Judgement and Love

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

Opening Hymn

Readings

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NRSVA)

Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labour pains begin. And there will be no escape.

But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

Matthew 25:14-30 (NLT)

‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” 21 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” 23 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26 But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Sermon

Towards the end of the church year, which finishes next Sunday, the set readings get rather stark. We hear various depictions of the Day of the Lord – a day of judgement and fear, a terrible day when all the mundanity and pretence of our lives will be stripped away and the truth will be known, a day for which we should be prepared. Our gospel readings have a sense of urgency as Jesus urges his listeners to take seriously the choices put before them. Our faith and how we live it is not a nice thing to do, it is a vital and urgent part of helping the world to know God, encounter God’s love and become more the place God made it to be. It is a vital part of becoming the people we are meant to be. Your actions mean life or death for others. Don’t be distracted by the dross of life. Do not be paralysed by fear. Take your beliefs seriously. Use your talents well. Stay focused, stay committed, stay faithful and follow Jesus!

This week the House of Bishops published a book accompanied by a suite of resources called Living in Love and Faith. It is all available free online, and is designed to help the Church of England have a better conversation about sexuality and marriage. My personal hope from it is that the Church as a whole will become a more welcoming, affirming place for LGBT+ Christians and their loved ones, but that is something we will perhaps think about more fully in the New Year. The responses to what could have been a rather controversial publication have been in the main measured and positive. However, one article I read about it suggested that the book focused too much on God being the God of love. This has been niggling me ever since. I always have a bit of a warning klaxon that goes off whenever someone argues that we should see God as less loving! I think it happens when people confuse love with niceness. Love is not nice. Love is fierce. Love demands justice for every precious creature harmed on God’s good earth. Love also goes beyond and meets the demands of justice on a Cross, so every precious creature on God’s good earth might have hope. And so, like the writers of LLF, I too say that God is love – real fierce, never-ending, never-giving-up love. Amen.

With those two ideas in mind, a story: Last night was the 80th anniversary of the Coventry Blitz. In one night 500 tonnes of high explosives were dropped on the city followed by 36,000 incendiary bombs. 500 people died, 4000 homes were destroyed and 40,000 damaged. The city’s beloved cathedral went up in flames. To this day, in France and Germany, the word coventriate means to destroy something totally. As the generation who lived through this Blitz have died, I have done funerals for ordinary women and men who lived through that night – some hunkered in basements of the factories where they worked as the city above them was pounded by the attack, some hiding in hedgerows to avoid the glass bursting from vehicles and buildings with the force of the blasts. It must have felt like the prophets’ descriptions of the Day of the Lord which we have heard in recent weeks – like the world was ending. But it wasn’t the end.

I don’t want to understate the anger, grief and despair of the residents of Coventry as dawn broke over the battered city. I know from talking to people who lived through those times, who experienced firsthand the destruction and suffering their enemies had caused, that the first instinct was to hate and to long for revenge. I cannot imagine feeling much different myself. But amongst the group who gathered in the ruins of the Cathedral that desperate morning was a man called Provost Howard, a man whose life was shaped by Jesus. Jesus, for whom all seemed so pointlessly and cruelly lost on a cross on a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem. Jesus, for whom that day was not the end either. Provost Howard in the midst of his city’s own Good Friday, had an eye on Easter Sunday. They would rebuild, he promised those around him, they would not give in to hate and they would work for peace. Six weeks later in a Christmas radio broadcast, to a nation at war, he challenged everyone to work for a kinder, more Christ-child-like world. His words weren’t entirely popular at the time, but his vision has shaped the city ever since. Now Coventry, with its iconic new Cathedral is a global centre for peace and reconciliation with especially strong and affectionate links with their old enemy, Germany.

The human propensity to stuff things up, what theologians call original sin, mean that human beings will face many disastrous days. There will be disasters and wars and poverty and climate disaster. The natural justice of the world we inhabit means that actions, in the main, will have consequences for ourselves or others. From time to time, we will be brought face to face with what really matters. From time to time, we will be made to recognise the part we have played for good and for ill. Provost Howard famously refused to write Father Forgive THEM on the wall of the ruined cathedral – he insisted it be Father Forgive – for we all play a part in the brokenness of this world and we all need forgiveness. As beloved creatures of Almighty God, we matter, what we do matters and as a result there will be judgement.

But as Paul says in Thessalonians God chooses to save us, not to pour out anger on us. As older translations put it, we were not made to suffer wrath. Because God loves us, what we do matters and there will be realisation and reckoning, but because God loves us, that will never be the end of the story. In this life, there will always be hope, always a chance to work for a kinder, more Christ-child-like world. In the next, there is the forgiveness we have in Jesus and reconciliaton to the God who loves us. As the American writer, Anne Lamott puts it, Grace bats last. In the end, all is grace and love.

So what does this all mean? I think it means that it is not simply valid but important to talk about judgement. If there is no judgement, there is no justice, and for everyone who has experienced pain or betrayal or hurt, that is simply unacceptable. But we know too that judgement will not be the end of the story, because of the forgiveness won for us by Jesus. If we treat this forgiveness as some sort of lazy “Get out of jail free” card, we have missed the point. Our forgiveness cost God everything, and our response cannot be “Ta muchly, I’ll carry on as normal” Rather, our call is to take the grace, hope, freedom and love God has given to us – just like the master distributed those talents – and make sure we use them to bless others with every ounce of energy we possess.

In these last days of the old church year, after recalling again all those truths and teachings we hold dear, we are reminded this matters. It matters in this world and it matters in eternity. And , you matter. So take your beliefs seriously. Use your talents well. Stay focused, stay committed, stay faithful and follow Jesus. Someone somewhere is depending on you to be the person God has made you to be. Amen.

Prayer

Jesus our exalted Lord has been given all authority.
Let us seek his intercession,
that our prayers may be perfected by his prayer.

Jesus Christ, great high priest, living for ever to intercede for us:
pray for your Church, your broken body in the world …
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, King of righteousness,
enthroned at the right hand of the majesty on high:
pray for the world, and make it subject to your gentle rule …
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, Son of man, drawing humanity into the life of God:
pray for your brothers and sisters in need, distress or sorrow …
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, pioneer of our salvation,
bringing us to your glory through your death and resurrection:
pray for all who are dying,
that they may trust in your promises …
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, Lord of all things,
ascended far above from the heavens and filling the universe:
pray for us who receive the gifts you give us for
work in your service …
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, first-fruits of the new creation,
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
until you bring the whole created order to worship at your feet;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Closing Hymn

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