Lessons From a Sky Party

On November 9, 2014, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Lessons From a Sky Party Rev Dr Durrell Watkins 1st Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament. Written about the year 50 CE, we see the Apostle Paul stating clearly and repeatedly that his community is expecting Jesus to return. Jesus was executed circa 29 CE, and at the time Paul is writing […]

Lessons From a Sky Party
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins

1st Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament. Written about the year 50 CE, we see the Apostle Paul stating clearly and repeatedly that his community is expecting Jesus to return. Jesus was executed circa 29 CE, and at the time Paul is writing some have been waiting for his return to the realm of the living. Paul thinks waiting 2 decades is long enough. Before those he is addressing pass away, he insists, Jesus will surely return (it didn’t happen).

35 years later Matthew writes that no one knows the day or the hour of the return of Jesus. Matthew’s community still hopes for it, but after half a century, they’ve given up guessing when it might occur.

A decade or two later, Luke imagines that the spirit of Christ does return at Pentecost to enliven the church to be Christ’s returned presence, Christ’s living “body.”

So we see, even in scripture itself, that as time went by the early church experienced a diversity of views and some of those views evolved over time. Instead of doubling down on what they heard or thought before, they reevaluated their beliefs and expectations based on their honest experiences and changing information available to them.

In a span of less than a 100 years people went from mourning Jesus’ passing, to affirming he somehow didn’t stay dead, to expecting he would return right away, to hoping he would return eventually, to imagining he might have returned already as a spiritual energy within the community itself.

Beliefs and opinions can change, and openness to change not only doesn’t threaten faith but can actually be a healthy part of a life of faith.

Even in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians we see some imaginative, creative, new thinking on Paul’s part. You see, the Thessalonian church was expecting Jesus’ return, but they had been waiting for a while. While waiting, some of them had died.

Those of us who have lost loved ones know that we don’t stop loving them just because they aren’t physically with us. So, the Thessalonians are sad that if Jesus comes back now, those who have died will miss the event. Paul responds pastorally to their concern by imagining new possibilities. So, Paul assures them that the spirit of life isn’t limited by time or location.

Paul imagines that not only will the departed loved ones not be left out of the big event, they will experience it first! Those who died waiting for the return of Jesus (the dead in Christ) will be resurrected to life (as they believed Jesus had been) and will be the first to be caught up in the air to meet him when he makes his grand re-entry into human experience. The bizarre gravity defying, death defeating party in the sky is an image of comfort, a suggestion that departed loved ones still have joy to experience.

People missed their loved ones and continued to care for them. Paul didn’t say “don’t be sad” he said, “let’s imagine that there is more to existence than this experience.” He didn’t deny the legitimacy of their feelings; he just suggested that their grief could include hope and joyful imaginings. They could choose to believe that there was more for them even beyond death. God isn’t limited by time, space, location, or physical life.

Finally, by daring to think about something in a new way, Paul is actually summoning and sharing the power of hope.

By imagining that not even execution could end Jesus’ significance and the power of his life, by imagining that even others who had died could still enjoy whatever good there was in the universe to experience, Paul is looking beyond current circumstances to possibilities, and he is choosing to believe that those possibilities are at hand. If we take his vocabulary too literally, it looks as if his hopes never came to fruition, but as Matthew and Luke later demonstrated, the vision that Paul had of Jesus’ life bringing hope and power to other lives could still be realized even if not in the way that the vision was first presented; in other words, we can always imagine possibilities and be open to the many ways that our vision can be fulfilled.

Hope is always an option. If divine Life isn’t limited by space, time, or even by physical death, then It isn’t limited by anything, which means we can always hope for better days, for strength, comfort, wisdom, fulfillment, or any good thing. As Ernest Holmes offers in the first reading today:

“The One manifests Itself in and through all creation…We believe in the incarnation of the Spirit in us, and that all people are incarnations of the One Spirit. We believe in the eternality…of the individual soul.”

Basically, in his much more elaborate and imaginative way, that was what the Apostle Paul was saying. And the reminder of eternal Omnipresence enfolding us, individuating as us gives us the power to choose new beliefs when old ones no longer serve us and to choose hope no matter what we are facing. We may have believed we were done for, or that the situation was hopeless, or that we had nothing left to learn or to give, or that we’d never be happy again, but we can change those beliefs! We can choose new thoughts and repeat them until they become new beliefs and attitudes, because then, they will shape how we experience life.

So, the passage from Thessalonians isn’t about gravity being suspended for certain believers at the end of time. That makes for a bad Left Behind movie, but not for good biblical exegesis. No, the bizarre fantasy of both the living and the dead being caught up in a sky party was a new idea, a new thought, a creative image to comfort the grieving and offer hope to those who felt stuck. The imagery may seem odd to us, but the point of it is that even when things are difficult, scary, or disappointing, we still have the power to imagine better days, we have the ability to hope, we have the means to envision ways of getting through the rough days, getting over or around the obstacle, and finding reasons to celebrate no matter what has happened before. That’s they rapture!

And we can put that powerful message into practice today.
In our culture, our cosmology, and our understanding of physics, we probably wouldn’t weave a tale about floating up to the sky for a pep rally in the clouds to express our hopes. We might take a more direct approach by simply using affirmations.

When we use affirmations, we are declaring that in the field of all possibilities, our good already exists. So, if you have experienced disappointment, fear, regret, sadness, or anxiety, you can do what the Apostle Paul did…imagine a better experience, name it, give voice to it, dare to believe that things can get better, but do that by using positive affirmations.

Bryant McGill says, “Your future begins with your next thought.”
Louise Hay says, “We are never stuck because we can always change our thinking.”
Affirmations are how we intentionally choose the thoughts that will benefit us. So, let’s practice choosing positive thoughts right now:

I choose to believe in myself.
I deserve success.
I have unlimited potential.
I see and seize possibilities.
I focus on what is good in my life.
I am resilient.
I am excited about my future.

As we choose positive statements to lift our attitudes, we are lifting ourselves up so that we can experience more good in life. We can always be uplifted by choosing new thoughts that will become new beliefs that will help us have new and better experiences. The future has infinite possibilities, and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014

I am resilient.
I have unlimited potential.
I focus on what is good in my life.
I am excited about my future.
And so it is.

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