“‘Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”’” (Matt. 25:34)(+)
Today is the last Sunday of the church year.As the church closes her calendar, her thoughts turn to the close of the age and the beginning of eternity. Just as the coming of Jesus in the humbleness of the Bethlehem manger marked the transition from the time of the Old Covenant to that of the New, so the coming of Jesus in the glory of the Last Judgment will mark the transition from the time of this world to the timelessness of the next.I don’t feel comfortable talking very much about the Judgment because Jesus doesn’t reveal too much about the Judgment.That’s God’s business not ours, and Jesus often warns against the presumptiveness of those who would forget this fact. I think an awful lot of the corruption and conceit of religion is because we try to interfere with God’s business of judgment and try rather feebly to predict how God will act.Jesus points us in another direction when it comes to this subject, not so much God’s act of judgment, but how we are to prepare for that judgment.This is no where more clear than in today’s Gospel selection where Jesus has us concentrate on what we do here and now for each other.This is what we can and should focus on, and try to leave the rest in the hands of God.
When it comes to the Judgment, Jesus has tried to have us concentrate our efforts where they can make a difference.We human beings are born procrastinators.Have homework to do over the weekend, wait until Sunday night.The US budget is getting out of control, wait until the next generation has to deal with the problem.We’ve known at least since the 1970’s about our dependence upon oil, but here we are almost 40 years later and it’s worse not better. We’re all bombarded by health alerts.The H1N1 virus gave us a scare this year, but even if it was as bad as the worse-case scenario imagined, it wouldn’t have been as dangerous as a lot of other health and safety issues that we choose to ignore until it’s too late.We know that cholesterol can lead to heart disease, the number one killer of Americans, but too many people keep eating the wrong foods in the wrong amounts.A lot more people are going to die from heart conditions than from H1N1, but we still hold off on changing our ways.I’m sick of hearing about cancer.It’s everywhere.It’s done quite a job in my family.We know what we can do to lessen the risks of getting cancer like more exercise and less meat, but too many of us, including myself, wait too long to do anything about it.We are procrastinators, and Jesus is trying to shake us out of this wait-until-later attitude at least when it comes to the Judgment.
It’s not our prerogative to decide how God will judge so we shouldn’t waste too much time thinking about it, but it is up to us on what we will be judged.Seven years ago, you may remember, 14 year old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her own bedroom.This idea of a child being kidnapped right from her own home made parents shiver all across the country.Because of this her story became personal for millions of us.Eventually her kidnappers were captured.They were a husband and wife, Brian and Wanda Mitchell.The wife has just been sentenced in federal court on these kidnapping charges.After she pled guilty, she apologized to Elizabeth Smart and her family.Elizabeth reported that there were times during her captivity when Wanda became upset with her husband over his treatment of this teenaged girl, but Elizabeth also said that sentiment would never last and that the wife never did anything more than get upset.How much is that “I’m sorry” worth when it meant nothing after Elizabeth had been freed compared to what dialing 9-1-1 would have meant when Elizabeth was still being held captive?
Jesus is trying to tell us the same thing today.Don’t be like the pitiful characters in his parable who after they are condemned for leading uncharitable lives whine before God because He noticed.Instead, says Jesus, don’t wait until it’s too late.We should do what we all know is right and good now when it matters, when it makes a real difference.These words of Jesus today are a parable just like the other parables Jesus told.And we know it’s a parable because there are actually two stories combined into one here.Traces of the first story are heard when Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats.At this point we should have expected to hear reference to a shepherd.Instead, we hear about a king.That’s from the second story.This is not intended by Jesus to be a preview of the actual Judgment because then the confusion of the stories would transfer into the confusion of God’s actions, and we know that God can’t be confused.Again, judgment is God’s business and not ours.The importance of the parable is not in the details of its description, but rather in its message.When Jesus talks about the parable of the Prodigal Son, for instance, we’re not supposed to think this actually happened.We’re supposed to learn about the forgiving nature of God and hopefully of ourselves in imitation of God.When Jesus tells us the parable about the separation of the sheep and the goats by the king, we’re not peeking into heaven’s chambers.We’re getting a lesson about doing what we can now when our actions matter, and not waiting until it’s too late and all we can do is whine.
[Manna Soup Kitchen and too many volunteers!].Next Sunday we will start accepting donations for Adopt-a-Family and the USO for Christmas.We will all pass by the Salvation Army kettles at some point.We will all have opportunities this Thanksgiving Day to say “thank you” not only to God but to those around us.As we walk into church, we can drop a can in the collection for the SurvivalCenter, or as we leave we can drop some change for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.We can be kind and forgiving, patient and open-minded.We can come to church for God above and for all of us here. We can be the people to whom Jesus says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.” But it all depends on what we do now, not what we whine about later.And for this willingness to act now when it matters and makes a difference, for this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)