Saturday, July 29, 2017

At the end of the age Proper 12A

“So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  The furnace of fire, the destruction of evil, and the reward of the righteous is Scripture, Scripture we seek to understand, Scripture that reveals to us the will of God.

 So will it be at the end of the age.” The end is coming. In the end, we will face God's judgment on our lives. God's judgment is perfect and filled with love. We are assured of our eternal salvation. In the burial office we pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray thee to set thy passion, cross, and death, between thy judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living, pardon and rest to the dead, to thy holy Church peace and concord, and to us sinners everlasting life and glory ...” (Prayer Book page 489)

St. Paul reminds us we are saved by God's gracious gift received in faith and not by our works. God has chosen to save all humanity by the death of his son, our Lord Jesus, on the cross, and God has chosen to give us new life in Jesus' resurrection. He has chosen us, called us, justified us - made us right with him - and he glorifies us in his love and service.. In words familiar from their use in the burial office, today's Epistle proclaims that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

That said, and it needs to be said, we also cannot forget that the perfect justice of God requires that both good and evil be clearly identified, that good be rewarded and evil destroyed forever. In this life good and evil are so mixed together that we can easily be confused about particular thoughts and actions of life. In very few situations can good be easily or clearly distinguished from evil. But neither the difficulty of the task, nor the assurance of eternal salvation, removes from us the responsibility to exercise godly wisdom and good judgment.

Today's Gospel has 5 parables of Jesus, all about wisdom and judgment. The first two stories are told to the crowd. They are about the growth of the kingdom, growth that reminds us of the greatness of the love of God.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed . . . the smallest of all seeds.” Every part of God's creation, and every person God has made and loves, is worth our careful attention and respect.  “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast...” Yeast makes dough rise and double in size and double again. God gives us the Holy Spirit, his spirit of truth, his spirit of power, so that we may be like yeast in the world, turning flat dough into nourishing bread. 

Then in St. Matthew’s gospel follows the explanation to the disciples of the parable of the grain and the weeds that we heard last Sunday, and then three parables about the wisdom of single minded attention to God's will.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure . . . someone sells all that he has and buys the field.” The merchant found “one pearl of great value,. . . sold all that he had and bought it.” We can so easily be scattered in mind, conflicted in our various roles and responsibilities. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” When our priority is to do the will of God, the other responsibilities and pleasures take their proper place.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a net that caught fish of every kind. . . they put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.”  When I was a boy I’d go deep sea fishing with my father. We'd catch rockfish or sea bass or mackerel or flounder, and sometimes sea robins or blowfish or other inedible “trash fish.” We'd keep the good fish and throw the trash away. I was a kid, I didn't know the difference, but better fishermen knew, and knew what to do.  They had good judgment, judgment based on knowledge and experience.

We are all called to exercise good judgment, judgment based on our knowledge and experience of the will of God. Good judgment is not easy. Our capacity for self-deception is as wide and deep as the ocean. There are no easy answers, no quick algorithms that allow us to plug in the data and generate an answer that is always correct.  But we can rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit of truth and power, and when we fail, we trust in the never failing love of God in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!

 “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

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