I love going to fall fairs: the Chatsworth Fall Fair, the Owen Sound Fall Fair, The Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, the CNE or Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, the Ottawa Exhibition, the fair on the Midsummer Commons, the Berrien County Youth Fair, … I have never been to the Calhoun County Fair, that is a pleasure yet to be savored. The excitement of the rides, the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Ferris Wheel, Roller Coasters, then onto the food concessions. I loved the International Foods Building at the CNE where I first tried pizza, and of course candy apples, elephant ears, and caramel corn; are you feeling nauseous yet? When my head and my stomach could take no more we would go off to see the exhibition buildings, the judging of the horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, cats, the 4-H animals, and the prize entries of fruits, vegetables, flowers, crafts, quilts, etc, etc, etc. Jon and my first fall together we went to see Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band at the Ottawa Exhibition. We saw the Canadian Forces Snowbirds flying over Lake Ontario and the American Airforce in Air Shows in England.
Have you made entries in the Fall Fair or County Fair? We did as kids. It was pretty exciting. I placed 3rd for writing in grade 3and it was a big deal when Marsha and I won first prize for our chocolate cake with the adults. It is nearly as exciting to be a judge. Jon and I were judges at the Science Fair at Purdue for several years. How on earth do you decide who has made the best use of computer technology in two hours! I am sure not everyone agreed with my choices.
Judging is something we do all the time whether deciding on the best display of potatoes, our favorite coffee, or the stranger that walks through our doors to join us in worship.
The Bible warns us against judging others; “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”, Matthew 7:1-3. We do not like to think of the judgement of God and we certainly don’t want to think about ourselves as sheep and goats being separated into the good and the bad, the acceptable and the unacceptable, but that is exactly what today’s gospel is about. The past two Sunday’s gospel readings have been about eschatology and judgment. Are we the wise or the foolish bridesmaids? As we wait for the return of Jesus Christ and the installation of the Kingdom of Heaven, do we do acts of kindness and love for our neighbors and for the stranger? Does the light of the Holy Spirit shine through us; are we a bright light in dark and troubling times?
In the parable of the talents which slave do we relate to, the ones who risk all their talents and double their investment or the one who buries his talent lest he lose it? What are we willing to risk for the advancement of the Kingdom of God? We have been given the gift of love. We are loved by God and are called to love one another. The question is how much we are willing to risk for love, how far we are willing to take “Love your neighbor as yourself”. It is easy to love those who love us, our parents, our children, our friends, even our next door neighbors, but are we willing to risk loving our enemies, those who annoy us? Are we willing to be hurt or offended or even killed for our love of the other? Jesus calls us to love not only our family and our friends, but to love our enemies, to love the drug addict and the alcoholic, to love the single mother who is pregnant with yet another child, to love our Mexican and our Syrian neighbor, documented or undocumented, the family who just can’t seem to get their act together financially. We are called to love radically and non-judgmentally. Jesus knew that in going to Jerusalem he risked being arrested and killed and yet for his love of humanity and in obedience to God he willingly chose to go to Jerusalem where he was arrested, tortured and crucified for you and for me.
In this morning’s gospel Jesus is explicit that we will be judged, we will be separated like sheep and goats into the good and the bad. We like to think, no believe, that God is our heavenly father, our loving father, that we are his beloved children, that we are brothers and sisters with Jesus and yet Matthew is clear that there will be a time of judgment. We should not be surprised by this. As parents we must judge when our children’s behavior is unacceptable and correct them. We still love them, but they must learn that there are consequences to their actions. If we continually bail them out of trouble they will never learn to accept responsibility for their actions. As much as we want to avoid it or deny it, we know there will be a final accountability for our actions, for our very lives.
Matthew chapter 25 can be thought of as the central theme of the gospel. If we grasp nothing else, if we understand nothing else, we must understand today’s gospel, we must understand that by loving our neighbor as our self we are loving God. Some have expressed frustration with my liberal perspective and my advocacy for Social Justice. Some have said we are not interested in Gay Rights or Black Lives Matter or Universal Health Care; we want to know how to be saved, but I am telling you, today’s gospel reading says this IS how we are saved. Jesus will come to judge the world, the whole world, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, and Atheists. We will not be judged for correct beliefs, for correct doctrine or dogma; we will be judged on how we treated the marginalized, the poor, the sick, and the stranger. I am not sure that we even have to believe in God. We will be judged on whether we gave food to the hungry and something to drink to the thirsty; whether we welcomed the stranger, provided clothing for those in need, cared for the sick and visited those in prison. Look at today’s gospel; it is right there repeated four times. It does not matter whether we call the creator God or Yahweh or Allah. It does not matter whether we worship God on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. It does not matter whether we even know that we are following the will of God. It does not matter whether this text was written for Christians or for Missionaries to the unchurched. What matters is the Great Commandment to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as our selves. We love God by loving our neighbors.
It is easy to love God who we cannot see or touch, who doesn’t interfere in our lives, or, depending on our perspective, it is impossible to love that which we cannot understand, that which we cannot even prove exists, that which makes us question our every action, our very existence. But we can learn to love and to care for those whose lives cross our paths, to love those who stand beside us. We turn away from news stories of war and violence because we must see that our enemies are humans much like us with children and families they are trying to feed and protect. Pictures of starving women and children with large, haunting eyes make us angry not because they have done anything to harm us, but because it makes us remember that when we sat down with our families to a large Thanksgiving feast this week, there were families around the world literally starving to death. We can close our eyes and ears and hearts to them or we can respond in whatever way we can, whether writing a check to Episcopal Relief and Development or hosting a community supper or visiting a lonely neighbor.
We are our brothers and our sisters’ keeper. In the end we will not be judged on the size of our bank account or our fancy cars and electronics; we will not be judged on whether we held correct beliefs; we will be judged on how we lived our lives, on what we did for those less fortunate than us, on our care for the stranger, the hungry, the poor, the sick and those in prison. Like sheep and goats at a county fair, we will be judged on whether we meet the criteria of loving God by loving our neighbor as our self. Amen.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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