Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Price is Right

1. As I drove around town this week, I noticed many of the churches had signs attesting to the belief that the return of Jesus will be very soon. Accompanied with this belief is the urgency to get one’s life in order, so that we will be prepared when our Lord shows up.
2. In our own Church, we are coming to the part of the Liturgical Calendar when each year the readings from the Gospel begin to take on an urgency to prepare for the end of the world. His basic message is be prepared, for the end is indeed coming. Jesus does not tell us when. He does not tell us how (exactly anyway). He just tells that it will happen. Jesus is not trying to terrify us, or put us into a high state of alert. Rather, He wants us to live the kind of life that will not require fear.
3. And at the end there will be a judgement based on what we have done in this life. Simply being baptized or choosing Christ at one moment will not really be enough. The way we live and the things we choose and think and do will be the criteria for the judgement which we will receive. And it will be simple and just. The good will be retained in the kingdom of heaven, and the bad will be burned up. One way we can look at it is that everyone will be subjected to the fire of God’s love- God loves everyone. But the fire will burn away everything which is not like Him. For those who have willfully rejected God and His law, the fire may burn everything they have. But those who love God with their whole heart and who live the law of Christ and His Church will have nothing to fear. The more Christ lives in us, the more beautiful and happy we will be when the fire of God’s love consumes us.
4. So there should be some urgency on our part with regard to the end of the world. Just judgement is coming. Therefore, we need to examine ourselves and ask God to changes us, so that we will be more and more like Him.
5. Now the Lord is not telling us about this because He looks forward to condemning anyone. The good news is that the Son of God has come to save us. And He constantly desires to encourage us to look forward to the end as a time of hope and fulfillment of those who love Him.
6. And so in the first two parables today, Jesus reiterates that the Kingdom of Heaven is worth everything that we possess. In another place, Jesus said wherever your treasure is, there is your heart. So the question is, what is heaven worth to us? What are we willing to pay to obtain it? Oh we say that it is the most important thing, but do we act like it? Do we value being right more than the kingdom? Do we value getting our way? Do we value controlling things? Do we want to exact the form of justice known as revenge? Do we withhold our treasure instead of tithing? Do we withhold our forgiveness instead of reconciling? Do we withhold the power of fertility rather than being fruitful and multiplying as we have been commanded?
7. When Jesus talks about the kingdom being a treasure that is worth selling all we have to obtain, He does not just talk. Although we rightly declare Jesus to be our Lord and King, Jesus was willing to pay the price for our entry into the kingdom. Although God, He humbled Himself to be born a Man, to obey His parents, to work, to suffer, to be scourged and crowned with thorns, to die on the Cross. What could be a bigger price than that?
8. In the face of realizing the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, we might be tempted to say that since He has already paid, there is no reason for us to do anything. Others may even say that our attempts to do good works are in fact the result of sin and distrust, that nothing we could say or do would ever be actually good. It is true that our actions, even our best actions, will never gain for us salvation- that is only possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But at the same time, good works are indeed possible and desirable. Only those who serve Jesus in others and serve Him in humility will obtain joy in the kingdom of heaven. He said unless your holiness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. He also said Come, blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you. For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink... Doing good is not meaningless. Doing good and avoiding evil is essential.
9. It helps if we were to get the correct image in our minds of the situation. For many, God is only a judge. And all they hope for is to be pardoned of their crimes. But God is more than a judge, He is our Father. He is not looking for criminals on parole- or evildoers officially acquitted of crimes which deep down they are still guilty of. Rather, God is our Father who wants us to be like Him. He wants us to be free from sin, not simply pardoned. He wants us to be members of His household, being Holy as He is Holy. And since He is God after all, it is possible.
10. The question is not really what would we be willing to do to avoid going to Hell and suffering for all eternity? The real question is what are we willing to do to be with the One who is our true Beloved?

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