age my parents were when they had this conversation with me. And indeed I do think about death less, but that might be because I’m better at distracting myself with work or numbing myself with alcohol.”
And so we launched into a conversation on Sunday, and Wednesday, about death. You can listen to it here… Know that whether you are a Christ-follower or someone who is seeking faith, it is understandable and reasonable to have questions, thoughts and feelings about death. I ask you to lean into all of that, perhaps on your own, or with a close friend, your spouse, your family, your small group, your pastor: however it would take you deeper.
Paul wrote these key words in I Thessalonians: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” Paul heard that the church was not sure what to think about death and particularly their friends in Christ who had recently died. To them, and to us, he sought to bring clear comfort and hope, while teaching truth about this important reality.
On Ash Wednesday, when the ashes are placed on the forehead in the form of a cross, several phrases are typically uttered. One is “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words communicate that we are mortal beings, created by the one true God, and that one day we will all stop breathing. The notion of being dust, being mortal, of dying, is a lot to contemplate. That is why people don’t want to talk about it. But hiding in fear or denial rarely helps us in life. To us Paul brings words of hope: hope of our resurrection one day, a resurrection based in Christ’s death and resurrection that defeated sin and death, and the wonderful and most powerful assurance that “we will be with the Lord forever.“