The Sunday Sermon: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 9, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 5:21-24
Judged By Love
God is doing something new all during this time we’ve been waiting. We remembered that last week. And upon remembering we pledged to “perceive” this new thing, these new things … God is doing. But, I feel like we can’t perceive any newness – truly discern and understand anything God is doing – unless, and until, we come to terms with our lives – the way we’re living and the way we should be living. So, this morning, we’re going to examine ourselves so that we may more fully perceive and live into the Way of Christ and the Will of God.
Pray with me … And listen for the Word of God. Read Matthew 5:21-24. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
First be reconciled to your brother or sister …
In the middle of the month of March our country reluctantly stepped into quarantine because of a virus that we knew very little about. We learned much about it in the months that followed, but we remain fearful of all we still don’t know. Very quickly we turned to our computers, our social media pages, recorded and drive-in worship services, and a new thing for almost all of us, Zoom video conferencing (remember when Zoom was kind of fun?!), all to help us preserve some sense of connection and normalcy.
My weekly Wednesday letters began as an attempt to “stay connected” with all of you and you with one another. These letters are emailed to all but six members, who receive their letters sent through the postal service. In those letters, twenty-two of them now, I have read and shared thoughts about how we, as Christians, should be responding to a pandemic that none of us saw coming or were in any practical way prepared for. It was, and still is, important to consider our faith and our beliefs because there are those who are calling us to answer for our “God”! If “God,” then why?!
One of my first quarantine letters noted essentially “ours is not to reason why.” Instead, inspired by others in my profession, I lifted up the biblical tradition of lament in such times as these. Other readings and writings and sermons I’ve offered suggested that we couldn’t answer the questions of “why”, in any case. What we can and must do is follow our Lord – serving and helping others, living and offering life, loving and being loved in these times. Both of these approaches are right to observe in the face of a catastrophe like the coronavirus. But then …
About 12 weeks after we “settled in” our country exploded: days and nights of protests that continue to this day; marches, damage to property, chants, downed statues, arrests, tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, real bullets, and thousands of people on the streets of our cities and towns outraged at the killing of more black people by those sworn to serve and protect. Our “catastrophe” was compounded. So this week I wondered: Are lament and open wondering the best we Christians have to offer?
I wondered it myself because I read about it through another Presbyterian pastor’s article in one of this month’s Christian Century (CC) magazines. The Reverend Bailey Pickens’ piece about the judgment of God in this time stretches my theology and the teachings I most regularly share with all of you. I almost always reject any idea of “Divine Testing”, or the thought that GOD is challenging us with the trials we face. In my experience, this almost always makes GOD out to be a monster when all is said and done. Likewise, I almost always understand any explanation of “Divine Punishment” as our own need – not GOD’s – to understand and explain the inexplicable. But Bailey points out that in so doing, in discarding these less desirable aspects of GOD so easily, I (we) close the door to the elephant in the room: Divine Judgment. With “fear and trembling” he faces the elephant and asks us all to do the same.
I know what you’re thinking right now: Is Pastor Joel really going to talk about Divine Judgment? I am, with no small amount of my own fear and trembling. And as I do, I’ll remind you that when we talk about Divinity, we’re not discussing some punitive deity far from us. Rather, we’re talking about Love and Perfection, that a part of us. Divine judgment is perfect judgment, judgment that calls us to ways of life that offer life to all. Please keep that in mind.
Because judgement has been used “clumsily and callously” as it pertains to GOD, Bailey notes, in misguided attempts to comfort some or frighten others. That’s because we almost always focus our attention on the results of judgment – “punishment” or “reward.” But judgment, biblically and faithfully speaking, is actually sufficient to itself. Judgment itself isn’t “good” or “bad”. It’s “simply” the unavoidable working out of the decisions we make, of what has “happened” as a result of what we “did.” We don’t need, and probably shouldn’t, “judge” judgment, it just … is what it is. The result of what we’ve done or left undone.
Judgment asks and answers the question of one of the first humans: Am I my brother’s or my sister’s keeper? Judgment in our faith tradition says, quite innocently, “Yes.” And the whole bible proceeds to agree. We assign positive or negative qualities on our judgment based on what we “believe” is the right thing to do. When we do the right thing, we judge ourselves and others well. When we do the wrong thing, we judge ourselves and others more harshly.
And this is where Judgment meets us in our present pandemic and social unrest.
Because Jesus did and because the Bible tells us so and because our experience has showed it to be “good,” we believe that we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers, that we bear responsibility for other’s fates. The well-being of others can come about through our positive engagement in their lives. Likewise, the suffering of others can, and should, be considered our “fault,” if – and when – we don’t do all we can to alleviate or eliminate it. We may translate that in our current state of affairs with practices like these: Wear a mask and stay socially-distanced; speak up at injustice and step up to challenge and change it.
The reason we don’t like divine judgment is that it is rare in these days that our own comfort and convenience don’t come at a cost to someone else – the waitress, the store clerk, people of color, or those with little economic means. And our God, our Lord, and our Holy Scripture give little hope to the comfortable among us to believe that we will not be “called to account (judged) for the hardship and distress of others” (23). And that accounting, our judgment, does not wait for “the next life.” It was never meant to. It is meant for this life so we can continue to live as we do when our living is judged as righteous and merciful, and we can change the way we live when our living comes up short!
COVID-19 deaths and deaths at the hands of police are not judgments on those who die. They are judgements on those of us who live. They are judgments on those of us who live in a world that considers some human lives – sick or poor, black or brown – as more expendable than others. Our Divine Judgment is that “given the option, we choose not to see” (24).
We choose not to see those who are dying for the sake of our economy.
We choose not to see how wrong it is to blame our situation on other countries, or certain populations, or specific individuals.
We choose not to see the legacies that continue to enrich some while impoverishing others.
We are judged, then, by Love. And we should be … So we can change.
Lament and open wondering are only part of what Christianity – the most powerful religion in the country and the one most nonreligious people are likely to no longer believe – has to offer. Maybe more will stay, return, or discover our Way if we can speak more effectively of judgment and accountability and responsibility. And if we can change.
We’ll engage that “hope” – the transformation of our lives – next week. This week spend some more time judging your life by Love’s standard. How are you living with and for your brother or sister.
“Judge” your living so you will ready to change.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 9, 2020
 Pickens, Bailey. “A Time of Judgment: Seeing our Sin in Disastrous Year,” The Christian Century. July 29, 2020. 23.