Worship, Aug 22 – The Final Judgment

Welcome to this post for Sunday, Aug 22 at Digby Baptist Church. Here is the text and video of the sermon for the day.

Some people are so judgmental; you can tell just by looking at them!

Why are taller people more judgmental? They look down on people.

Never judge a book by its cover; use the paragraph on the back, it tells you what the story is all about.

Well, it is judgment day. Time to talk about the Last Judgment. An essential element of ‘Last Things’ in Christian teaching.

Years ago, I lived on King Street in Windsor, across from the local courthouse. On days when court was in session, and you’d see people all day long going in and out and hanging around, a local fellow I knew always called that ‘judgment day.’

Well, the eternal court is in session, in the Bible scenes we read today. Jesus tells His parable of the judgment of the nations, with the sheep and the goats, each with their own fate. And in Revelation 20 we have the vision of the Great White Throne Judgment.

Court cases and judgments and lawsuits and all scare me a bit. I know so little about it all, and I have never been to court. I want to avoid these things, I guess. There are many reasons anyone might fear the judgment of God, and a final judgment for us and the rest of the world.

But in our scripture story, the judgment of God is hoped for, pleaded for, and people looked forward to it. 

The Psalms are full of this. We already spoke Ps. 7.

Psalm 96:12-13 Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming,

    for he is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness,

    and the peoples with his truth.

In many scenes, a person calls out, longingly, hopefully, for God the Judge to arrive and judge the people. I think of Mary, when she rejoices about the baby to be born to her. She says these things about God:

Luke 1:52-53 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.

This was Mary’s faith in the LORD, and in what the Lord’s Messiah would do. The work of the Judge of the universe is a good thing, scripturally. Cause for much rejoicing!

Who is it that rejoices? Well, the ones who were downtrodden, mistreated, used and abused. The poor and oppressed. The minority and those who’ve suffered the prejudice of others. 

There’s a clue right in that word: prejudice. Pre-judge. So people of faith trust their God to make things right. That’s the good news about judgment, righteous judgment, the judgment of God. Past, present, future, and final judgment. The Master will make things right and good.

The fear and danger comes when we have a sense that we are among the ones to be judged for what we’ve done wrong. Then the terrifying imagery of biblical apocalypse adds to our dread of doom. Not to mention our teaching from scriptures that say things like … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) So, every one of us might be in trouble, in danger, found wanting, and found guilty! 

Then, the scenes of Revelation 20 put the actual ‘fear of God’ into us. (Revelation 20:12) And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.

Even a parable of Jesus can alarm us. (Matthew 25)

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

The sense of feeling judgment and feeling judged is far different from the sense of your enemies being judged and you being vindicated and set free. And the dramatic visions of final judgment we have are so harsh, at times. 

The book of the Revelation is filled with violent judgment images and language. As one Bible scholar put it, “there is far too much destroying in the Apocalypse. It ceases to be fun.” (Warren Carter, The Roman Empire and the New Testament, 2006, p. 135.) This has been one main source of criticism of the book of Revelation. 

The repetition of destruction, all the scenes from chapter six through twenty, are not necessarily chronological, or even a whole bunch of separate events. They are visions that make the same point, over and over again. Seven seals on scrolls to be broken, seven trumpets, seven bowls of wrath, can be pictures that are making the same point. “Babylon,” symbolizing the enemy powers in the world, is doomed. “Babylon is doomed, nothing is more certain!”

 Some Bible scholars through the centuries have developed detailed systems of explaining all the judgment scenes we find. Such as C. I. Schofield, in his famous reference Bible, which lists seven especially significant Biblical judgments, two of which we read today, in Matthew 25 and Revelation 21: the judgment of the nations at the return of Christ, and the judgment of the wicked dead at the end of the age.

I am not a dispensationalist like Schofield, or LaHaye and Jenkins, or Hagee.  I side with others, who see these various apocalyptic judgment scenes all speaking of one thing. There simply is judgment and reckoning of all things, of all of us. The Revelation 20 scene of the White Throne Judgment tells us the final decision and results that God will bring about. Evil will surely be overthrown.

You might well ask me, or someone else, “but what do Baptists teach about this stuff?” I’m so glad you asked!

We don’t agree; we don’t teach just one thing. I’ve heard it said: put two Baptists together… and you’ll get three opinions! We Baptists are so diverse. The futurist, predicting, prophecy, dispensational views have been very popular with Baptists in North America. But others of us explain things quite differently. 

Here, in Atlantic Canada, when two large Baptist groups joined in 1905 and 1906, we agreed upon this, in our document, The Basis of Union.

There will be a general judgement of quick and dead, of the just and the unjust, on the principles of righteousness, by the Lord Jesus Christ, at His second coming. The wicked will be condemned to eternal punishment, and the righteous received into fullness of eternal life and joy.

This allows for a variety of teachings on “last things,” including details of the final judgment.

Now, before this sermon ends, let’s deal with one more detail. If so much of the judgement is upon what people have done and not done, is there still any grace to save us? Why is there still judgment according to what we’ve done? I mean, I have always believed that we are saved by grace through faith: what Jesus has done gets us into the eternal kingdom, not what we have done. 

Yet we find this in scripture this frequent, clear teaching: 2 Corinthians 5:10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. See also 1 Corinthians 3:10-17, and Romans 14:10. Not to mention Jesus in Matthew 25!

I’ve been working on this for some days now, and I can’t yet explain it. It is, to oversimplify it, ‘both and.’ We are both saved by God’s grace by putting our confidence in Jesus to redeem us and make us worthy now and on judgment day. And there is also a judgment day, revealing how we’ve lived our lives. 

The popular British scholar, N. T. Wright, tries to explain it this way. “Justification by faith is what happens in the present time, anticipating the verdict of the future day when God judges the world.” (Surprised By Hope, 2008, p. 140)

I am still trying to get my head around this. I have been asking Jesus about this. I will keep seeking.

At the very least, I can figure out two things. One: even when we are Christians, believers, born again, it matters how we live our lives. Just go back to Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ where He says things like this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

And second: we can be happy with who it is who judges us and the whole world: it is Jesus!  

N. T. Wright again: …the one through whom God’s justice will finally sweep the world is not a hard-hearted, arrogant, or vengeful tyrant but rather the Man of Sorrows, who was acquainted with grief; the Jesus who loved sinners and died for them; the Messiah who took the world’s judgment upon himself on the cross. (Ibid, p. 141)

Three ‘parables.’ I suppose the Final Judgment will be like a junior high student, taken to the school office when caught smoking up in a bathroom. The Principal was busy, so she gets taken to the Vice Principal, who happens to be her own beloved mother.

The Day of Reckoning shall be like the fishing boat caught in a sudden, foggy storm that blows in, and then all the navigation equipment fails. After a long and frightful journey, and hope seems to be lost, the sound of waves on dangerous rocks gives way to calmer waters, and the boatmen recognize they have inadvertently entered the Digby Gut, the safety of their familiar haven.

And the Last Judgment will be as when a distressed shopper is trying to buy some groceries for the family, but at the checkout the debit card says “not approved,” because the bank account is empty! Suddenly, the next person in the lineup turns out to be a dear friend, who pays for the order.

“The judge will be Christ.” As Frederick Beuchner said, “In other words, the one who judges us most fully will be the one who loves us most fully.” (Wishful Thinking, 1973, p. 48)

PRAYERS of the People: Let us   pray.

Jesus, You are full of love. You offer Yourself to us and the world. Your promises are sure and faithful and good. Again today, we praise Your. 

Take the things we offer today, and use them well. Our gifts for the Church offering. The attention we have paid to the word of scripture. The plans we have shared for which we will now be working. 

Christ, our coming Judge, we admit the ways we know we are failing. We also admit that we probably have no idea about some of our sins. Our hearts speak to You because we also need to know the next right steps to take, and we are unsure. May Your sacrifice of salvation for us be such a sure thing, in our lives. May we become all the more like You, and so really be Christians. 

Hearer of Prayer, we give our heart’s concerns to You now. Hear our hopes and longings for these people and places…

Afghanistan and those who flee

Victims of fire and earthquake and flood

Candidates and workers in our upcoming federal election

Feed My Sheep

(Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Matthew 25:31-46) J G White
Reign of Christ Sunday, Nov 26, 2017, UBC Digby

Though many of us have very little experience farming sheep, the shepherd and sheep imagery continues to stand the test of time.  The Lord God as our Shepherd steps off the page of the Bible in many chapters, and we keep singing it too.  Jesus says to Peter, at the end of the Gospel of John, “Feed my sheep.”

If we people on earth are the sheep, there are a lot of us now!  And plenty of sheep are scattered or lost or in trouble or sick or in real danger.  

One chapter we read from today: Ezekiel 34.  Here, God speaks – lots of “I language.”  God in action.  There is such a strong sense of God doing so much with the people, and in terms of making things right and fair.  It leads, at the end, to a human worker – a shepherd God uses.  He is named David.  King David.  Not to be resurrected from the dead really, but a Messiah to come and be in his role.  We Christians see Jesus as the best Shepherd King.  

Here in Ezekiel 34, Yhwh God says, thru the prophet:
I will search for my sheep
look after them
be like a shepherd
rescue them from where they are scattered
bring them to their own land
pasture them
tend them
have them lie down
feed them richly
search and bring back the strays
bind up the injured
strengthen the weak
destroy the fat and the strong
shepherd them with justice
judge between fat and lean sheep
save my flock – no longer plundered
place over them one shepherd
David
he will tend them
he will be their shepherd
be their God
David will be My prince among them

Before all this, Ezekiel had proclaimed a warning, woe to the shepherds of Israel.
Woe!
Shouldn’t you take care?
You eat, and clothe yourselves
You didn’t strengthen the weak
heal the sick
bind up the injured
bring back the strays
search for the lost
ruled harshly and brutally
I am against the shepherds
will hold them accountable
will remove them
will rescue my sheep

This judgment scene is revisited by Jesus in Matthew 25: the Sheep and the Goats.

We, like other churches, have organized our flock in terms of an Undershepherd Program.  Pastors – shepherds. Undershepherds. Sheep. Perhaps the Shepherd, Jeff White, needs to shepherd the Undershepherds more. 😉

Many new sheep come to us, month by month.  We see this in the corral here. We need to include them/you.

I’d like, a few times a year, to get the newer people together with some longer-term people for a social time.  A meal, followed by some ‘getting to know you,’ and some introductions to the inner life of Digby Baptist.  These events should complement our natural welcoming ways.

And with new sheep who come along to our sheepfold from a different one – let’s pay attention. My attitude is always sadness when someone shows up in my pews because they left some other pews nearby.  Better for them to stay where they had been.

And it is good to have clear communication about what new people are bringing – their gifts, their baggage, their history from their previous church.  I always liked the ministry policy of a Nazarene Pastor in Windsor.  When someone started coming to his Nazarene Church who had left some other local church, he insisted that they meet with the former pastor or leaders and tell them why he or she left.  “Go and talk with them, if you have not already.”  And then, the Nazarene Pastor would call that pastor up to check and see if the person had indeed gone back to explain themselves.
Good, plan, I thought. That Pastor is a wise shepherd.  

And some of our sheep go astray.  Start to disappear, then are gone.  The Shepherds, the Undershepherds, and the Sheep have a loving role to play here.

I get concerned that we don’t miss some of our lost sheep. I’m concerned that those who seem lower on the socio-economic scale are forgotten and we don’t miss them.  The ‘middle class’ and upper, lost sheep are missed more as they disappear.  The healthier sheep are missed more.  Something wrong here.  

Remember the picture Jesus paints in Matthew 25.  The hungry, the stranger not from ‘round here, the poorly clothed, the ill, the imprisoned or ex-con.  Care for them.

I listen for how often names are mentioned. Names of those who are missing, or going missing.  I don’t often hear a lot.  Don’t hear prayer for these people.  Maybe I’m not party to that.  I wonder about how almost every one of us can have a role in caring for the rest of the flock, those who wander, and those who do not.

In Jesus’ story from Matthew 25, we see it is the sheep themselves who are judged to have done well.  The King, the chief Shepherd, judges them.  How did the sheep care for others?  

Each of us is often a sheep, yet sometimes a shepherd.  Depends on what you’re talking about.  In some parts of your life you are a sheep. Your best path is to follow.

So, when I take my car to the garage, I have no idea how my machine works or how to fix things.  I am the sheep, my mechanics are the shepherds in this case.  

But when I go on a hike in the woods with other avid hikers, they start looking at plants and trees.  Now, I get to be the shepherd, and they are the sheep.  One hiking friend now calls me “Plant Guy.”  

You have ways you are a shepherd, or an undershepherd.  And you have other parts of your life where need to be guided.  All the sheep in the flock help one another out.  Even the shepherds among us, like me, need care and feeding, guiding and leading.  

As this year draws to a close, and I look ahead to a whole new twelve months before us, I wonder about focusing upon being a healthy flock – with healthier sheep and shepherds and undershepherds.  I’ve been reviewing a little book called The Healthy Small Church. (Dennis Bickers, 2005) I find it quite inspiring.  We can seek to be a healthy flock; one that, as this book suggests:

  • Has a positive self-image.
  • Shares a common vision that creates a sense of purpose and unity.
  • Maintains community while still warmly welcoming new visitors.
  • Practices the importance of faithful stewardship and financial support.  
  • Understands ministry to be the responsibility of all the members of the church.
  • Encourages everyone to serve according to his or her spiritual gifts — not by seniority or by guilt.

We are a flock with a lot of healthy things going on already.  Our next steps can be wonderful too, though some will be challenging.

So, remember that there are two sides to the coin of being a flock of God’s sheep: being shepherded by the Good Shepherd, and shepherding one another.  At times we must claim the ancient promises, and hear God still say:
I will search for my sheep
look after them
be like a shepherd
rescue them from where they are scattered
pasture them
tend them
have them lie down
feed them richly
bind up the injured
strengthen the weak
shepherd them with justice
And then we must we ready to help in all this work, and be good sheep.
AMEN.

What Pleases God

Lent 4 (Ps 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; Matthew 25:14-30)

March 26, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

Try to find out what is pleasing to God.  

A dear old friend and mentor of mine, who is now dead, spent much of his career as a divinity college professor, in Wolfville, teaching theology to up-and- coming pastors, for 32 years. (M. R. Cherry) Well into his retirement, he was always asked back to teach one lecture a year in a certain class.  The lecture was on “the will of God.”  After his death, as my family went through his papers to send to the university archives, a long-time friend of the professor asked, “If you ever see anything from his lecture on the will of God, save it for me, make me a copy of it, please.”

It has been claimed that if a church offers a study group on “how to know the will of God for your life,” people will flock to it, and some will come back again and again, whenever it is offered.  (Dallas Willard)

D’you suppose this is still the case?  Do devoted followers of the Master still strive to know what the plan is for their lives?  And day to day? I wonder if younger generations of Christians – people my juniour – are as much interested as many of us have been.

Seeking God’s will for my life was a basic thing I was taught, by all the methods of my local Baptist Church, as I grew up. Something God had were plans for my whole life, and for each day.  A path to be revealed.  Right ways and wrong ways to choose.

Amid the serious warnings of Ephesians ch. 5 – about moral behaviour and sensible communication – the letter-writer says:  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Along with the generic morals and ethics of human life that we seek to know and live by, are the particular things for me to do, for you to do, that please God.  That’s the way it is, ain’t it?

Our grandson is four years old today.  When he comes to visit, he is very active.  He spends a lot of time doing things that are completely within the will of Nana Sharon and Papa Jeff, though we often don’t need to tell him just what to do.  He wants to play hockey in the hallway, with his net, hockey sticks, puck, and little soccer balls, and a few other toys.  Fine.  Then he goes to tap on the piano.  Then he comes to the kitchen for a snack.  Next he gets out a remote control car.  Fine.  He is free and within our will.  Now, when it is time for bed, or time to leave, he may want something else. Then, Nana and Papa’s will gets enforced. 🙂  Much of the time he is free to do whatever his enthusiastic heart desires.  

We read a contemporary wording of Psalm 23 today, and we focus upon that common biblical picture, of being a sheep of the Good Shepherd.  Every Sunday the choir and I are here, and get to gaze at a stained-glass image of a pale, european-looking Shepherd holding a sheep.  The church I grew up in also had a stained-glass picture of Jesus as a shepherd with sheep.

We who know this experience – the church experience – get to know this Good Shepherd and sheep paradigm.  Jesus speaks this: I know the sheep and the sheep know me.  The sheep know the Shepherd’s voice.  They don’t heed strangers.

Indeed.  It is a great image.  And if we think about it for a minute, we realize something about the guidance and the freedom of sheep with a shepherd.

Let me tell you a bit of a story I may have told before; I’m not sure.  One of the many stories out there about a children’s Christmas pageant.  This one is set in a Presbyterian Church in the Midwest.  Every child who wanted a part in the play, got a part…

Then there were the sheep: a couple dozen three-, four-, and five-year-olds who had on wooly, fake- sheepskin vests with wooly hoods and their dads’ black socks pulled up on their arms and legs. The Pageant was a lot of things, but smooth it wasn’t. And one of the chief problems was these very sheep… The only sheep most suburban kids have ever seen are on the front of Sunday church bulletin covers: peaceful, grazing sheep who just stand there and look cute and cuddly.

Half of the kids here live on farms. They’ve seen real sheep, many of them. They know that sheep don’t just stand there. They know that sheep don’t often follow directions. They know that sheep are dumb. They know that all sheep want to do is eat.

So, when the young mothers casually instructed the two dozen sheep to act like sheep, they really should have known better. Some of the sheep started to do a remarkable imitation of grazing behind the communion table. Some wandered over by the choir to graze, and others went down the center aisle. Some of them had donuts they found in the church parlor to make the grazing look even more realistic. When one of the shepherds tried to herd them a bit with his shepherd’s crook, some of the sheep spooked and started to scatter just like real sheep do. Everybody knows that’s how sheep act. It was, in fact, a remarkable imitation of sheep behaviour, even though a bit out of the ordinary for a Christmas Pageant. (Michael Lindvall, Good News from North Haven, 1992, pp).  

Sheep guided by a shepherd have a lot of freedom to be sheep.  Even when the Shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and we, a Church, are the sheep.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.  Even the Shepherd’s grace and mercy shall pursue me, follow me, not lead me.  

So, the desire for the total will of God in our lives can go too far.  Trying to find out what pleases God, we can try too hard.  It is possible to try too hard to hear from the Holy Spirit.

Some Christians want a message-a-minute.  Every waking hour, every little chapter of the day, what is the will of God?  I knew a person who was rather obsessed with this – looking for the Spirit to guide her every step, every choice, moment by moment.  And she thought she was getting that kind of guidance.  

But I have also met those meek folk who seem so fearful and guilty of doing little things wrong every day.  Not saying the right thing to the person she met at the post office.  Saying the wrong thing when so-and-so called on the phone.  A day of probably many, many sins against the mysterious will of God for that individual’s life!

Some believers want to say it’s all in the Bible.  Every bit of guidance we need is here, and everything here is guidance for my life and yours.  No wonder people through all the centuries have played Bible roulette, finding specific divine guidance by pointing their finger at a random page.  

Other folk want to believe whatever comes is God’s will. God is sovereign, in control, King of the world, and God’s will will be done.  Something good happens – God is blessing us.  Something bad happens – God means it for good in the future, or is at least teaching us a lesson now.  

This can take us to a point of not being responsible anymore for our actions, for our life.  Everything is of God: God’s will, God’s plan, God’s guidance.  Every prayer ends with “if it be Your will, Lord,” and so, whatever happens must be God’s will, because God stops all the wrong things from happening.  Only God is left responsible for what happens in our lives.  

As ordinary sheep in the pasture of our Extraordinary Shepherd, we still have a lot of freedom, within the plans of God for us, within our guidelines.  God gives us responsibility, and options, all the time.  God wants us to take initiative, to choose, to enjoy freedom

We sat at Jesus feet today, and heard his Parable of the Talents, recorded in Matthew 25.  Oh, what a chapter that is, with its three big stories from Christ.  Today’s, read by Peter, is a story of investment and initiative and responsibility.  Many a preacher and Bible teacher has instructed us on the skillful talents we have, and how they should be used.  Being musical, or organized, or personable, or prayerful.  The story is about pieces of money called ‘talents.’  Perhaps we should call it the parable of the loonies.  Except one ‘talent’ was worth far more than a labourer would make in a whole year.  

Anyway, it is the slaves given more money, who invested it, used it, and made more, who are commended.  The one who did nothing but keep the one loonie safe is scolded.  He failed.  

Did he do the will of the master?  When the master left them all in charge of things, they were not told what to do.  They were left with freedom.  Freedom to take some initiative, to make their own plans and see them through.  The one slave who simply kept his loonie hidden away failed… failed to take initiative and do something worthwhile.  And he could not be trusted with more the next time.  But the slave who used 5 loonies well was given more.  That servant was creative and did what seemed good, without being told what to do.

I shall always remember Industrial Arts in high school.  One year, grade 9, I suppose, we were in a new woodworking shop.  I think our teacher’s favourite word was ‘initiative.’  It was his agenda, along with the skills of the woodshop, to inspire initiative in us boys.  (Yes, in 1985 it was only boys in Industrial Arts.)  Figure out something to do next, without being told.  

Our Creator God is like my teacher then – a Creator who wants us to become creators.  Wants to mold us, more and more, into people who can take new paths and decide on the next steps for ourselves.  It takes time, and training, and sometimes even testing of our initiative.  It is our character development.

I think Jesus got at this one other time. Again, we have to put ourselves back in time, into an old culture of slaves and masters.  There, Jesus once asked, “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”  (Lk 17:7-10)

When we have done only what God has dictated for us to do, we are not to be commended?  There is more for us to do than what God decrees. Yes, indeed.

God is very pleased when we are at a stage to be trusted with more.  More responsibility.  More of our own decisions that are still within ‘the will of God.’  More initiative to live the good life in the Kingdom of God in the here and now.  

John 8:31, 32 Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  

It pleases God to give us freedom.  To train us for freedom.  To welcome us as apprentices in the divine woodshop.  Learning the ways of the Carpenter, and learning to be creative.  

May God’s Kingdom come: God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  It pleases God to set us free.