Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Looking Forward to Judgment

Like many people, we make the Olympics a nightly feature in our house. Most of the events are decided immediately. Swimmers' times show up as soon as the race is over, and basketball games end clearly and decisively. But a few sports are decided by the opinions of judges, and, although even a casual watcher can tell when a gymnast falls off the beam and when a diver makes a big splash, there are moments of real drama as we wait to see whether an individual's score will be high enough to take first place. A few nights ago, when the world waited to see whether American gymnast and reigning all-around champion Gabby Douglas would score high enough on the beam to overtake fellow American gymnast Aly Raisman and earn the final spot in the 2016 all-around competition, the delay was agonizing--even for a fan sitting at home. I can only imagine how it feels to wait and wait and wait when it's your score or your competitor's score that the judges are mulling over.

Judgment delayed is judgment denied. That's not what Dr. King actually said, of course, but, when I read this Sunday's gospel lesson (Luke 12:49-56), that's what comes to mind. Jesus tells us that he has come to bring fire to the earth, "and how I wish it were already kindled!" Most of us don't think of sweet, loving, blue-eyed Jesus as being excited about bringing judgment to the earth. Likewise, most of us don't wish that God's judgment would come quickly. That's because most of us have the luxury of enjoying the life we life now and, after weighing it in the balance, are quite happy to put off God's wheat-and-chaff division until another day. But those of us who are happy with the life we have aren't the ones that Jesus came to save. He came to bring new life to those who need it, and, if we're not looking forward to judgment, then we're not looking forward to the coming of God's kingdom. And we all know what happens to those who fail to keep watch.

Jesus is ready for the fullness and completeness of God's kingdom to reign here on earth. He knows that it will be decisive because it does not allow for middle ground. In the kingdom, there is no gray--only black or white, only justice, only righteousness. God's judgment is the ultimate quickening agent. It draws out of all creation the ultimate expression of in or out. It's what turns fathers against sons and sons against fathers, mothers against daughters and daughters against mothers, mothers-in-law against daughters-in-law and daughters-in-law against mothers-in-law. When God's judgment comes, there are no courts of review. There are no appeals to a replay. The waiting for clarity is over.

Preachers like me are afraid of Luke 12:49-56 because we are afraid of preaching the power and hopefulness of God's judgment. We are afraid of saying that the world would and will be better when God's judgment comes and the rich become poor, the proud are brought low, and the strong are driven to their knees. We are afraid because the life that we and the members of our congregations live aren't the kinds of lives that are desperate for God's judgment--at least not on the surface. But I suspect that most of us carry a brokenness inside that needs healing. Even if we are among the world's richest 1%, there is a poverty of spirit that nags at us. God's judgment is a good thing--a very good thing indeed. It is ultimate hope through ultimate disruption. Remember what it means to wait on judgment. Remember what it means to hope for God's justice. Preach that hope and give us something to cling to.

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