Sermon by Revd Caroline Risdon Second Sunday before Advent 2020
Matthew 25. 14-30
Almighty God, may your Word be our rule,
your Spirit our teacher
and your glory our chief concern. AMEN.
What do you hear when you listen to this Gospel?
Is it the story of God, the Master, doling out money or skills and talents according to the value he has ascribed to you- so that “really good” believers have more skills and talents than others?
Is it the story of a harsh, opportunistic and lazy God- taking what he does not work for and dealing aggressively with those in his way- as indeed the Master does with the third slave?
If so, there is precious little that could count as Good News.
But this Gospel actually speaks to the deepest foundations of our faith: it is about God's judgement and about how we live in the here and now.
How are we to make sense of judgement and embrace it as part of our Christian inheritance? It is rather tempting to run away from the topic and bury our heads in the sand!
The problem is that ‘judgement’ is also a word of law, and its legal meaning has often slipped into the theological context; leaving us with the image from our Gospel- God the Judge weighing our faith and our actions in the balance.
To make a causal relationship between good deeds and salvation is to suggest that our relationship with God is always predicated upon our behaviour. It has also had a catastrophic effect on faith in that our commitment to God is based either on the hope of reward, or on our fear of the personal wrath of God. In this view, God is so fickle and unpredictable that he will, seemingly impulsively, eternally punish some and lavishly forgive others. And we can never be quite sure where it is that we stand.
A way of trying to make sense of all this is to remember that mercy precedes judgement. It comes first. God is merciful. And because God is merciful, judgement flows from that as a necessary part of how it is to live in relationship with God. The truth about judgement is that the more we understand of God’s love, the more we become aware of all about ourselves that is less than it ought to be. Our humanity is laid bare in the face of God’s divinity. Our imperfections are laid bare in the face of God’s perfection.
In God’s mercy, we are gifted the promise and the possibility of a grace- filled life. A life brimming with hope and the foretaste of the kingdom of God. A life of gift and generosity. And part of mercy is freedom. We are not slaves (as in our Gospel reading) nor puppets, we still have the freedom to say no to that life, to reject it. This we could call living in darkness or sin.
My imagining of the moment of death and judgement is to be finally and fully in God’s presence. And finding ourselves wholly enveloped in a loving kindness beyond our imagining, at that final moment of judgement, I think we would find that we love God. We turn towards the light. But there must always remain the possibility that for some, surrounded by that same love, they may harden their hearts and disappear into the shadow.
The good news of the Gospel is this; in God’s mercy, we are all worthy of love. And it is through this love that the judgement of God can be truly understood. It is about liberation and mercy, not about fear and control. Through God's deep love, we are given a true understanding of ourselves, which enables us to take mature responsibility for our choices- good and bad. We find that if we nurture our faith and care for our neighbours, God’s will works through us. But if we bury our faith and ignore the world around us, we deny the Gospel.
So allow me to conclude by retelling the parable:
God creates the world and all that is in it. But the people turn their backs on their Faithful God.
God gifts humanity his Son. Jesus announces the arrival of God's kingdom by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and serving the least.
Jesus goes ahead of us to the Kingdom of Heaven and promises that we too shall know this Paradise.
God delivers us into the care of the Holy Spirit so that we are never alone.
And while we await Paradise, the Holy Spirit inspires us to “go and do likewise”- feed the hungry, heal the sick and serve the most vulnerable.