Judgement Ain't All Bad... (Jeremiah 33.14-16. Luke 21.25-36)
Lost sometimes amongst the twinkling lights of this festive time of year is the season of Advent. A season when the church traditionally looks at meaty subjects such as heaven and hell, the eschaton (that’s the last things to me and you) and the judgement.
As human beings the thought of eternity scares us. Some of us have probably got some idea of what eternity is like, if you’ve ever been to deanery synod for example. That seems to go on for an eternity. I joke of course.
The theme I’d like to explore with you today is just that, the theme of judgement.
Judgement often brings about a sort of, hand wringing embarrassment in some Christian circles. The judgement has been used as a tool to control people for centuries.
Before the Reformation English Churches, like this very one would’ve been covered in pictures for the illiterate to see.
Many would’ve contained gruesome images of what awaited those who didn’t believe the right stuff after death, or even worse, those who didn’t know their place in the created order.
Judgement has been used as a tool, time and time again to silence dissenting opinions, and then there’s the judgementalism found in the church itself.
Judgement has a very negative image in secular culture, most people when you mention the judgement think of nutters on street corners shouting that they’re going to hell, we’ve all seen them on Gentleman’s walk. Or they think of a cruel and hateful god who condemns people to an eternity of torment because they love someone who is the same gender as them, or because they’ve made a mistake or done something wrong in their lives.
If these are the things that come into your head when I say the word judgement, then I don’t blame you. Dante’s inferno certainly didn’t help!
I think that judgement has got a bad press, and the scriptures that are set for today I think can show judgement in a very different light to those traditional misconceptions.
I believe in God’s judgement, but it’s a judgement in and through and with love that I believe in.
I’m not sure if you can be Christian if you don’t believe in some sort of judgement. Judgement is fundamentally about justice, and not our justice as some might believe, but God’s justice, which is totally beyond, totally wider, bigger and better than what we think of as justice.
Judgement is not something we need to be afraid of, and remember there are different sides to judgement, in our favour and against. It could be that God judges in favour of us! Really, God could quite like you actually. I mean he did die on the cross for you.
In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, before our reading, God turns away from the people of Israel because of their sinfulness. He doesn’t abandon them, but because of their sinfulness there are terrible consequences that happen to them. I believe this is a natural consequence of their sin, rather than God specifically sending punishment upon them.
Even though the relationship was broken, God turns back towards Israel and in this part of Jeremiah, known as the book of consolation, God reassures Israel that it’s not always going to be like this.
There is an Eschatological promise, brilliant word, which means a promise beyond the end of time, for all time that they will be saved, that God will come for them.
God is all about rebuilding, cleansing and forgiving, which I know sounds a bit like a Diocesan tag line. That’s what God is doing, and does through Jesus. Jeremiah 33 talks about an eternal created order in the New Covenant. God has got us.
True justice, true judgement is about restoring and reconciling, not smashing and destroying.
A mum and her child were walking along the pavement the other day while I was cycling, and I heard the mum say to her daughter “it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, mummy and daddy will always love you.”
If humans are capable of doing this, then I think God probably is.
God doesn’t want to smash us into bits, God doesn’t hate us.
Judgement is a frightening notion. It’s frightening that we will stand before God and
God will show us everything we’ve ever done. To gaze upon God and in the light of that love, see the damage we’ve caused will be hard.
You know when there’s someone you really love and respect, and you let them down, and you have to tell them it to their face, and you see the disappointment they feel, they look at you, and you look at them. You’re so sorry that it aches inside of you, and you wish you could climb out of your skin. I think judgement might be a little bit like that.
We don’t have to be frightened. God tells us over and over again do not be afraid. It’s one of the most common phrases in the bible. Like a good figure who we love, God will forgive us when we’re sorry for what we’ve done.
As Jesus said in our Gospel reading “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
We can look for our judgement with confidence, that we will be heard, and we will be saved.
Jesus will come back, and for some it will be overwhelming, but it will be a sign of hope. It will be the sign of our redemption. Just like in Isaiah Jesus will say to us
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”
From the lesson of the fig tree that we heard today, we will not pass away. God, just like his promises to Israel, refuses to abandon us. Not on my watch, says God.
So let’s talk about God’s judgement more, because it’s not inherently bad. It doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily condemned.
Jesus asks us to be attentive to his coming again. We have to pray with confidence and be on our guard.
Prayer is nothing without action, and God encourages us to seek his Justice. That is, justice that reconciles, restores and cleanses.
We will be judged, and it will be difficult, but God’s judgement is kind, merciful and understanding. As it says in Hebrews “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
In the end, we’re not exactly sure what will happen at the judgement, all I know is that it’s not us who decides what happens. So stay awake, be sure of God’s love for you, and do justly and love one another which is his will.
Preached at St Helen's Bishopgate, Norwich
2nd December 2018