Sunday, November 8, 2020
Rev. Donald P. Beaumont
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But 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.
Speechless, the most gifted speaker. Almost as speechless, the most eloquent pastor. That’s what we all are at a funeral. No one knows what to say or do. How do you honor the dead? How do you comfort the living? Are there any words you can say that can possibly make a difference? Is there anything you can say that can possibly offer any hope?
A good example is a guy named, Owen Vaughan who is a professional mourner from Pontypool, Wales. You heard me right, a professional mourner. He gets paid to attend the funerals of people he has never met. He’s hired to memorize large amounts of information about the deceased person, and to attend the funeral and participate in the religious rituals or family customs that honor them.
In this job, he’s had some strange requests. Some customers determine who the paid mourners are allowed to talk to, or what they’re allowed to say. One man hired Owen and a number of his colleagues to attend a relative’s funeral. The man kept insisting that the paid mourners needed to cry harder or moan loudly as if they were overwhelmed by grief. A strange occupation, being a professional mourner.
Some people are also offended by this whole idea. But Owen gave an interview in which he explained that the real purpose of paid mourners is not to make the deceased person look more popular or important. The real job of a paid mourner is to help the family and friends grieve better. That’s something we don’t know how to do in our culture. The depth of grief is so overwhelming and painful and uncontrollable. It scares us. So, we try to hide our grief. And we run away from others’ grief too. We don’t know how to grieve. How sad is that?
Owen says that because his “head is not clouded with grief,” he can provide a listening ear and clear perspective to those who are mourning. Because he has memorized a large amount of information about the deceased, he can remind mourners of their loved one’s good qualities and their contributions to the world.
Owen recalls one funeral for a beloved grandmother. He ended up speaking with a granddaughter who shared with him all sorts of sweet stories of her favorite memories of her grandmother. After the funeral, the girl’s parents tracked him down and asked what he had said to get her talking. It turns out, this little girl hadn’t talked for the last few days, ever since she’d learned of her grandmother’s death.
The apostle Paul wrote this passage from 1st Thessalonians to a very young congregation of believers. Not young in age. Young in the faith. Many of them had only become Christians in the past few months. Some of them were Jews; but many of them were Gentiles from a variety of religious backgrounds.
Paul needed to teach them the basics of the faith. And what could be more basic or more important than the way a Christian views death? It’s not a pleasant subject, but it’s an important subject, and I hope you don’t mind if I spend a few minutes with it this morning. It’s really important that we figure this out, for others and for ourselves. Because everyone will grieve at some time in their lives. Because the way we view death affects how we live our lives. So, Paul wrote these words of encouragement we read in verse 13: But 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. These words are read at the grave side of our loved ones to remind us that there is hope for us. The hope of the resurrection based on our faith in the Christ. We don’t have to be sad, and I know its easy to say, but we should be joyful, in that our loved one is no longer in pain. But like most humans, were sad because we have to be separated from them.
It is at this point we should be reminded of Paul’s words in the book of Romans “nothing” will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ our LORD.
Notice that Paul doesn’t say that Christians aren’t supposed to grieve. But Christians have a different perspective on death than non-Christians. Paul is simply counseling these new Christians that they aren’t to grieve as “those who have no hope.”
Everyone grieves at the loss of someone or something we love; it’s unhealthy to deny these feelings or to judge ourselves for them. We grieve because we love. We grieve because we’ve lost a part of ourselves. We grieve because we’ve lost all the expectations and dreams, we had for our future. Grief is a raw and terrible thing. If we try to act like it’s not, if we push others to “get over” their grief, if we try to hide our tears or our desperation, we’re going to move further away from healing and hope. We need to live our grief and to share it with others. We need to find some hope in our grief. It’s the only way to keep it from overwhelming us.
A few years back, a newspaper reporter in Chicago received a telephone call from a man named Lee. Lee said he was sending the newspaper a story. About his suicide. The reporter tried to trace the call, but he was too late. Lee killed himself not long after hanging up the phone.
In Lee’s pocket was a drawing, obviously made by a child. Lee had written on the back of it, “Please leave this in my pocket. I want to have it buried with me.” The picture was drawn by Lee’s little daughter, Shirley, who had died a few months earlier in a fire. Lee’s wife had died when Shirley was a toddler. He had no one else. He was so alone with his grief that he had begged strangers to attend little Shirley’s funeral. Lee had no one to share his grief with. And eventually, the pain became too much for him to bear.
If only Lee had heard these words from Paul. If only he knew that there’s hope beyond the grave. If only WE could’ve told him. That’s why we’ve got to talk about it. That’s why we’ve got to figure this out. Because at some point in your life, you will be grieving a loss so painful that it’ll change the course of your life, and you need to be able to view it from God’s perspective. Because there are people in the pews around you, and people outside these doors, who have no idea that God has promised us eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ. Promised us. Guaranteed it by the sacrificial death of Himself on the cross. Death, no matter how painful it is, is not the end. And that’s the foundation of our hope. That’s what Paul is trying to teach these new believers.
Because Jesus lives, we can grieve but with the hope of eternal life with God. And it is the life God made us for. Life as it was meant to be, without crying or tears or mourning or pain.
Back when I was a Sem student I went to visit a friend who was dying, in a hospice facility not far from here. Her husband was there, and we talked for a bit. Then I asked if we could pray together? He, of course, said yes. So, we prayed sharing our grief and our love for her and of course for the salvation that we all believed. The whole time we prayed, she was not awake, she fidgeted and you could tell she was obviously not comfortable. Immediately after those prayers we joined in the LORD’s prayer. It was at that point that she stopped fidgeting, relaxed and in the clearest voice, joined us in the prayer. Later that night she died in the faith; her husband constantly reminded me of the day. It was my first experience with a faith that strong.
There was also a time when death was uncomfortable for me. My dad’s funeral was very emotional for me, I was not the pillar of strength for my family. Memories that are uncomfortable for me to remember. My grandfather whom I also loved, died many years later and I couldn’t go up the coffin, in fact couldn’t even go into the room where he lay. And my family has commented because they seen the changes in me, especially when I officiated at the Christian funerals of five of my family members and of course, one I could not. Many have asked how we, as a family cope with such loss. Our answer is through the strength of the resurrection and the hope of eternity that keeps us all focusing on the cross.
Can we face death with hope, knowing we would see our family again? Can we face death with hope, knowing we would see our Savior? Can we face death with hope, knowing we would have a joyous reunion with everyone in eternal life?
We don’t know how to grieve in our culture. We are afraid of the power of death, grief and loss. But what if we really understood the power and nature and promises of God? God is the Creator of life. That’s power. God is the Great I AM---eternal. That’s God’s nature. And before the creation of the world, God created us for eternal life and through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ, we return to that promise of eternal life. That’s God’s promise. What do we have to be afraid of? Yes, we will grieve, and we shouldn’t have to hide it, be judged for it or set a timeline on it. We will grieve. But we don’t have to grieve as those who have no hope.
Death, from God’s perspective, is the doorway to eternal life. Life with God. Life without sorrow or pain. And life reunited with those we love. Paul ends these few verses with the words: “And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” The pain of grief cannot compare to the hope of eternal life. Trust God with your life and with your death. Trust God with your grief. Remember God’s promise that, through faith in Jesus Christ, you will be with the Lord forever. And remember to encourage one another with these words of hope and assurance: we and our loved ones will be with the Lord forever.