That Word: Judgement

Newsletter devotional for Cable UCC and St. Paul UCC –  Delta, December 2017

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.” Matthew 25:31-32 (NRSV)

This text is one that might cause us squirm in our seats. Judgement is something we don’t like to focus on in church today and perhaps with good reason.  The word “judgment” might conjure up images of hellfire and brimstone preachers, self-righteous church ladies, or standing before a wrathful God, trembling in fear as we attempt to answer for every sin. But how did we get to this point?

Katheryn Matthews reflects on this question when she writes, “perhaps it’s because religion and judgment have been so unhappily married for so long; in fact, doesn’t Jesus have a lot to say about our judging one another, our excluding some people because they are sinners, or at least a certain ‘kind’ of sinner?” The modern church found all kinds of way to judge each other. It became the norm to judge other denominations, the LGBTQ community, and those who were differently abled, just to name a few. So, with these false understandings of judgement in our past, how do we change and move forward? Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book The Preaching Life, shares our concern, for “the Bible,” as she says, “is not a book with the answers in the back.” In other words, it’s important for us to look at the deeper meaning of Scripture. It’s vital that we consider the full breadth and depth and width of the gospel message. A message of inclusion, equality, and love of God and neighbor. In that light, Matthew 25, challenges us to wrestle with the issues of our emerging post-modern context rather than judge the sin of others. But how do we “live-into” this challenge?

David Mosser sums up this thought well when he says, “In this teaching, …salvation belongs not automatically to those who have faith, but rather to those who do faith.” Matthew consistently calls us to BE the church.  This is evident in the verses that follow this bit about the sheep and the goats. Jesus says that when we serve the least of his people, we serve him. And, with a nod to a contemporary understanding of this message, I would add, “when we love all of God’s people, we love God. When we defend and preserve God’s beautiful creation, we live out our covenant with God, and when we understand judgement as a tool of grace and not a weapon of condemnation, we demonstrate our love of God.

May the coming season of Advent lead us into the Light of Christ.

Blessings, Pastor Phil

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