by Pastor Simpson
Standing in the principal’s office waiting for the “talk” about whatever, waiting for Mom or Dad to render their punishment for whatever; judgment just wreaks of bad things, a negative report and it’s painful consequences. Nobody likes to face judgment. The sheep vs. the goats, or the bad sheep vs. the good sheep, we don’t want to think about being judged.
Everything will be set right. Peace and justice will prevail. But first, there will be judgment. Judgment Day is coming, says both the prophet and Jesus in our texts. How will you be judged? All the commandments, all the examples of right living have been laid out for us, again and again. We know what we are supposed to do as followers of Jesus and children of the living God. The question remains – how well did we do? Will we be lumped in with the “bad sheep/the goats” or will we make the grade and be with the “good sheep/the sheep” who are ‘saved’?
But wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus die on the cross to save us all? Aren’t we all forgiven when we confess our sins each Sunday morning, or whenever we do that? What about this overarching embrace of all humanity that Jesus certainly implied, if not directly said? How, then, do we still have to deal with “Judgment Day”, with coming before the Lord and being sorted out, good and bad, with the consequences spelled out in the story? Are we forgiven or do we still have to earn our salvation? Did Jesus’ death on the cross atone for all our sins or is there something more we have to do?
You see why we pastors, at least many of us, don’t like to dive into this mess. We struggle with the same questions, and yet we’re supposed to have the answers. Newsflash – we don’t. So let’s struggle together. What’s the critical point in all of this? You know that phrase that we toss out when we think someone is judging us unfairly – Who are you to judge? – well, that actually points us in the right direction for our struggle. Who is this judge? and who are they to judge us?
Christ the King, Jesus Christ the Lord of Creation, is the Judge, according to the tests. In fact for Christians, Christ is the Judge even for those who are not Christian/the rest of the world. So, what do we know about this judge? We have the Gospels that describe Jesus’ life and ministry, offering us insight into his character. We have the Old Testament which describes the relationship of God and the people of God through thousands of years of history, again giving us insight into God’s character.
Jennifer L. Lord of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary summarizes God’s character, “God is a shepherding God. God is an ingathering God. God is the giver of food and safety. God provides good pastureland for our sustenance and our rest.” So we are in the best of hands if God is our judge. But we are also reminded that “God is the one with vast perspective (holding seas and mountains!) but is also the one who pays attention to the injured, the lost, the strayed, and the weak. The judgments have a purpose: to protect the goodness of the pastureland and the safety and well-being of the sheep.” As to Christ’s character, Lord continues, “Loving God and loving others as oneself is set forth as the linchpin for life in God.” It is summarized in the phrase “inasmuch as you did it/or did not do it to the least of these, you did it/did not do it to me.” “the kingdom of God is not a location or a state of emotion or even a social service activity. The kingdom is life in God.”
So we are ‘judged’ by God and Christ, who shepherd and care for all of us beyond our wildest imagining. All that is required is that we live in the kingdom, that we live in God. It does boil down to our faith, our embrace of our loving, living God and Jesus Christ who loved us to the max, who ‘lived in God’ in our midst, showing us what that looks like, so even we could understand. With God in Christ as our judge, we are assured of salvation because we desire always to live in God and to walk the way that Jesus walked. We are invited to be an integral participant in the kingdom of God, loving our neighbor as ourself and trusting in God’s perspective, God’s dream for all creation throughout time.
Judgment is merely accountability for what we say we believe and what we desire for our neighbor. As a loving parent disciplines and guides, teaches and corrects, a child so that they may grow into full and fruitful adulthood, so we are being trained and encouraged to live in God, according to the teachings of the prophets and of Jesus. We are loved enough that we are shepherded when we stray off the path and we are carried back to the source of life by our Lord and Savior.
As we grow up in God, then we, too, may shepherd others, our children, our friends, even strangers, even enemies, so that loving our neighbor leads us all to life in God. And when we see that our systems of governing, our systems of economy, the structures of our social institutions, etc. being oppressive or discriminatory, then we may need to shepherd those back to just and loving behaviors as well. Everyone needs and deserves food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and education. We are the hands and voices to see that God’s will be done.
Fear not, the kingdom is growing and will continue to grow and expand until all live in God. Judgment Day is, in fact, every day, but it is a day to choose and be welcomed into life eternal, life in God. We can wake up in the morning and choose to simply follow the world’s dictates and be judged by the world, but that is typically unsatisfying. We are never quite good enough, successful enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, yada yada yada – there are so many measures of our worth in the world’s eyes. Or we can choose to live in God, i.e. to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, knowing that if we don’t quite make it we can try again.
Prayer for Peace in Gaza:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8.26) God of all people and all places: We come before you with sighs too deep for words. Each day brings news of more death and destruction for the people of Gaza and Israel. We grieve along with the families of the 697 Gazans killed, 170 of them children, and with the families of the 37 Israelis killed. Terror grips your children. Even hospitals and schools have been turned into war zones. We cry out for an end to all violence and for the systems and structures contributing to oppression. God who makes all things whole: Hold tight all those who mourn. Be with the mothers and fathers who will never see their child’s face light up with laughter. Be with your children, who are lulled to bed not by the soothing voice of their parents, but by sounds of sirens signaling impending destruction. God who makes everything new: Equip us to be instruments of your peace. We are heartbroken by all of the death and destruction, but with the Psalmists we proclaim, “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” In the midst of such despair and tragedy you remain with those who suffer. Stir within us your vision for reconciliation and peace. Turn us away from complacency and cynicism and toward righteousness and justice. You call your people to seek justice and to love our enemies. In our words and deeds let us be witnesses to your unending love for all of God’s people. In the name of the One who reconciles all nations and people to himself, we pray.