Monday Reverb – 13November2023

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life  

  • Why didn’t the five “foolish” bridesmaids go into the wedding?
  • Why were they not allowed to go in … even after they had already gotten oil?
  • Why are they normally called “foolish” by most?
  • According to Michelle Fleming, why might they have been called “foolish” according to the perspective she proffers?


Lessons from the Checkout Line

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NRSVUE)

If you’ve ever shopped for groceries on the weekend or went to an amusement park, you’ve had to wait in line.  It’s been reported that Americans spend about 37 billion hours a year waiting in line.  Waiting in line has its own system of rules based on the idea of fairness: no cutting in line (unless you’re behind me), and “first come, first served,” which means that those who show up first are served first.

Researchers have studied people’s responses to wait times, and we have a number of unspoken expectations about waiting.  For example, we think that the length of the line should be somewhat equal to the item or service we’re buying, and this resulted in the creation of an express lane for those purchasing fewer than 10 items.  We also tend to be preoccupied with a line’s length rather than how fast it is moving, choosing to wait in a short line that’s moving slowly rather than a long one that’s moving faster.  Why do you think that Disney employs circuitous wait lines for its rides?

Some of the stress of waiting comes from our fear of wasting our time and the question of uncertainty.  After all, our lives are simply time, and as older people can attest, the years seem to fly by faster the older we become.  As for uncertainty, we like to think we have some control, so we like feedback, such as the amusement park monitors that overestimate the wait time.  When the wait is significantly less than expected, we feel good about the time spent waiting.  But waiting for a diagnosis or for failing health to improve doesn’t provide feedback like those park monitors.  Uncertainty from waiting in these situations can be stressful.

Our sermon text speaks to the uncertainty of waiting.  Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica to answer their concerns about loved ones who had died by reminding them about God’s promises.  He also helps us understand the foundation of our hope while waiting in grief and uncertainty.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen [a]asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who [b]sleep in Jesus.

15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are [c]asleep.  16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.  

Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica talks about community, hopeful waiting, and Christ’s coming.  Let’s look at these three themes:


Paul was addressing a church’s concern about their loved ones who had died.  They weren’t concerned about the loved ones’ salvation but whether they would ever see them again.  We can certainly identify with their concerns.  Paul’s focus on community is highlighted in his description of Christ’s return.

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with [those who have died] to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:17 NRSVUE)

This verse emphasizes the reconciliation believers experience.  Associate Professor of New Testament at the Seminary of the Southwest Jane Lancaster Patterson explains it this way:

The vision of Christ’s triumph that Paul develops in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is one in which heaven and earth are suddenly and beautifully reconciled in an embrace (‘caught up together’) that takes place in a newly opened space between heaven and earth (‘in the air’) and which will never end (‘and so we will be with the Lord forever’).  The image gathers together Paul’s deepest beliefs about God’s reconciling purpose in Christ … and paves the way for the ethical counsels to follow (1 Thessalonians 5:4-24).

Paul was acting as a pastor in this passage, not as a theologianHe took their concerns and explained Christ’s second coming in their context.  While this scripture has been used to justify modern doctrine such as “The Rapture,” if we look closely at the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, which immediately precedes this passage, we’ll notice that Paul is encouraging the church to continue to live faithfully, as they were already doing, but they “should do so more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1).  He is ministering to a congregation’s need for assurance and comfort rather than establishing a doctrinal order of who is to be resurrected first, second, and so on.  This means he uses imagery and metaphors that they would be familiar with to illustrate that God will be faithful to the promises made.

Hopeful Waiting    

Paul is best known for the phrase “faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love,” found in his first letter to the Corinthians 13:13 (NRSVUE).  However, in 1 Thessalonians, he changes the order to faith, love, and hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  Notice how he emphasizes the need for hope, especially during times of grieving:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NRSVUE)

Paul points out that this hope is not wishful thinking, but something that informs the way believers live now.   This is hope founded on Jesus’ death and resurrection, and in the next verse the Greek used in the phrase “for since we believe” is best translated as a “condition of fact or reality:”

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4:14 NRSVUE)

It’s important to note that Paul didn’t criticize the Thessalonians for grieving the deaths of their loved ones.  Instead, he pointed out that as believers, their grief was deeply interconnected with their hope in Christ.

As mentioned in the introduction, waiting is part of life.  And as we wait for Christ’s return, we must understand that God is in our waiting.  Lutheran Seminary Professor Karoline Lewis says this about waiting:

Not that we should say, “This is how it is, get over it.”  But that what we choose to utter or how we choose to be in the waiting matters.  Not necessarily for God, but for ourselves.  ‘Lord, do not delay’ is simultaneously a claim of urgency but also a witness to promise.  That is, yes, we want the wait to be over.  But, at the same time, we trust that God will show up.  God will show up in the midst of any manifestation of our waiting.  God will show up to be what we need God to be depending on how we experience the waiting.  If our waiting is experienced in fear?  God comes with peace.  If our waiting is experienced in longing?  God arrives with deep and abiding satisfaction.  If our waiting is experienced in anticipation?  God accompanies us in the joy that should be our present … To keep awake does not mean the absence of God.  It means to recognize our absolute dependence on the presence of God.  


Christ’s Coming    

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4:15 NRSVUE)

Because two thousand years have passed since Christ ascended and he has not yet returned in all his glory, some Christians see their hope in parousia [pronounced PAR-oo-SEE-ah], which means “appearance or presence,” as almost a dream or a silly wish.   In addition, while Paul offers apocalyptic language in the description of Christ’s return, we need to remember that apocalyptic language was used to remind those who were upset or even persecuted that God was in charge and he would bring about change.  Paul’s audience would have been less interested in the when of the Lord’s coming and more interested in meaning – the “why” – of their suffering in light of loved ones’ deaths.

Maybe our interpretation of “the coming of the Lord” is too narrow and confined to our material existence.  Patterson defines it as the transformation of believers due to the workings of the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit:

But the full appearance, or full presence of Christ that the earliest Gentile Christians were awaiting was grounded in their lively experiences of the power of Christ and the Spirit to bring them into right relationship with the one true God and their neighbor in righteousness and justice, in holiness and love.  In other words, their partnership with Christ in their day-to-day moral decision-making was the first edge of the presence making its way into human life.  They could see it, touch it, believe it, because it wasn’t solely in an imagined future; it could be seen in the transformation of themselves and their communities.

Thus, the coming of the Lord was already happening, the “first edge” of the appearing.  The church could trust and hope in the fullness of spiritual fruit and transformation that would be theirs at the coming of the Lord by living with the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:1-13), expressing love toward each other as Paul detailed in 1 Corinthians 8.

As human beings, we don’t like to wait.  But waiting is part of our reality, whether it is in the grocery store checkout or for Christ’s coming.  In the context of the coming of the Lord, we can understand that our waiting is not in vain and certainly not a void.  We wait within a community that has hope and with a tangible expression of the Lord’s coming as spiritual fruit birthed in us.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are at work in us and through us, the first edge of parousia reconciling us to each other, to creation, and to God.

Call to Action: When you have to wait this week, pause and think about how you are feeling and what you need.  Remember that God meets our need while we wait and notice how this shows up in your experience.  Observe another’s need while waiting and ask God to meet that need.  Give thanks for God’s presence in your daily life.



  • As we have reflected on the return of Your Son … help us to be ready for His return.
  • Help us to really know You and Jesus Christ, whom You sent as You want us to know You . 
  • Help us to focus on Jesus … so that we realize He is the One who makes us enough.
  • Help us to realize and remember that Jesus is the Light we need and that He is sufficient.
  • Bless us with the understanding that we are made whole and enough in Christ.







Small Group Discussion Questions

From the sermon  

  • The sermon points out that God is active and present in our waiting.  How does that change your attitude toward waiting?
  • The common usage of “second coming” implies that Christ is not at work in today’s world.  How does the idea of experiencing “the coming of the Lord” as a “partnership with Christ in … day-to-day moral decision-making” change that?



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