I feel like I should offer a bit of a caveat… I dashed this off this while at work between conference calls and without any of the resources I would normally grab to develop ideas of greater depth. Would love feedback/pushback/teaching!
One of the pastor-folk I follow on Twitter is doing a series of “by request” sermons this summer. Kathryn asked her congregation to submit questions, from which she would prepare sermons. This morning she shared the two questions that she’s wrestling with this week: Are we judged or forgiven? Does it happen immediately or when Jesus comes again?
My immediate response to Question 1 was Yes– we are both judged and forgiven.
First, the judging bit…
> In the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed, the statements of faith we most often declare together, we state that Jesus sits at (on) the right hand of the Father and that he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
> In Matthew, we see Jesus separating (judging the behavior of) the sheep and the goats.
> In Isaiah (which Jesus reads to announce the beginning of his ministry) we see that the Messiah comes to set the captive free… a job done either by vigilante or judge, but a form of justice either way.
But Jesus also comes to forgive…
> John reminds us that Christ came not to condemn the world (the work of a judge) but to save the world
> Jesus reconciled Peter to himself and the other disciples after Peter’s betrayal by asking him three times, “Do you love me?” and then giving Peter an opportunity to affirm his love for Christ in word and deed (feed my sheep).
> In the Book of Common Worship, one of the most beautiful assurances of pardon reminds us that while all of us sin, we call upon Christ to forgive us: “Hear the good news! Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, And Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us. Anyone who is in Christ Is a new creation. The old life has gone; A new life has begun. Know that you are forgiven And be at peace. Amen.”
To be honest, I don’t know that one can forgive without first judging. Otherwise, how would one know there is something to forgive? But judgment does not necessarily lead to condemnation. I think that was what Luther was wrestling with as he read and re-read the New Testament. We judge ourselves based on what we know is the good and proper response to the gift of love God offers – and how far we are from that response most days. Our baaas resonate more often with goats than sheep. Paul wrestled out loud with that as he talked of the things he wanted to do, but didn’t, as well as those things he wanted to quit but couldn’t. And the only answer for those besetting sins of omission and commission is GRACE. Grace that reconciles, heals, empowers repentance and signifies forgiveness.
We are forgiven because Christ judges us as unworthy of communion with God, yet imparts that love all the same. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit also convicts us, intercedes for us, and moves us toward Christ-likeness if we are open to her sanctifying work in our lives.
As to Question 2- When?
I guess in my response above, I’m saying that we are judged in some ways right now, every day, by the Christ in whom we live and move and have our being. Otherwise, why would we bother to confess to one another and then remind one another of Christ’s healing and forgiveness? We could just wait for the end of the age for our reckoning.
Scripture teaches us there will be a day – that we will be sorted. I’m not sure that it will be as cut and dried as some would like, fornicators here, tempters there, thieves and murderers a bit farther to the west and liars in the east.
I suspect that instead there will be an inspection of the heart… did you truly believe that God offered love to you? Did you do your best in that broken and sinful human form to share that love with others around you and to reflect love back to me? And there will be a revealing… of the ways we were willfully and accidentally oblivious to opportunities to bring God’s Kingdom to this earth. And there will be grace… an opportunity to repent with whole heart of those sins and receive the forgiveness offered by the only one truly worthy to judge.
It is a mystery when, where and how that whole Judgment Day plays out. But it is no mystery when, where and how I can bring my sins to light, judgment and forgiveness today.