Like a Thief in the Night.

This morning we heard a reading from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Biblical scholars believe that this letter is the earliest writing in the New Testament written about twenty years after Jesus’s death. Paul, as well as other early Christians, believed that Jesus was going to return soon and when he did there would be a day judgment when the righteous would be saved.

So, as Paul urges in this letter, you had better be prepared because you don’t know when this will happen. He tells this community in Northern Greece “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” He gives them reassurance that they are ready but they better be mindful and not fall asleep as others have for we do not know when that day will come.

Whether or not you believe that Jesus will return and that there will be a day judgement, one thing is for certain, our lives as we know it will come to an end. Death is 100% guaranteed. And we may be taken away suddenly like a thief in the night, or at least it may seem that way, so we had better be prepared.

No matter how faithful we are, the uncertainty of death is unsettling. We are human and like information. We like to know what we are getting ourselves into before we do anything. With death, we have no choice and we have to trust in something we will never fully understand until it happens. It’s like winning a one way ticket to destination where there is no website to check it out before we go. For most, this is very unsettling, so much so, we do everything we can to avoid thinking about death and preparing for it.

This morning we also heard the gospel of the talents or large sum money that was given to a group slaves. The slaves who invested the money were rewarded and the slave who, out of fear, buried the money was punished. The slaves who invested the money, prepared for the future. The slave who buried the money, did not prepare. When it comes to being prepared for death, most of us want to bury the thought, hoping it will never come.

Just like the slave owner, Paul praised the Thessalonians for being prepared. But what does being prepared for our death in the 21st century look like?  Paul was referring mostly to living a righteous life in order to be saved at the time of judgment. This is certainly important to us even if we don’t believe in a day of judgment, however, there is a lot more to being prepared for our death than just trying to live a good life.

Two thousand years ago people didn’t have to make hard choices concerning death. Death was just something that happened. There wasn’t much that could be done to postpone it. It was a fact of life. Modern medicine has changed all that. We now have choices about how we hope to die when the time comes.

Why is it important to prepare for our death when it will happen anyway? We can’t stop it. Because being prepared gives us hope. Being unprepared causes despair. As a hospital chaplain I often see people in great despair because they never took the time to prepare. They somehow believe that medicine will always be able to keep them alive.

We prepare for other things in our lives. Jerald is preparing to move to Kansas, Randy is preparing to retire and change careers. We like to be prepared, but what about death?

Are you prepared? Preparing for our death requires us to take a close look at our lives. Are you cultivating a daily spiritual practice that helps you feel connected to the divine, a power far greater than medicine, through practices like prayer, meditation, reading scripture, art, poetry, music, finding meaning in your life? How are your relationships with other people? Do you have unresolved issues with forgiveness? Someone you know you need to forgive but have put it off thinking I’ll get to it someday? Have you told everyone you love that you love them? Have you decided to be an organ donor? And, if so, does your family know? Have you told your family if you would rather be buried or cremated? Have you thought about how you wish to live your last days and have you shared this with the people most important to you? And have you written these wishes down in a way that can be used to make decisions about your care?

The biggest tragedy I see as a chaplain is a dying person who is unable to express their wishes and never made them known to anyone. Do they want to be put on artificial life support? Do they want a feeding tube? Do they just want to be made comfortable and no longer receive aggressive treatment? Not knowing the answers to these questions causes a tremendous burden and conflict on the family who suddenly find themselves having to make these hard choices.   You may have already experienced this. This can all be avoided by being prepared. By talking to your loved ones and putting your wishes in writing.

This is so important that I urge you, if you haven’t already, to fill out your advance directive. An advance directive is used to name a health care agent or someone who you chose to speak for you if you should become too ill to speak for yourself. An advance directive also gives you the opportunity to choose or not to choose treatment preferences that might be used to try to extend your life. I have a handout in the back of the church that gives you a website where you can get the advance directive forms for the state of Maryland. This website also has a lot of very good information to help you make these decisions and how to talk to your loved ones.

So remember, being prepared for your death is a gift to you and your family. This holiday season consider this to be one of the best gifts you can give. Yes, death may come like a thief in the night but as Paul told his community, being prepared gives us hope. Be mindful, don’t fall asleep, talk about it, write your wishes down, and don’t bury the thought hoping the time will never come. And don’t forget to talk to your young children about death. Not talking about death can make it seem even more frightening. We all need to feel safe. We all deserve to feel the hope that comes with being prepared.


Laura Shay