It’s the stuff of fire and brimstone. The words we have heard this morning are just the ammunition a preacher needs to frighten his listeners. It’s what captivated the imaginations of medieval artists who depicted the words they heard on wall paintings in churches. Just take a trip to Easby near Richmond or Pickering and see just how vivid the images are.
Nowadays we tend to treat those wall paintings as historic artefacts, something to be gazed upon with curiosity and so we don’t take them too seriously. That might even be true when we think about judgement as a whole. If that’s so then our readings this morning invite us to think again.
In Hebrews we heard that ‘all are naked and laid bare to the one whom we must render an account.’
And then in our Gospel Jesus when asked ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ speaks of both the commandments but also more. His questioner is sent away ‘shocked’ and ‘grieving’ because though he has followed the commandments it isn’t enough.
So what to say this morning? Should I side step this theme of judgement as a rather inconvenient truth preferring to ignore it and say it doesn’t matter very much? In some ways that’s my instinctive response because I always want to talk about God’s grace, mercy and love.
And yet though we might think otherwise, these three words are at the heart of how we should understand judgement. For though thinking about judgement challenges us, this challenge is for our own good and helps us grow as followers of Christ. So I want to offer you a couple of thoughts as we think together.
Firstly then, and though it may seem like stating the obvious we need to take judgement seriously as something that will happen and so live ever mindful that what we do with our lives matters not just to us, our families and friends but also to God.
Of course we do live already knowing our wrong choices and failures, we do carry our wounds and know that we have fallen short of the glory of God. And yet we sometimes keep those wounds well hidden, put them in a little box safely tucked away and fear naming them.
Living with a sense of the judgement to come though invites us to risk opening the box and be honest about our lives. For in confronting what we find, we are both preparing both for what is to come and learning to live better now. That’s why, I think, the sacrament of confession, not often spoke of enough in Anglican circles is such a powerful means of grace.
It isn’t easy, in fact it can be very uncomfortable, as we name those sins of which we are ashamed and afraid and though confession may not be for you there is something powerful about naming those burdens we carry. It makes something new possible in a way that the general confession, unless very carefully prepared for does not.
Consequently when the penitent hears the words of grace and forgiveness spoken by the priest, a deeper and richer sense of God’s grace and mercy is known, something I want to return to in a moment.
For now the first thing I want to say on this theme is that we are to take judgement seriously and, that properly understood is something that can help us live better now. And that leads on to my second point which is that though it might seem otherwise judgement is ultimately all about love.
In the Gospel we heard that ‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him’. He loved him. That love though wasn’t expressed by saying everything was ok, but by challenging him to change. The same is true of us. Jesus looks at us with love and invites us to change.
And though as we experience that love and the change it brings we might feel a bit uncomfortable along the way. The writer of Hebrews says that as we open our hearts and minds to him from whom no secrets are hidden, we find not condemnation but ‘receive mercy’ and ‘find grace to help in time of need’.
So perhaps the question we might ask ourselves with our Gospel reading in mind, even if we are doing all the right things on the outside, coming here to worship, giving to the poor and all those good things, is whether there is still something that holds us back. Some past hurt or wound that we carry or have inflicted diminishes our living? What needs naming so that we can be free?
Of course we find this stuff difficult as George Herbert put it ‘Love bade me welcome but my soul drew back, guiltie of dust and shame.’ Yet remarkably God works with that dust and shame and we are changed.
So to draw things together, firstly we are right to believe in judgement, to take it seriously though importantly we should not think of it with fear but with hope for God in Jesus ever looks upon us with love and transforms our dust and shame. Love bids us welcome; may not our souls draw back.