Sermon notes for the Sunday of the Last Judgment.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2
But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.
But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
1] In many ways the Epistle readings before Lent certainly frame fasting in a very particular way which seems to go against many of the popular ideas about fasting, especially among those who want to keep the food fast strictly. Paul seems to argue eating or not eating is all indifferent for the Christian. It doesn’t commend us to God one way or another. But there is an issue of love, this is maybe the Paul Principle for how to deal with disagreements in the local community. One needs to pay attention to the scruples of those around us. Those who are really concerned about food and fasting: these are the “weak” in Paul’s framework. They worry about what others are doing, they suffer a loss of faith and fervor if they see others aren’t keep the fast strictly. They worry over ever little detail about fasting rules and regulations. They read the labels on every product. St. Paul would consider them weak in faith. Those who are not so fastidious have an obligation to love those who are overly scrupulous and respect their concerns by following their fasting rules when with them. This is what love requires. Some of us are Marthas and some are Marys, but both can be blessed and loved by Christ. I may not be so bothered by all the minutiae of fasting regulations, but if I’m with someone who is I should in love follow their rules. Love tells me don’t wound their conscience. I end up laying aside my thoughts, beliefs and practices in love so that I don’t offend my fastidious neighbor. Yes, I surrender my freedom in Christ, but I do it voluntarily in love.
2] The Paul principle – let all you do be done in love, be concerned about your neighbor, put your neighbor’s needs and scruples ahead of your own. This is to be in the heart of everyone in the parish. So if people become concerned about what others are wearing, or how they make the sign of the cross, or how their children are behaving, then one has to think what is the need of this person, and put that ahead of my own concerns. This doesn’t mean we can’t express differing and disagreeing opinions. We can do that, but then we are supposed to think, “what is best for my neighbor?” If my child is disturbing my neighbor, then I should think about what is helpful to my neighbor. If the child in front of me is misbehaving, what is helpful to the parents of that child? If I think the person in the next pew is dressed inappropriately, what should I do that is best for my neighbor? When I’m getting dressed to go to church, I should consider whether my clothes might offend or be too alluring to my neighbor. I should always be thinking about the other.
3] This is very hard to live in real life. It is an ideal that is very had to live up to. So often we fail, then what? Back to figuring out how to love the neighbor and do what is best for them, not for me.
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
1] Note the righteous in the Gospel lesson were also not aware of having done what they did for Christ. They are surprised that He judges them this way. “When did we do that?” they ask. They are being kind and charitable to the poor and needy. They didn’t know in treating others with mercy that Christ was being blessed. Every truly merciful act of kindness and charity that we do for others is being done for Christ. Even when we care for an aging parent or grandparent, or care for someone that no one else cares for, we are doing it for Christ, even if we aren’t aware of that or feel we have no other choice then to do the kind thing. When we care for that bothersome or negligent neighbor, we are ministering to Christ whether we know it or not. It isn’t the case that the righteous have to consciously be aware of doing good for Christ. If they are merciful to others, they are doing it to Christ, even when Christ isn’t in their mind or on their radar or part of their belief system.
2] The Gospel of the Last Judgment is a Gospel of hope, it is good news. Whether or not you have sinned, even if you are burdened with sin, even if you fail to overcome your habitual or pernicious sins, you are still capable of loving others – and so you can still receive a favorable judgment from Christ. Even if you don’t have proper faith, you can still unwittingly show mercy to Christ by showing mercy to others, and thus receive a favorable judgment on the last day. This Gospel lesson if full of hope! I may be addicted to sin and not able to overcome my weaknesses, but I can still love some of the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.
3] The fathers talk about 3 levels of justice – First, there are those who aren’t interested in justice and don’t even attempt to be just. Second, there are those interested in human justice, this is about being fair (but humanly speaking we are often interested in fairness only when it is to our advantage). This can also be an eye for an eye thinking, or retributive justice, or revenge. Human justice is imperfect as we see sometimes in the court system when some criminals are set free unjustly and some innocent are punished unjustly. We often use our ideas of human justice to understand the Last Judgment. The third level is divine justice. Because God is love, divine justice is the same thing as Divine love or divine mercy. God can find ways to have a judgment in which even sinners are forgiven and blessed. As in the Gospel of the last judgment, the terms of the judgment are changed – it is not about sins/breaking the commandments. The question is ” have we loved those whom we could have loved? In these terms, even sinners and unbelievers might find God’s mercy!