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Sermons

Here and Now

November 30, 2003

Bible Reading

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of glory. And all nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

(Matthew 25:31-46)

Reading from Swedenborg

The saying in John 5:26, 27 that "it is given to the Son to execute judgment" is to be understood in the same way as where it is said that the Lord is angry, wrathful, casts into hell, and such things, when in fact the Lord is angry with no one, nor does he cast anyone into hell, but people cast themselves into hell. It is the contempt for and rejection of divine truth, consequently the falsity from evil, that judges a person. . . . People who are engaged in falsities from evil from contempt for and rejection of divine truth hate it, and burn to destroy it in anyone who has truth from the Lord. When such people attempt to do this, they are like those who cast themselves into the fire or who dash their faces against a rock. Neither the fire nor the rock cause this, but the people. The fact is that the divine truth never fights against falsity from evil, but evil fights divine truth. Thus heaven does not fight against hell, but hell against heaven. (Apocalypse Explained #907)

Sermon

There are many apparent contradictions found in the Bible. For certainly things change over the course of the Biblical narrative, and certainly Jesus comes to bring a new understanding of the Law that had been used to both guide and to oppress the people of Israel. But in Ezekiel and Matthew we see a message that is clear and consistent in both the Old Testament and in the New. The Lord will be present here and now, and in the presence of God a separation will take place.

"I, I myself, will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Ezekiel 34:11, 12). There is promise of much reward, but there is also another kind of promise: "I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats" (Ezekiel 34:17).

And in Matthew: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of glory. And all nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats."

When the end of the millennium was approaching, this issue of judgment got a lot of attention. Many people were preparing for the end of the world--or at least, the end of society as we know it. They stocked up on canned goods and water. Some even stockpiled weapons. Many people were living in fear and confusion. Let me put your mind to rest about a few things. If the Lord comes to put an end to the world, your canned goods and your bottled water, and even your weapons, won't do you one bit of good. That is like preparing to stand in the face of an oncoming tornado by trusting in the protection of a raincoat and umbrella!

If--and let me emphasize the word "if"--if you are faced with the end of the world, don't waste your time preparing shelter and supplies. If you are faced with God's judgment, you had better get busy and prepare your soul! God's judgment will take place on a whole different level. When the Lord's judgment is here and now, the food, the shelter, the weapons are irrelevant; they will be swept away like straw houses before a flood. And each and every one of us will stand before God alone, with no one and no thing to protect us. Our souls will be laid before God and all of heaven. And what will matter--the only thing that will matter--is what we hold in our hearts and minds.

So you can see why I do not fear the end of the world. I've spent my life trying to come to grips with my faith in God, and at this point I've got a pretty good hold on it. I have loved people to the best of my ability. I have tried to be kind to people, tried to be of useful service the best I can. And what is more, I enjoy these things . . . no, I love doing these things. Helping someone out, seeing someone come closer to God, rejoicing in the goodness of life and the gifts of God--these things fill my soul with happiness. So if believing in and loving the Lord and living a life, not free of mistakes, but seeking to do good and to treat my neighbor with kindness and charity, is not enough to please God, then there's no hope for me.

But I believe it is enough. I believe this is exactly what pleases God. I believe this is exactly what God is looking for. If the lights go out and there is famine and chaos, these are all mere inconveniences. In fact, they are nothing but further opportunities to serve God by helping my neighbor. The worst-case scenario pales in comparison when I think about what it means to stand in front of God to have my soul sifted and weighed.

You see, I know about pain. I've pushed my body to the limits playing football; I've twisted my ankles and ended up on crutches more times than I care to think about. I've gotten so cold while hunting that I couldn't untie my shoes. I've had back spasms that left me writhing on the floor. I've passed a kidney stone. And I'm sure that each one of you has experienced extreme pain. But let me tell you, none of that bothers me one bit when I compare it to the pain I feel to this very day when I think about some of the people I have wronged in my past.

I'm not much of one for making predictions or promises, but one thing I will promise you: when you enter into the spiritual world and face God, any punishment you face is not going to be physical pain from fire and brimstone and pitchforks. No, it will be much worse: it will be the spiritual pain and anguish you feel inside yourself when you realize the full effect your words and actions have had upon other people. But here, too, is the promise of God. The reward of heaven is not peeled grapes and comfortable sandals. It the joy and happiness you feel when you realize the full effect your words and actions have had upon other people.

So the end of the world and facing God's judgment is definitely something to fear. But it is not anything that is going to happen here on earth that needs to be feared. It is what is going to happen when the confines of your hidden heart are laid out before you, and what is going to happen when your deepest thoughts are spread out for everyone to see. Now that is something you need to be concerned about. For the consequences of that little scenario are going to stay with you for the rest of eternity.

What are God's criteria for judgment? What is God looking for when examining our lives and deciding if we are sheep or goats? Maybe that is why I don't live in fear of God. I pay no attention to the fear-mongering, Bible-thumping preachers who yell about how evil human beings are. I read the Scriptures for myself, and what do I find? "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40). If we treat each and every person we meet as if they were Jesus himself in disguise, then we have nothing to fear.

I have made some mistakes in my life. I've made some serious mistakes, and I know I have amends still to make. But I know most of my wrongs, and sincerely regret what I have done. My suffering comes in knowing that in some cases I can never undo the consequences of my actions. But I also know that God offers forgiveness to all who truly repent. And I know, too, that I have managed to do some good in my life. There are people whose lives have been touched by God's hand working through things I have done and said. And knowing that I have been able to serve God in that way gives a happiness that no one can ever take away.

So "repent, for the end is near!" It is not the end of the world you need fear. If you're going to fear something, fear the end of your own life! I predict that everyone in this room will die a natural death long before the world comes to an end. But even that is not something to fear. Just get yourself ready to face God. Repent your sins, repent of the mistakes that you have made. Ask God's forgiveness, and if you are sincere, it is given before the words are out of your mouth.

Then deepen your faith in and love of God. And meet each person as if God were looking over your shoulder to see how you're doing. Because that is exactly what is going on. It is just a matter of time before it is obvious to you and everyone else. If you love God, and if you love your neighbor as yourself, you have nothing to fear. No, you have every reason to rejoice and savor the comforting presence of a loving God, who is with you always, from the beginning of time to the end of the earth--and even here and now.

Prayer

O Lord our God, you have called us to repent and turn to you. We ask your forgiveness today for all the wrongs we have said and done. We admit that we have gone astray, and need your strength and guidance to get back on track. And we rededicate ourselves today to loving you by loving and serving our neighbors. Amen.

Rev. Ken Turley