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Christ The King

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Edward F. Markquart

Christ the King
Our final day in court or Here comes 'da judge

Christ the King
     Matthew 25:31-46

Most of us don’t go and see a judge very often.  We don’t have those normal, everyday conversations with judges. Because our close family, friends or neighbors are not judges, we don’t know the subtle ways that the court system works. 

So where do we learn about judges? On television.  In the old days, it was Perry Mason, and we watched Perry Mason reruns for decades and thereby got a feeling for what happened in court.  More recently on television, there was a series called, Night Court, and there was some kind of wacky nerd for a judge.  And now nightly on television, we can see all kinds of dramas about real live courts in action. This week on television, we can watch Judge Joe Johnson, Divorce Court, Moral’s Court and People’s Court; and thereby we then develop our distorted perceptions of the way the court system really works.

So where do we learn about judges and courts?  Not from family, friends and neighbors. Not from television. So perhaps we learn about court from our own personal experiences in court.  That is true of you and me. (A preacher can easily insert his/her own court story.)

It is the nature of my life that I go to court occasionally, and sometimes I go to the court more occasionally than at other times.  My problem is this: in my old car, I used to have a back bumper sticker that said, “Have you hugged your pastor today.”  When a policeman would come up and see my back bumper sticker, I would not get a speeding ticket.  But I sold that car; and as soon as I sold that car, I got more speeding tickets. So I learned about our court system in the traffic court.

So this is a story of one of my more recent adventures in the court system.  Please use your imaginations. I am now sitting in the courtroom and sizing up all the people in that courtroom.  These seem to be a great number of people.  The judge comes in, and I try to size the judge up.  It finally becomes my turn, and my name is called:  Will Edward F. Markquart approach the bench? My heart immediately flutters; I am not sure why that is; but I feel nervous inside, almost like a child coming before a father.  I feel like I am someone insignificant coming before this power figure. Now, as I am walking up to the bench, I am refining my speech; and I already have shaped truth in such a way that it will benefit me. I know how to shape the truth.  So, I have the story all figured out.  The judge asks the question:  “What did you do?”  Now, that question disappointed me.  I wanted the judge to ask about my job.  You see, I thought that if the judge asked what I do for a living, then I would tell him I was a pastor and he would be lenient with me.  So he asked the wrong question.  He didn’t then ask me about my family, whether or not I was a good father, whether or not I was a good husband.  He didn’t ask me about my beliefs and values; I could have talked to him for a full hour about that.  He didn’t ask about my motivation; about my heart; he didn’t ask me about my good intentions.  He simply asked me, “What did you do, Mr. Markquart?”  It wasn’t the question I wanted.  I answered, “I made a left turn.”   He asked, “Into oncoming traffic?” I responded, “I wouldn’t really call it oncoming traffic.  The car coming towards me was a long way away.”  He said, “Well, the police car that you turned in front of, forcing the policeman to hit his breaks, that policeman said you turned quickly into oncoming traffic.”  I said, “Well, humm, ummm.”  This wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go.  I wanted to tell the judge what a good person I was; that I loved my wife and my children; that I am a preacher by trade; and that should be worth some kind of leniency.  I want to tell him about my thoughts, my feelings, my decency, what a good human being I am.  He didn’t ask me about any of these.  He only asked one question:  “What did you do?” What I had done was a violation of the law, and I was declared guilty and given a fine.  I had been told that if I appeared in court, the fine would be reduced.  The fine was reduced and it was well worth my time, to go there that day.  And herein lies a parable.

The title of the sermon for today is, “Our Final Day in Court.”  Today is Christ the King Sunday and Christ is telling about the time in history when the Son of Man will come back and judge the living and the dead.  The theme is “our final day in court,” and when Christ comes at the end of history, Christ will be the judge.  Christ will be the final judge between the sheep and the goats, the good fish and the bad fish, the good wheat and the bad wheat. 

Judgment is a dominant theme not only in the book of Matthew but in the whole Bible. The final judgment can also be found in the Old Testament, the other gospels, the epistles, the book of Revelation.  The final judgment is part of the whole Bible.

The gospel story for today is one sample story about the final judgment. Jesus told this final judgment story:  The Son of Man will come back and he the king will judge the people.  The king looked at the goats on his left and said, “What did you do? What did you do for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the starving, the imprisoned?  What did you do for the elderly, the retarded, the handicapped, the sick.  What did you do?  And the goats, who were the Pharisees, said, “Judge, we are good people. If you got to know us judge, we are not very bad at all.  We love our wives, our children, our families; we come from a good solid family background.  We have good beliefs and values; we go to church; we give a tithe and surely some of that money goes to the poor.  Judge, we have good feelings about the poor, the starving, the naked.  We have positive feelings towards the poor and anytime we see pictures of the starving, our hearts grieve.”  The judge asked the question:  “What did you do?  What did you do, is my question?”  And the Pharisees say, “Well, uhhhh, you know, uhhh.”  Now, the Pharisees were hoping for leniency; they expected the judge to be lenient, to be understanding.  They expected the judge to understand the fallibility of human nature because if the judge really understood the fallibility of human nature, then the judge would be lenient.  The Pharisees thought to themselves, “Besides, we are here in court and the sentence shouldn’t be too strong, should it?”  The judge then gave the verdict clearly and distinctly:  “Depart from me into eternal damnation.”  “What?” “Depart from me into eternal damnation where people will weep and gnash their teeth. Depart into the hells of fire.”  “What????” The goats weren’t expecting that sentence.  They were expecting leniency.  They were expecting understanding.  They were expecting that the judge would understand the fallibility of human nature.  “What’s wrong with this court, anyhow? Besides, if you just show up at court, you should get a reduced sentence and fine?”

To the sheep on the right, the judge said:  “What did you do?”  The sheep said, “We didn’t do anything.”  The judge said, “Yes, you did. I was watching you.  You fed the hungry, you clothed the naked, you visit the sick and imprisoned and you shall inherit eternal life. You shall inherit eternal life. You are good sheep.”  The sheep said, “We are?” The judge said, “You are. Come into my eternal pastures and receive eternal life.” Thus ends the parable for today, one of the many judgment stories that we find in the Gospel of Matthew, where God asked the big question: what did you do

But, to be honest, nowadays, we don’t take this parable about the final judgment too seriously. That is, most of us aren’t too concerned about our final day in court.  We really don’t expect to hear that question, “What have you done for the needy?” The final judgment is not really part of our preoccupation.  We think this story is part of archaic, religious folklore. It is part of those folksy folktales from the Bible, about the sheep and the goats.  What does this have to do with our cosmic age and the space age we live in?  Most of us don’t spend too much time worrying about our final day in court.  It is not one of our biggies.  It is not one of the dominant religious themes of our generation, although it has been in centuries past.

So what do we do with such archaic passages about God’s final judgment, God’s wrath and God’s punishment?  We become like the heretic, Marcion, who cut out all those passages he didn’t appreciate. It was like he had a pair of scissors in his hands and he cut out all Biblical verses about judgment, punishment, and wrath, anything he didn’t like.

Why?  Why does our current generation want to cut out all those Bible verses that have to do with God’s wrath, punishment, and judgment? 

First, we are good Lutherans.  We know that we are saved by grace alone; that we do nothing to inherit eternal life; that none of us dare brag about our good works because we know down deep inside we are sinners who are saved by grace.  If we make it through the pearly gates, it is because God is good, not because we are good.  It is God’s goodness that saves us. We are saved by grace alone.  We never can do enough to merit eternal life. Salvation is a pure gift from God.

 A second reason that we are contemporary Marcionites who cut out all Biblical references to God’s wrath, punishment and judgment is that we believe in the final judgment story found in First John more than the Gospel of Matthew.  Let us look at the final judgment in First John.  John’s final judgment scene is very different than we have been talking about; it is very different than the Gospel of Matthew.

 I would like to illustrate the Apostle John’s last judgment by using the Bible and our imagination.  Would you please go back to court with me?  We are in traffic court again.  We are sitting in traffic court, nervous, sizing up everybody.  The gavel strikes the wooden desk, and in comes the judge, and the judge is … my father.  Edward F. Markquart, Senior.  I like this courtroom better already.  I like the mood of this court.  This is all right. Then I look at my appointed attorney, the D.A., the district attorney appointed to defend me, and it is my brother.  My big brother Lee who is the son of the judge.  I like this court.  The judge is my father and the D.A. is my brother, the father’s other son.  This is a good court.  I am glad that I am being tried in this court.  And the prosecuting attorney? The prosecuting attorney is none other than Satan himself, and everyone boos when that adversary shows up on the scene.   This is final judgment described in First John.  … And so many of us have been persuaded that there is nothing to fear from God who is the judge because the judge is our father and the D.A., the Holy Spirit, is our brother, and the prosecuting attorney is the bad dude, the devil himself.  We like the odds in that kind of court and expect understanding and leniency.

A third reason we are Marcionites who scissor out all Biblical references to God’s wrath, punishment and judgment is that we in our society don’t like the word, punishment. Very few in our society use the word, punishment.  If you are a punitive person today, you are not very fashionable.  This is the age of understanding; this is the age of compassion; this is the age of tolerance and leniencies.  Parents don’t punish their children anymore; you can actually get in trouble for punishing your children today.  Today, you correct them, discipline them, and guide them in the right direction.  If you are a punitive parent, that is a pejorative statement. Also, the schools don’t punish anymore; they send the misbehaving student to the guidance counselor.  The school would be involved in a lawsuit if they punished anybody.  In addition to parents and schools, the courts also don’t punish people anymore.  The courts attempt to rehabilitate people; the courts don’t punish people anymore. The concept of punishment is too archaic and barbaric. 

If the parents don’t punish and if the schools don’t punish and if the courts don’t punish, of course, God doesn’t punish either.  How could a good, loving, compassionate God punish any one? So when I come before the final judgment day, and I am asked the question, “What have you done? What have you done for the hungry, the thirsty, the starving, the poor, the sick, the impoverished, the imprisoned?”  I will say, “Not much.” And I will expect the judge to acquit me because he loves me.  How can a loving father, even if he were a judge, punish me?  Nobody punishes anymore. 

The fourth reason we are like Marcionites and scissor out all the Biblical passages about God’s wrath, punishment and judgment is that we believe there will be a different question asked on the final judgment day.  The Apostle Paul would have asked the final question this way:  “Do you believe?  Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”  That is the big question, the final question, in Paul’s final drama.  “What do you believe?”  The question is not the final question at the last judgment in Matthew, “What did you do?”  No, not for the Apostle Paul.  The final question is, “What do you believe?”  We ask the same question during our confirmation service of each individual confirmand:  “Do you believe?” The confirmand answers, “I believe in Jesus Christ as My Lord.”  And in our minds, that same confirmation question will be asked at the final judgment. “Do you believe?”

And so we add it all up.  We know that salvation is a gift of God’s grace.  We know that the judge is my father, and the D.A. is my brother and the adversary is the bad dude of the devil himself.  We are all going to make it into heaven.  When you die, God is the light at the end of the tunnel, and we are all going to go to that light. And besides, a good judge would never punish anyone. And the Apostle Paul asks the question, “in whom do you believe?”  So you add up all of this, on a gut level, we do not believe we will hear the question, “What did you do?”  On a gut level, we do not believe we will hear this question.  This question is not part of our spiritual preoccupation today.

But it is God’s!!! God, at the end of history, will ask that question, “What have you done? What have you done for poor starving Lazarus? What have you done for the man who was robbed on the Jericho road? What have you done for the poor, the starving, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, for all the little people?  What have you done?”  Don’t kid yourself, that question will be asked of you and me someday. 

And that question does not contradict the Apostle Paul who asked, “Do you believe? Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? In whom do you believe?”  The primary evidence in what you believe is what you do? Not what you think. Not what you feel. Not what you say.  Thinking, feeling, talking; these are all easy. Instead, the question is:  what did you do for the little ones of life? What a person does for the poor and suffering reveals in whom you believe. The Apostle Paul would agree with Matthew.  Matthew’s gospel is not a works righteousness gospel.  If a person believes, he or she obeys.  If a person believes in Jesus Christ, they produce the fruits of righteousness. So in Matthew’s Gospel where the judge asks the question at the end of history, “What have you done?” that is Paul’s way of asking, “Do you really believe in Jesus Christ?”  They are the two sides of the same question. When we are asked that question, “What have you done for the least of these, my brothers and sisters,” this does not contradict the grace of God, that salvation is a pure gift.

Let me illustrate this by means of an analogy. I love my children too much.  Do any of you have that problem? Do any of you love your children too much? That you love your children immensely?  That you love your children unconditionally? That you love your children graciously?  That is just the way it is! But I still ask my children the question and so do you, “Have you done your work today? Have you done your jobs today? Have you taken out the garbage? Did you do the dishes?  Did you make your bed? Did you clean your room? Did you do your homework?  Did you do your confirmation lesson?”  Do you know how many times I have asked my children, “Did you do the work that I gave you to do?” My excessive love for my children is great but I still ask the question, “What did you do today?”

This is also true of God. The same is true of God.  God’s love for you is great, but God still asks you and me the question: Have you done your chores today? Did you do your chores today? Did you take care of the sick, the poor, the orphans, the starving, the thirsty, the refugees, the homeless, the hungry, the lonely in the nursing homes? Have you done your chores today?

That God asks you that question does not mean that God does not loves you.  It’s just the opposite. Because God does love you unconditionally, God then asks you that question. Have you done your chores? Do you know what the Father wants to have done around the house today and do you do it?

Within a household, it is a sign of a parent’s mature love that they love their children unconditionally and at the same time, ask them, “Have you done your work for today.”  If a parent doesn’t ask the second question, it is a sign of immature love.  Both sides of the coin are needed; both sides of the coin are necessary:  unconditional love and doing the work. If there is only one side of the coin, that coin is artificial; it is not genuine. 

So it is with God.  God’s love for us is unconditional and at the same time, God asks us, “What did you do for the littlest of people?”  Both sides of the coin are necessary.

Further, it needs to be said, that my children had better not get the idea that I am lenient, just because I am their father.  In fact, I may be softer on somebody else’s children than my own. To be honest, I am often softer on somebody else’s children than my own. Just because God is our heavenly father does not mean that God is a softie, who won’t punish and correct, if necessary. 

The threat of punishment and the withholding of rewards is part of mature love. If it takes a threat of punishment to get me to do what I have to do, or if it takes a threat of withholding the rewards from my children to get them doing what I want them to do, I will do it.  We threaten our children and say, “If you don’t get your homework done, you can’t go out and play.” We all do that. The children get older and the nature of the threat changes.  “If you don’t get in on time tonight, you won’t be able to go out next weekend.”  And then, as a parent, you give the ultimate threat:  “If you don’t get your work done, you will not have use of the car. Is that clear? If you do not get your work done, you will not be going out or using the car.”  Just because I love my children deeply, this does not mean I am not serious about their doing their jobs.  I am very serious about them doing their jobs.

Likewise with God.   When God threatens us with punishment, or threatens us by withholding rewards, it is God’s way of motivating us to do what God wants us to do, just like mature parents have always done.

So we are back to the final question:  I ask you a personal question.  Do you believe that you will experience a final judgment day?  Do you believe that? Do you believe that you will experience a final judgment day? … The way you answer that question is very important.  When you come before that final judgment day, God will stand before you and ask, “What did you do?” …  You may say, “Well, that is the wrong question.  We’re good people, God.  We love our wives, our children, our grandchildren; we have good doctrines, good values, good beliefs.  We have good feelings and a heart full of compassion for the poor.”  The judge will again repeat the question “I don’t believe you understood. I will ask it for you one more time, ‘What did you do?”…is what the judge asked me when I was in the court that day.  Amen.

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