Divine and Equinoctial Judgment – The Rev. Shannon Preston – Communion Café

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“Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

As some of you may know, the Autumn Equinox was on Friday, it is a day when the hours of light and dark are equal. I love this day. The changing season, the new beginning, the quieting of nature, the harvest. In college, my roommates and I would invite the local winter squash farmers over on the Equinox for a little celebration. It often included harvest food and drink and autumn poetry—for a little context, this college is in the middle of Minnesota farmland, not a city. Often, poetry by Mary Oliver a poet who writes mostly about love and nature was read. This Equinox, a few of us read from her most recent poetry anthology, Felicity. In it she quotes Rumi. “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” It’s a lovely idea, to be freed of dualistic concepts, the weight and judgment of wrong-doing and right-doing into a field past all that which I imagine blossoms with presence, freedom, peace, enlightenment. It would be good if we all met there.

I’m not very sure though, that Paul, the author of our first lesson would meet us there, at least not while he’s writing the letter to the Romans. Today we heard part of the second chapter. The letter is sixteen chapters in its entirety, it begins with a friendly introduction but by the end of the first chapter Paul writes about God’s wrath and in chapter two that Christ will be our judge—“that the conflicting hearts [of the Romans],” those to whom he writes, “will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when God through Jesus Christ will judge the secret thoughts of all.”

Paul’s theology, overall, is somewhat more accusatory than that lovely field past what is right and wrong and good and bad.

Paul continues this struggle and judgment is a part of our tradition we cannot simply gloss over until we get to the nicer parts. Yet, in a time when we proclaim a God of perfect loving kindness and peace that it is usually difficult to fit in and understand much less to accept a Christ who judges and condemns, especially if he judges us. The wrestling of our ancestors and our contemporaries help us not just leave this part of the church’s story, our story as humanity in relationship to our loving Creator behind.

Why do we have a God who judges in scripture when we worship a God who loves without any condition, more than anything we can comprehend? It is, of course, precisely because God’s love is greater than we understand that we begin to see how it is God judges us. It is, after all, good to have a God who distinguishes between what is good and bad, just and unjust. Even still, judgment is difficult for me to get excited about.

So often however we confuse the judgments of the world with the judgments of God. Judgments that sting with unkindness and anger, that try to tear others down, and cover up the voice of God do not lead us towards the abundant life God promises us. Judgment in the mainstream is volatile today, it is not about building up God’s kingdom. God’s judgment never leads to destruction, it does not lead to punishment but to our thriving.

Judgment that ends in destruction is not judgment from God. Which still doesn’t make God’s judgment easy, comfortable at all. God’s voice of judgment may not be the nurturing voice from the Good Shepherd or the humble and kind Lord who gives us rest. Rather God’s judgment is the gentle, or sometimes not so gentle, push of God for us to change. And sometimes this change is not easy.

There is a welcome change like the coming of Autumn, that comes with poetry and candles, warm feelings, and comfort, and there is the less welcome change that requires what we would perhaps rather not give so freely. It requires us to give something up—often something we really like—maybe a way we have been living, an attitude or habit we’ve acquired, or an inconvenient call to do more for those in need, who are poor who are hungry around us.

Our discernment, what we can strive for, is whether or not the judgment we hear within us, and we will judge we are human—ourselves and others—our discernment is whether that judgment within us calls us or others closer towards the image of God we are made in. Does it help us or others reach their fullest potential not tear them or ourselves down? That is a kind of judgment that is different than so many we hear today around us.

Becoming who God made us to be, sometimes requires us to be still and at other times to move. As Paul points out in all his letters, to follow Christ is the most rewarding direction for our life but also demanding and not simply one that is easy and effortless, although at times we may wish it would be. We are exposed to God’s judgment because by choosing a life of faith we choose to live in a way where we are not the masters of our universe and we recognize a way of life that is greater than how we know the world today.

This is the is the journey of the Christian. This is the call of the Christian, to see honestly, with God’s help, what is broken and hurt, what is bad and wrong in us and in the world and to work to make it better, more just, more peaceful, more loving—more like the kingdom of heaven.

“Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Before we get to that field, we go through the ideas or right and wrong and that’s an important part of the poem! I think one joy of those autumn dinners, talking with farmers about their squash, was that it was a moment to step back, breathe for a moment, see the world as it changes—season to season, planting to harvest—and celebrate, while at the same time, on the verge of a new season–taking an honest appraisal of what has been, what’s been difficult and how things could be better. It for me, was in some way a beautiful example, of loving judgment.

Thanks be to God Christ has not stopped calling us onward, with the small knock—or sometimes the loud one—to open our hearts, ourselves and the world and in a way that even judgment holds us in the gaze of a God who loves us. Thanks be to God for a love that recognizes when things in our lives need to change and a Christ who urges us, towards God’s kingdom, towards the children, created in God’s image, we are all made to be.

Amen.