Judgement Sunday - It's All About our Relationships
I’d like to begin today by making a confession: I have a lead foot. Some of you know this already. I drive too fast. I’ve been stopped for speeding more times than I can count. Most recently, I was driving down 91 at about 10 pm, the road was nearly empty. I came upon a state trooper and thought, “Well, I’ll just stay behind him, surely he would never stop me if I were behind him.” Right? Wrong! He pulled me over and told me that he intentionally started speeding to see if I would follow him – and I did. Now, the key is this: I knew the speed limit (45) and I knew that fines are doubled in a construction zone and, in this case, I even saw the state trooper and still drove too fast.
I would imagine that Judgement Day will be a lot like that feeling of getting stopped by the police, especially when you know what you’ve done. Did the police officer make me speed just because he sped up? No. Does a referee in a football game make the player step inbounds or out of bounds as the play is unfolding? No. Does a judge make a defendant commit a crime? No. Yet all of them are responsible for making sure the rules or the laws are followed. If you do the wrong thing, the police, the referee, and the judge are there to call you to account. Each of them is accountable to the people that they serve to make sure that there is order, accountability, and culpability for those who do wrong.
The same can be said for us. All of us are pons in the game called life. Each of us and all of us together are accountable to each other and for each other in the Church, the Body of Christ. So, it is in our own best interest to make sure that 1) that we know and are playing by the rules of the game, and 2) that we are contributing to the well-being of the whole Body by being faithful, accountable, and generous. Last week, you may remember my rant about having to prepare for communion. This follows under the category of knowing and following the rules or guidelines of the Church. Just like I knew the speed limit, I need to know by what rules, standards, and expectations I will be held accountable. Today, Christ makes it obvious: You and I will be judged by our relationship to others, especially those who are part of the Body, and that relationship is not one of indifference, or leniency, or freedom but of care, assistance, and love. How much did you show love with your actions? How did you use the blessings and talents that were given to you? How much strength did you add to the Body?
Now I know that human nature and even experience teach us to be selfish, to look out for ourselves and those closest to us but I also think we’ve also been indoctrinated with some really bad theology that is antithetical to the Orthodox ethos, the way of thinking about ecclesiology, soteriology, and Christology. In other words, how we think about church, salvation and Christ is based on a me-first/me-only philosophy that emphasizes personal experiences of God. As Orthodox, we don’t talk like that. Have you ever heard me say or heard the Fathers say through liturgy the phrase, “a personal relationship with God”? Or do you hear me saying “God spoke to me this morning?” Never! The relationship for us is not personal as much as it is communal. We commune with God inasmuch as we commune with the others in our Church. Jesus today is saying that we become righteous and worthy of salvation when we see a need and meet it, when we reach out and build up His Church, our brothers and sisters.
Notice a couple of things about this reading. One, it’s spoken not so much as a parable as much as a word of prophecy. This WILL happen. All of us will be in that position someday. Two, both the sheep and goats were surprised to hear that they were being rewarded or rejected because of their action or inaction. Why? The sheep, the righteous, never let their left hand know what the right hand was doing. They didn’t do all these good things and then boast about it. They forgot about it. That’s humility. The goats, on the other hand, thought that minding their own business was sufficient. They ate grass, stayed out of everyone’s way, and never caused a problem. That sounds like a lot of people in the world today.
When we come to church, when we fast according to the Church’s teachings, when we serve others together, when we promote the faith of the Church to another generation, when we invite fellow parishioners to our homes, we are strengthening the Body of Christ, and when the Body is strong, each part of it receives life through it.
So, the next time you wake up on Sunday morning, remember this: it’s time to give, to share, to help, to fill in, to make things better. Then, we’ll all be saved.