Sunnyside Reformed Church
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed
Judgment Day,Jer 39:1-7 & Mat 7:1-6, 8/12/18, NM
Last week we talked about The Bible as a love story - the unrequited love story between God Almighty and the human beings God created. In one sense we’re going to be talking about the same story, just from a slightly different perspective. Today I want to talk about the end of the story.
It’s been said that stories tend to be defined by their endings. Was it a tragedy or a comedy? Sad or fulfilling? Universal or local? A lot depends on how the story resolves, and it’s certainly true of The Bible. If one is a believer then the Biblical denouement is also a destination. Christians believe in the afterlife. But none of us actually knows that what the Bible says about it is true. We believe it to be true, but that is a different thing entirely. Reformed Doctrine says there will be a resurrection - of the body as well as the spirit - but what will it be like? Will we retain our individuality, or will we be subsumed into The One and Only God? The simple fact is that we just don’t know.
Scripture suggests that we will resurrected and judged. That each of us will face [at least] two Judgement Days. One will be personalized And will come at the end of our lives. Each of us will find him or herself set before The Creator to account for our lives and what we have made of them. The Second will be The Great Day of Judgement that is written about in the Prophetic Books of The Bible. On that day Christ will return and with him will come Redemption and Salvation. All debts will be settled, and all that has ever been done, thought, said, hoped and believed will be exposed and witnessed. The Good will be rewarded and sent to Heaven, to spend Eternity with God and loved ones. The Bad will be thrown into the Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
As believing Christians, we accept this as given truth. But there’s a lot in there that bears scrutiny and consideration. What exactly will the Afterlife be like? Will we appear before the Judge with bodies, or as disembodied spirits? Will there be 1 a world in which to live - or will it be a kind of shadow existence? Will we be able to socialize with loved ones? Will we eat and drink? Or will we be - like God - in a place outside of time and space where there will be no need for food or water?
I don’t think we can resolve or even talk about these things without asking some fundamental questions about life, death and the meaning of human existence.
When we’re talking about Judgement Day, we’re talking about something that is built into our faith. The Prophets speak of it constantly - imagining what it will be like and who will be blessed and who will be cursed. A time of satisfaction and grace. A time of vindication for the righteous. Above all, it was to be a time of victory for The Whole People of God. The Ancient Israelites didn’t think of judgement and salvation in terms of the individual person, but rather in terms of the nation.
Furthermore, God’s Judgement wasn’t a one-time thing. It is constantly at work, often dictating the course of events. The classic OT example was The Conquest, Exile and Return. Around 600 BCE, the kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. Following the conquest, the Babylonians took many members of the royal court back to Babylon with them and held them there, prisoners, until Babylon was itself conquered by The Persian army under Cyrus the Great around 540 BCE, and the hostages were allowed to go home.
It became the archetypal illustration of God’s guiding hand at work in history. First, Israel lost God’s favor. How? The usual ways. They began worshipping other gods and listening to the wrong people. The kings became corrupt and lost the Davidic mantle of legitimacy. So God rendered a judgement against the nation and allowed them to be conquered by an invading army following a three-month siege of Jerusalem. For Israel it was The primal disaster that threatened their very existence and it began and ended with God’s Judgement.
In this progression we see both sides of the coin. The Anger of God against those who betray the Covenant, and the Forgiveness of God for those who have suffered enough. Both are Judgement Day.
The NT vision of Judgement is more personal. Every individual person will be judged by God for the life he or she had led. Faith, and works are the raw materials of one’s judgement. The NT is replete with stories and parables about this, but the one I would have us consider today is The Prodigal Son. I’m sure we all remember it?
Once upon a time there was a man with two sons. And one day the younger brother went to his father and demanded his inheritance. For because of primogeniture, he would not have a piece of the land when his father died. Everything would go to the elder brother. So, his father gave him his share in cash and off the boy went to enjoy the good life! That lasted for a year or two, then the money ran out and he wound up living on the street. One day, famished and sick, he remembered his father’s estate and he determined at that very moment to go back home. All he wanted was to be a part of it. Could be a small part. He had disappointed them so much, and had disappointed himself so badly that he’d take the worst job in the place and be happy, so long as his father would forgive him.
That young man went home. He tried to sneak onto the place because he didn’t want to be noticed. But before he had crested the hill near the farm his father felt his presence and sent the household servants to meet him and bring him home. They had a big Welcome Home party that night, the young man was once again a whole person. He had been forgiven, and he had been redeemed.
The older brother? Was not happy. He’d been expecting the whole estate would come to him! Now, all of a sudden, he’s got half. None of it made sense. He’d stayed at home with his father, worked hard, done all the right things and until his brother showed up he had been due to inherit everything. Then it all seemed to fall apart, because his brother was personable and charismatic - and sincere - 3 everything seemed to work for him. The fact that his brother had suffered so greatly didn’t seem to register until their father stepped in and rebuked him.
The pattern of loss and redemption in this NT vision was much the same as what we found in the account of the Conquest and Exile, except that it has now become a story about the members of one family - we’re no longer concerned with the whole people of God - now we’re concerned with personal destinies. For me, one of the things that stands out is how willing they all were to blame ourselves when things went wrong. And willing to give God the credit when things improved. The Israelites saw the hand of God in their defeat by Babylon - but they took all the responsibility for it. God may have caused these things to happen, but only in response to their unfaithfulness. And when they were rescued from Exile it was God’s Mercy at work - for they did not consider themselves worthy of mercy.
Likewise, the Prodigal Son felt responsible for his failure, while celebrating God’s forgiveness when he was allowed to rejoin the family.
They were their own harshest critics. Nor is it any different today. We may fear God’s Judgement, yet it is we ourselves who tend to render the harshest verdicts.
We can extend this principle to our consideration of resurrection and the afterlife. We have said that human beings face not one but two judgements. One personal and one global. But the judge is the same, and that judge will - according to scripture - be Christ. It is he who sits on the right hand of The Father, and he to whom authority has been given. All that we know about Christ leads us to conclude that of all those who have ever lived, or who ever hope to live, he will be the gentlest and most empathetic judge in existence. No judgement we have ever faced will be like the judgement we get from Christ. Why then do some souls come to reside in Hell or Purgatory?
Look at the world we know and we may find answers and clues. For though we all live in the same world, we do not all see it, or feel it the same way. Some of us feel life to be a torment. Awakening at the start of a new day is not a gift for them. It is an intolerable burden. Encountering others is a chore, and going through the daily round is like torture. We had someone like that pass through our church a while ago. His name was Chris, and I can tell you his story today because he’s now deceased.
He was of all things a professional heavyweight wrestler. My brother and I used to watch wrestling on TV when we were kids. It drove my father - the athlete - crazy. How can you watch that stuff? He’d say. Don’t you see it’s all choreographed? Actually, No. We didn’t see any such thing. Chris liked it so much that he dedicated himself to wrestling as a profession. He did well too. You can look him up online. He wrestled under the name of Chris Kanyon.
Anyway, he came to worship a few times. I don’t know how he found us exactly, except that he lived nearby. At first he was just this neat new presence. He talked about setting up a school to teach kids how to wrestle like the pros. How great would that have been? Then one weekday he showed up at my office. It was raining and he was soaked. He’d been walking in the rain. And he began to tell me his story. Chris was gay. He had come out in 2006, on the Howard Stern show. He thought his world was ready. He was wrong. He lost his contract and couldn’t get any fights in the wrestling leagues. His income plummeted, his friends deserted him, he had never been anything but a wrestler - what would he do? He descended into depression. In spite of being supported by his family, and a team of doctors - Chris had twice attempted suicide and was determined to try again. He told me God was punishing him by making him stay in the world.
Chris successfully committed suicide a few weeks after that conversation. Life had become intolerable for him. What happened to Chris was driven by social and historical forces far beyond his control. He had misjudged the moment and revealed himself before the people who run professional wrestling were ready to have gay men in the ring. And he paid a huge price for that misjudgment. Yet beyond that, he had done nothing wrong. He had not molested anyone, nor ever done anything unworthy or dishonest. But he blamed himself. Blamed himself completely. He felt some bitterness toward his former colleagues - was aware that he had been abandoned at a critical time - but he expressed very little anger.
It is so typical of people to blame themselves - to blame ourselves - for the bad things that happen. And it seems to me that what we do here in life we will be inclined to do again in the life to come. We blame and punish ourselves so harshly. It’s a miracle that any of us survive, much less thrive!
No one is perfect. We are all sinners...all struggling to make sense of the life we’ve been given...that will soon be taken away. And I put it to you that when we face The Judgement it will be we ourselves who render the most terrible sentences. God who steps in to redeem and save us from The Pit and The Outer Darkness. Christ who looks upon us with tenderness and mercy.
My personal belief is that we have a responsibility to uplift one another.. To remind each other that the judgement we render on ourselves is not how others see us - and most importantly is not how God sees us. This is one of the ways we can model Christ and bring him into the world right now.
I believe in the life to come and I believe we will indeed face God. There is no question that we must strive to be our best selves every day. But I also believe it will be Jesus who renders the verdict and Jesus who will hold us tenderly, forgive our sins and welcome us home.
And all God’s People did say...
Sunnyside Reformed Church
48-03 Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, N.Y. 11104
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed