The chosen hymns for this week, When I Needed a Neighbour and Praise to the Lord can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
The Final Judgement
Matthew 25: 31-46
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 22nd November.
This is traditionally the last Sunday of the Christian year.
Next week starts Advent and the start of a new Christian year.
And as it is the last week in the Christian year traditionally the church looks at the end of times, the final judgement.
Why is this important?
Why is this important when we are still in crisis over COVID?
Well the truth is that there hasn’t been a time in history when we haven’t been in crisis.
There have been Religious wars that threatened people, plagues that threatened people, political wars that threatened people, economic crisis that undermined world powers, Cold Wars, drug wars, natural disasters.
There is always something taking up our time.
And that is the same in our private lives.
There is always something that stops our world from being perfect.
There are financial crisis, moving jobs, relatives dying, illnesses, car crashes, divorces within the family, problems with the children, struggling to pay the mortgage, worrying that your wee one isn’t learning to walk as fast as the other children...
And often we think that faith is something we will seriously get round to when our life is a bit quieter, but life never gets quieter...
And in the midst of all that the Bible reminds us that there is a final destination, and if we don’t keep our eye on that then the rest of our life will become just a wasted effort.
If you want a metaphor to explain it, imagine you’re a marathon runner. The whole purpose of your life is to win the marathon.
But the marathon is a long race and you need to train hard for it.
Imagine that every time you train for it you get distracted. So instead of running miles every day, you react to something in your life; like cooking all the meals for the family, like taking the children to the play park, like popping in to see the neighbour because he was a bit down,
all very noble things, but not training for the marathon.
Then on the day of the marathon you start the race, get about two miles in and then fall into an exhausted heap. The one thing you were to do, you failed to do, because you didn’t keep your eye on what was really important.
Amanda is going to lead us in prayer, then read this important passage.
Amanda: Reading Matthew 25: 31-46.
It’s a scary thought, the final judgement.
The kind of thing that might keep us awake at night, the kind of thing that may cause great distress.
Did you mean it to be that way, to fear us into heaven?
Or did you just want to remind us to keep our eye on what was truly important?
For we are so easily distracted.
We have created whole industries that are designed to distract us from the true purpose of our life.
We sit and watch television programmes, we play computer games, we invent sports and invest such emotional energy in the outcome of such games.
And as we do so we block our ears to the cries of those who are struggling.
We don’t hear the screams of those downtrodden by violence.
We don’t see the thin limbs of those who have too little to eat.
We are deaf to the pleas of those treated unjustly by our institutions.
We are blind to those deprived by poverty.
Help us to treat everyone we meet as thought they were your Son.
That we give them the respect, the dignity, the honour that we would give Christ.
That we acknowledge them with the joy and privilege that we would give Him.
May our heart see each relationship we have as the blessing it is.
And in each relationship we have, may it be a reflection of the relationship we have with you.
This we ask in Jesus name, and in his name we say the words that he gave us...
Which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil;
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.
Have you ever read a passage, completely agreed with it, then realised that you were completely wrong and what you agree with is the exact opposite to what you thought you agreed with?
It would be like thinking that Donald Trump is a horrible man, a terrible president, then when you really thought about it realised that you were completely wrong, that Donald Trump was the finest example of humanity that there has been, and in fact that he is the best president that America will ever have.
Let me suggest that this is what may happen with this passage.
I would suggest that most, if not all of us here, think this passage is fair...but when we really read it realise that it is the exact opposite from what we have been taught to believe.
At first glance Jesus is talking the end of days, the day of judgement.
He has us in the palm of his hand and he is judging our eternal destination.
And we are judged on how we treat others.
Were we good to others or horrible to others?
The good guys go to heaven, the bad guys...well let’s not think about that just now.
That is pretty clear cut. We all agree on that.
But here’s the thing.
It does against everything else that Jesus had said about the Kingdom of God.
How many times have I said that we can’t earn our way into heaven?
Yet this passage is telling us that we have to do stuff, do a lot of stuff, to get into heaven.
How many times have I said that God’s love is unconditional?
This seems pretty conditional to me.
Jesus seems to be saying to one lot of people; because you didn’t fulfil these conditions then you’re not getting into heaven.
God’s love is unconditional, except for these conditions; feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the imprisoned.
We have a conflict here.
What we think the Bible is saying to us against other things we think the Bible is saying to us.
This is the truth that I live by...
The truth that Jesus came to share with us, was that God is open to all people.
All those who failed in life have a second chance with God.
All of the disciples were failures, yet Jesus offered them a place in the Kingdom.
That is the hope that Jesus offers us;
that it doesn’t matter that we are failures, it doesn’t matter that we are not perfect,
God loves us; God is willing to do whatever it takes to offer us a place in the kingdom, even to the life of his own Son.
Probably the most famous passage in the Gospels, John 3: 16, sums this up.
For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who BELIEVES in him may not die but have eternal life.
And there is example after example in the Bible of that love reaching out to the imperfect.
The woman caught in adultery who is told to go and sin no more.
The thief of the cross that is told that he will be with Christ in paradise that day.
Jesus coming to Peter after the resurrection and confronting his betrayal with compassion and an offer to make him the rock on which the church is founded.
Our hope is not founded on our deeds; our hope is founded on the deeds of Christ.
Our hope is not founded on the quality of our life, our love or faith, our hope is founded on the life, the love and faith of Christ.
He took on himself our death, so that we might take on his life.
That is the core of the Gospel.
That is the basis of every creed written by the church over the centuries.
So if that is the truth, then where does this passage come in?
Because this passage is still in the Gospels, and presumably it is in there not because someone sneaked it in, but because it holds a truth that we need to live by.
If in doubt, look at context.
So what has been talked about before this passage?
Well Jesus is talking about the attitudes of those who are in the Kingdom.
There is the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, five of whom prepared for the groom to arrive, five of whom didn’t. The five bridesmaids that were prepared, they understood that the groom went by his timetable not theirs, so they had patience and were focused on making sure they were there when the groom arrived.
There was the parable of three servants, each given freedom with the gifts they had to do the best they could with what they had. Every servant was given a fortune, and two of the servants used that gift to do amazing things, and one just buried his fortune and wasted the opportunity.
In both cases the people are given a gift;
an invitation to the wedding party as a special guest,
responsibility of a fortune given from the king.
And the question is then asked, ‘How do you respond to that amazing gift?’
Then comes this final parable, the parable that sums up the other two...that personalizes the other parables to all of us.
Like the other two parables, there are people given an amazing gift, in this last parable the person given the gift is us, the amazing gift we are given is...LIFE.
And how do we respond to that gift, what do we do with it?
Those that are blessed, and see that they are blessed are open to others, the sick, the homeless, the imprisoned, the thirsty, the humans with all their flaws and foibles.
But there are others;
like the foolish bridesmaids they don’t want to risk spending more money on oil, it’s not their fault that they didn’t get into the party, the groom was late, it was his fault,
like the foolish servant he buried the riches he was given and never used them.
And the Bible asks us, which group are we going to be in.
And this is so relevant today.
Just how open to others are we?
I was part of a webinar on liturgy the other week and they were talking about how our liturgy is changing.
And how the temptation is to close ourselves off from others; even in our liturgy; like offering the peace of God to others after communion, how do we do that when a shake of a hand or a hug is no longer a sign of closeness but a sign of fear.
In such a simple act we can show that our hearts have closed ourselves off from others, that we see them as danger to us rather than a blessing.
Compare that with the latest Kevin Bacon advert for the new i-phone 12 Pro with EE network. In the advert Kevin Bacon has this new phone and everyone else is looking at him because they have ‘phone envy’. His life is complete because he has something they don’t have; their life is incomplete because they don’t have the latest phone.
I find it a weird advert, I have a phone. Why would I be envious of Kevin Bacon having another phone? My phone allows me to phone other people, so does Kevin Bacon’s.
I wondered why not having his phone would make me envious?
If I had Kevin Bacon’s phone would it give me better friends, would it make me a better person, would I be more loving and generous and caring?
If I got the phone so that others could be envious of me...like in the adverts, then surely that makes me a worse human being, that sees my life only in comparison with others, others that I want to be better than, and judge that betterment only in me having newer stuff than them?
And will these people be friends with me if the dominant emotion they have towards me is envy? Are they trying to say that envy is the basis of lasting relationships?
It sums up our choice.
What kind of person are we going to be?
The type that spends their lives comparing their lives with others?
Or the type that is open to others?
The thing is, that if we are open to others, then that gift is eternal.
Just as we were open to others in this life, so we are open to all others, including being eternally open to God’s love and joy.
The truth we need to see, need to live by, is that others aren’t to be feared, they are a blessing, and being part of their lives is a blessing.
Just as God is open to us, because he sees our life as a blessing, and he wants us to live that life eternally, as the gift that it is.
Let us pray
Openness can be hard.
We are suspicious of the motives of others.
We fear that others will be a drain on us.
We want to know what they can bring to our life to make it better.
And the truth is that they are all a gift, a blessing.
The stories they tell of themselves.
The journeys that that faced.
The struggles they have overcome.
The experiences that have made them.
We can learn so much from them.
We can enjoy their successes and rejoice in their triumphs.
We can share their pain, mourn their losses and bolster their hopes.
The sad truth is that we may never see our own lives as a blessing until we see their as a blessing.
If we judge them then we end up judging ourselves.
Our successes overshadowed by our failures.
Our generosity tainted by our meanness.
Our love darkened by our hatred.
Our openness overcome by our fear.
Help us to be the people we where created to be.
To see your joy and hope in others.
To care and be cared for.
To love and be loved.
To know, and to be known.
That each failure is a lesson learnt so that we can grow and mature.
That each success is a joy shared and a hope fulfilled.
So may our lives be blessed, and we become a blessing.
This we ask in Jesus name.
Before we go I would just like to remind you that if you want to be part of our live services then you can book a place for our 10.30am and 3pm Sunday services by phoning me at 01259 760262 between 6-9pm Monday to Friday.
May the Father God who created the world, create in you an open heart.
May the Son who created a relationship with you, open your heart to all relationships.
May the Holy Spirit who opens our hearts to the truth, keep us honest about how loved we and others are.