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The Just Judge

August 30, 2020

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‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father,
and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.

Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death
before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

Todays gospel comes in that portion in St Matthews gospel
where Jesus’ TRUE IDENITY is revealed
Jesus- standing amidst them- tells them that He is THE central pivot in a story
that encompasses all human life.
A story that moves inexorably towards the END.- the apocalypse.
timelessness, death, judgment, hell, and/or heaven.

his disciples are challenged to believe in him and act on their belief

That credal challenge remains central to the Christian faith….
yet as I trawled fifteen commentaries I found barely a passing comment on these verses.

You want to know why?

Because being essentially teleological and apocalyptic the Christian faith
Whilst pretty challenging for the disciples-
is doubly so for the modern mind.

In the cold light of day verses like those I just read can be for some-
a source of scepticism &embarrassment.

You’d be surprised at those for whom that is true…

Bultmann, Barth, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Rahner – all major C20th theologians –
all either entirely glide over ideas of personal survival after death
or recalibrate it with…. metaphysical doodling
The best of them concoct an End that is, at least, decently abstract
but not one what anyone would eagerly look forward to
let alone be martyred for.

Of course- on the other hand there are lots of examples of lesser figures
drawing up more exact- and exacting pictures- of judgment
but which ever way you swing it,
it appears that- in this regard at least-Christianity finds itself in a double bind:

On the one hand the idea of a personal God responsible for creating a world with so much evil logically requires the idea of an afterlife
in which things are rectified and compensated for ….

On the other hand traditional concepts of that afterlife
apparently pose a challenge to intelligent belief

and the modern alternatives- if you can understand them at all-
don’t capture the popular imagination.

As with so many aspects of our modern world- the lines of WB Yeats neatly hit the nail on the head:

The best lack all conviction
While the worst are full of passionate intensity

Well Im here to speak up for conviction….
I put it to you that without a proper account of the fourth clause of the creed
( the judgment of the quick and the dead)
And without the final lines about (the life of the world to come)
I don’t think our faith adds up.

Instead- I suggest we double down on our beliefs
rekindle our conviction in the creeds
– And start to take Jesus words in the Gospel seriously again.

There are several reasons for belief- and here are but two
better reflection- and action.

First, – regardless of its popularity-
the eternal perspective provides rich grounds for reflection.

Existential and practical. Personal and political.

The second coming- the final judgment- the view from our our end- our telos

These are perspectives that can offer a unique take on our choices and lives.
What am I like? What am I like when no one is watching?
What am I making of my talents? How am I reacting to suffering?
What will all that look like in the final reckoning?

The long view can liberate us to understand and experience life in a new light…
God’s love can burn away our guilt and self-judgment

I think could do dar worse than to grow a healthy trepidation of how we might measure up & I think we would do very well indeed
to develop our own thoughts & plans in light of that ultimate gaze.

And of course- the lives of others too… even the most desperate ones…

What is Gods view of the life of Abdul- fatah Hamdallah I wonder?
A child of the Sudanese wars- Abdul’s life led him to get in a dinghy with his friend, to cross the channel to find a better life….

A few weeks ago his childhood friend was found with hyperthermia back on the French Coast . …….Abdul Fatah perished.

What is it true to think, & say & do about their plight?
What sense can we make of it?

I suggest again- the answer is-
a lot more in light of God’s ultimate Love and Mercy.
His truth and JUST JUDGMENT.

Whatever the situation and whatever the challenge-
we all know that it can be HARD to get our heads around modern life

I suggest that we rekindle our convictions
because they can shed REAL light on all kinds important questions
in a way that no other perspective can.

Secondly- these… apocalyptic… aspects of our faith
provide the proper basis- not just for thinking-
but for radical Christian ACTION

“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good”
says St Paul in the epistle…

Whilst during the pandemic we dig ever deeper into introspective culture wars,
That refugee crisis continues

Elsewhere the Chinese Government- to take another egregious evil-
have demolished Hong Kongs democracy and invaded India….

As we, in the West appear more interested in trawling the past
for people who don’t live up to our present high standards so we can out them
Government actions against Uyghur Muslims in China have tipped into genocide and hardly anything seems to be done.

Barak Obama – famously used to proclaim that
“the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice”

Quoting Martin Luther King- Obama was trying to offer hope by suggesting that the future will inevitably be better …. with or without God…..

So much for the audacity of hope.
Denuded of its religious basis in these creeds
that statement is neither true nor is it what King actually believed .

King knew that hope for a just order is neither natural nor inevitable.
It is only gifted and guaranteed in and because of- Christ’s Kingly reign.

I wish we would collectively remember that we have actually received,
(amongst our mixed inheritance),
the very tools we require
to understand and confront these genuine evils of our time.

These outlandish claims of Jesus Christ-
and the hopeful, and bright perspective that they offer
are chief among those tools

For his own part- King was always at pains to point out
that a realisation of the Kingdom of Jesus in the present
requires rootedness in a future-facing faith
as well as a good dose of optimistic resolve.

And its not just Him or me. Four Chapters before the todays epistle,
St Paul, Strikes a similarly holistic note
connecting again our earthly liberation and our heavenly destiny.

The creation itself will be set free from its bondage
And brought into the glorious liberty of the Children of God

Throughout Romans belief, thought and action build upon each other
and draw us forward into God’s will for the world.

Belief in Gods fulfilling judgment and love
nourishes the reflection that comes after
and necessitates the consequent actions,
which St Paul develops in todays reading…

“let love be genuine”; Paul finally says in Chapter 12-
“hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
10love one another with mutual affection;
outdo one another in showing honour.

These actions can’t be untethered from the belief in a Coming Son of Man and the judgement and promise which that belief entails. It is not a buffet!

In light of that End- which one way or another-somehow and somewhere-
has been won and now is coming, St Paul is able to say:

11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.12
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 1
3Contribute to the needs of the saints;
extend hospitality to strangers….”

I don’t know about you but I think that is a great vision of life
I think it is worth believing in and living up to…

But its worth remembering that that is not just any old ‘vision’ :
Its outcome is not inevitable and its moving parts are not dispensable.

Indeed this a particularly Christian vision exactly because
the end result and the steps to get there and those who are on the Way
are all so dynamically connected in Christ .

This particular vision necessarily involves us.
It requires of us -action. It requires thought.
And first- it requires of us- belief.

So I think we should stop being so coy about it….
And I think we should give Mr Yeats pause for thought
and say together with passionate conviction:

Yes- I believe that he shall come to judge to quick and the dead.