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In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Judgement”

The end things, or Eschaton in Greek, can be categorized in two parts, the individual and the general.

The individual part of the End of Days is the story of our own soul:  Death, our individual judgement, and then either Heaven or Hell.  These are the Four Last Things.  It is the story of our souls at our individual end according to Scripture, especially in the Gospels.

The general part of the End of Days is the story of the entire cosmos, or Creation:  The approach of the End, the resurrection of the body, the general judgment, and the final consummation of all things, new Heaven and new Earth.  This story is told throughout Scripture but especially in the Revelation of St. John.

So, when we speak of Christ’s judgement of our souls in the end, we mean two things, His judgement of each of us upon our deaths and His judgment of all of us at His Second Coming.

Today, let us consider the individual judgement, Christ’s judgement of our soul upon our death.

 

Think of that for a moment.  As if death is not scary and awful enough, we will undergo judgement before the throne of Christ immediately following our death.  We will draw our last breath, our soul will be ripped apart from our body, and then Christ will judge our earthly life.  Christ will justly judge each immediately separated soul and determine its eternal home.

This is eminently logical, but nevertheless quite dreadful.  For no matter how loving and holy a person we are, and so very few of us can say that, not a single one of us is as loving and holy so to not have horrible sins for which Christ will damn us.

We do not like to admit it, and perhaps some of us never admit it, but we do not live our lives as if we are in the presence of Christ.  Maybe we think that God has more important things to do than concern himself with our little lives.  Maybe we act like functional atheists, living our daily lives like God did not exist, not praying to him, not thanking him for our blessings, and doing what we will as if we were not going to be judged.  Maybe we don’t really understand what we mean by “God” – not thinking of him personally so that we could love him, maybe thinking of God as some kind of divine principle or force.

Did you notice what I left out?  I left out living in our sin because we don’t care what will happen to us in the future so long as we get our pleasure now; living like we are junkies only concerned about getting our next fix, not giving a thought for the consequences of doing so.

Sin is enticing.  If sin were not so tasty, hardly anybody would sin.  Adam and Eve were set not only for life but for eternity in the Garden, but sin was so tasty to them that they risked it all and suffered death and misery just for a taste.

Sin makes us stupid.  We love our sin.  We love our greediness.  We love our booze and pills.  We love our prideful disdain of others.  We love talking behind each other’s backs.  We love sin.  So we focus on our beloved sin instead of Christ and His judgement.

 

Some object to being judged upon our deaths on theological grounds.  Some Protestants hold that the dead fall asleep and wake up at the Second Coming of Christ to be judged in the general judgement then.  But when we read the Holy Scriptures, we see that this is not the case.

In St. Luke xxiii.43, Christ says to the penitent thief, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  The penitent thief was about to die, to suffer the separation of his soul from his body which is the curse of our sinful ancestors and his own vile sin.  And after that death, according to our Lord’s own words, that that soul was to be with God in paradise.

Also in 2 Corinthians v.8, we see St. Paul speak of the faithful Christian, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”  The godly Christian, when he is then absent from his body, is present with Christ.  In other words, the faithful and just Christian is present with the people of God here on earth and with God himself in Heaven.  You go from the one state to the other.

We also see in the parable of Lazarus and Dives that each has undergone judgement upon their deaths.  While this is a parable, its setting keeps with Christ’s words to the penitent thief and St. Paul’s words of encouragement to the faithful.  We die, and then we are judged by God.

 

How will we be judged?  We will be judged by faith and by our actions.  Indeed, perhaps the particular judgement may not be Christ sitting on His throne waiting for our death and then sitting as the judge of our souls.  Instead, the moment of our death may be the end of our chance to alter our eternal destination.  For we will have then had the chance to call upon Christ as our Savior, the chance to respond to God’s election of us in Holy Baptism, and the chance to live holy, loving, and morally upright lives here on earth.  Thus, judgement is also a reckoning.  It is the working out of God’s eternal self and law upon us, his creation.

 

Our closing hymn today sums up our end with Christ’s end; that is, it matches our holy response to Christ’s work among us with Christ’s Second Coming.  Instead of death, sin, and Hell, instead we sing:

Yea, Amen!  Let all adore thee,

High on thine eternal throne;

Saviour, take the power and glory;

Claim the kingdom for thine own;

Judgement is that mechanism, that decision-making process that aligns our end with the end of the Cosmos.  Our glory in Christ, which is our salvation from sin and entrance into everlasting life with God Almighty, our glory in Christ is but a part of Christ’s glory in epic cosmic victory, banishing forever the powers of wickedness and sin and triumphing eternally in loving-kindness, mercy, and peace with the Triune God, the glorious angels of Heaven, and all the faithful saints.

But Judgment recognizes that all this glory is not a given; it is worked for.  God the Son worked for this glory by suffering the indignity of becoming a mere man as a babe in a manger in Bethlehem, by living the life of a mortal man, of suffering His Passion, of experiencing excruciating death, rising again, defeating death forever, and Ascending into Heaven.  You and I work for it by believing in Christ, joining with Him in His Body the Church so that He can save us, and conforming our sinful lives to His holy life.

Both experience and Scripture show us that we have a choice.  Many exterior forces work upon us, such as where we are born, the caliber of our family, the opportunities to hear the Gospel and so on.  Many interior forces work upon us, such as our mental health, the pain which afflicts us, our past sins, and so on.  Even with these exterior and interior forces working upon us, we still have the choice – even if it is a small one – to follow Christ and obey Him or not to follow Christ and disobey Him.  And what matters is not what we claim to do, but what we actually do, and Christ is the judge of that.

Judgement is Christ stopping the clock at our death and seeing what we have done with our lives.  He is with us every minute of every hour of every day of our life.  He is not ignorant of us when He judges us; He knows us intimately and loves us dearly.  But upon our death, when our soul rips away from our body, our time on Earth is done.  The moment of truth has arrived.  It is the same thing when Christ returns in power and great glory – our moment of truth has arrived.

What have we done with what He has given us?  That is the ultimate point of judgement.

And in the end, the discerner of hearts and lover of souls will decide if we would rather live without Him and thus go to Hell with the wicked angels and men, where God’s presence is withdrawn, or if we would rather live with Him and thus go to Heaven with the holy angels and men, to live in the presence of God for all eternity.

Sometimes we hear of meeting somebody half-way.  Christ has met us all the way.  He left His Heavenly home and come all the way down to earth to become one of us as a little baby that Christmas morning in Bethlehem.  Christ is the only way to God, for He is both man, like us, and God.  Our salvation absolutely and completely relies upon Him.  All our efforts are to become like Him, to help and not hinder Christ’s transformation of us into His divine image.  For Heaven is the home of the divine, and we must be perfectly holy to life with Him there.

At the Resurrection of the Dead, we will receive our new heavenly bodies.  But what about our souls?  We can do nothing about our future bodies now, but each one of us can make the most life-altering decisions about our souls today.

To be awarded Heaven when Christ judges our souls, we must be like Christ:  Pure of heart and innocent in deeds.  We must work with the Holy Ghost in transforming ourselves to Christ’s image by doing works of righteousness and confessing our sins when we fall.

 

In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Judgement

 

In the Tuesday night Bible study we have been reading the fifth chapter of St. Mark.  In this chapter, people fall down before Christ and worship Him.  One is a demoniac; another is a leader of the synagogue; the third is the woman with a hemorrhage.  Reading about them and studying the Gospel, I have often asked myself how they, alone of all the people around them, knew to bow before and worship Christ.

So when I think of the end of today’s Epistle, which recounts four Old Testament prophecies of Gentiles worshipping the Lord, I again wonder how folks recognize divinity and whom to worship.  I learned about God from my earliest days.  My mother first took me to church in her womb, I was Baptized as an infant, and I remember early days standing next to my father as he sang hymns in worship and praise of God.

I did not have to judge whether or not to give worship to God then.  But I had to do that later, as I was becoming a man.  Then I had to look around and figure out what all this foolishness was about.  I cannot speak to every person’s reasons, but I came to a lively faith in Christ as an adult after acknowledging the wisdom of my fathers, the logic of belief in philosophy, and, importantly, through the generous and self-sacrificing acts of love and goodness on the part of a Baptist coworker.

Did you see what I did?  I measured Christ and found that He fit.  This is a terribly arrogant thing to do, but in this world and in my life I needed convincing over and above my raising.  The same thing happened when I felt called to become a Catholic.  I had to use my judgement, poor as it was, to determine where God was calling me.  Indeed, I spent too long as an Episcopalian and could have become Anglican Catholic years before.  But I didn’t, which shows how we can make faulty judgements which God will correct over time.  We are never so old or so wise that our judgement is unimpaired and perfect.  We are never so old or so wise that we don’t need correction from time to time.

 

In the Office of Institution which the archbishop read right here almost two months ago, we read:

“And as a canonically instituted Priest into the Office of Rector of —— Parish, (or Church,) you are faithfully to feed that portion of the flock of Christ which is now intrusted to you; not as a man-pleaser, but as continually bearing in mind that you are accountable to us here, and to the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

According to the Book of Common Prayer and Archbishop Haverland, I am to bear in mind continually that I am accountable to him here on earth and to our Lord, “the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

An explicit part of my work here as rector is to hold myself up for judgement by our bishop and by Christ.  I shall be judged both here on earth and there on the Day of Doom, that is, the day of reckoning or day of judgement.

When we let ourselves be held accountable by others, we hold ourselves up for judgement.  Mrs. Gladys Fox and Mrs. Sam Nechtman have done excellent work straightening and keeping up our financial records over the past year and a half.  Last year, their work was scrutinized by a committee led by Mr. Leroy Walker for the explicit purpose of holding their work accountable.  They voluntarily held themselves up for judgement.  And their work was measured and judged to be excellent.  This is judgement.

 

When we behold the fig tree and see that it now shoots forth leaves, then we remember that trees shoot forth leaves during Spring.  Thus we arrive at the judgement that Summer is nigh at hand when the fig tree shoots forth leaves.

We measure the observed event by what we already know and that results in a judgement.  We observe that we have lied to our sweetheart, we remember that lying is a sin, and thus we derive from these two facts the fact that we have sinned.  This is what Christ refers to when He says in St. Matthew vii.1-2:  “Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

The measuring stick by which we judge others is the same one by which we shall be judged.  Therefore even being selfish, we ought to show others great all-encompassing mercy so that Christ will show us great mercy at the Last Judgement.

Yet we do not do this.  Oh, sometimes we do.  Perhaps we have grown more generous over time, a mark of spiritual maturity.  But we perceive things incorrectly.  Even the best and most spiritual Christian views himself with poor eyesight.  As St. Paul says in I Corinthians xiii.12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

We see through a glass darkly; we know only in part.  When we get to Heaven after Christ’s Judgement of us, then we shall see “face to face” and “know even as also I am known.”  But for now, we know imperfectly.  And we know ourselves less perfectly than we would ever suppose.

Indeed, each of us should understand that the “old man” inside of you, the struggling sinful man inside of you, keeps you from seeing yourself clearly.  If you hearken unto God’s Word and live the life of Christian adventure working diligently at your prayers and confessing your sins regularly, then you stand an excellent chance of understanding what is right and what is wrong.

But despite this, being a frail and fallible human being despite your wisdom and strength, you will misjudge yourself often and regularly.  We dare not trust our own judgement of ourselves.  And it is precisely because we shall be judged by Christ with the standards with which we have judged others that we may experience a profound grace from Christ regarding our failed confessions.  Showing mercy to our struggling brothers, sisters, and neighbors is how we judge in the loving-kindness with which Christ died for us on the Cross.

 

We must have compassion on our fellow creatures because we must adjust our judgement to Christ’s, and Christ is the Incarnate God, and, as St. John tells us, God is love.  This is why the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor.  The two are inextricably bound together, tighter than the tightest knot.  God created us to love us.  God came down to earth to love us and save us.  God taught us to love each other and to love him too.  If we would behold our vilest neighbor as Christ beholds him, then our hearts would melt with divine love.  We would give him the choicest seat, kill the fatted lamb, and put a ring on his finger.  We would never in a million years – which is but a drop in the bucket of eternity, by the way – keep recounting past acts in ways that exalt our own role and denigrate our neighbor.

And this is the type of thing I hear all the time in this parish.  I recognize it because it is one of my sins too.  But Christ will damn us for this sin if we do not release it.  We can have no part of it.  We must throw it down at the feet of Christ, fall on our knees, and say,

“ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

We must thrust aside all sins and naughtiness if we dare to face Christ with certainty on that Last Great Day, when Christ will pronounce truth and Judgement over all Mankind in general and over every single one of us in particular.

 

Therefore, we ought to do three things:

First, we must diligently search our hearts after studying the Holy Scriptures and bathing ourselves in prayer so that we may find and repent of the many sins which are weighing us down like stones in the pockets of a drowning man.

Second, we must relentlessly practice compassion and self-sacrificial loving-kindness with every single person in our lives, particularly in our families, in our parish, and in the faces of those whom we despise.  We must serve others by acting like servants for them alongside our Saviour Christ.

Third, we must conform our opinions, understandings, and judgements to those of Christ our Lord.  St. Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you like, it is not the Gospel you believe but yourselves.”  Each of us have parts of the Gospel which are hard for us to hear.  For some, it is holding on to a cherished notion.  For others, it is keeping score of offenses, real and imagined.  For others, it is living in anxiety and fear of the things of this world.  For yet others, it is trusting in this world’s goods instead of storing treasures in Heaven above.  We must acknowledge before God that He is greater than we are, that he is wiser than we are, that he is smarter than we are, and so we must conform ourselves to his holy self.

So:  Confess your sins, love thy neighbor, and conform to God.  Do these things, and you will be in far better shape to answer to Christ our God and our King, the great Judge Eternal, on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement, when the disposition of all men will be made for eternity.

 

“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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