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Saturday, July 28, 2018

“Love and Judgment”

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
June 3, 2018

In our reading for today, we see two strikingly different themes: Love and Judgment.  The Epistle from 1 St. John speaks of the essential attribute of God: Love.  St. John tells us: God is love. He loves us so much that he gave Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins.  What is propitiation? It is the act of winning over, placating, or appeasing.  In Christian theology, it is “that by which God is rendered propitious, i.e., by which it becomes consistent with his character and government to pardon and bless the sinner.”[i]  John makes it very clear that Love is what God is about. It is His intrinsic characteristic.

In the gospel from St. Luke, we read of the theme of judgment.  We hear the familiar story of Lazarus, who was a beggar “laid” at the gate of a rich man’s house.  His health was not good, because he did not sit at the gates, but was laid there.  In fact, the Greek word is to “throw or discard.”[ii] He was full of sores, indicating malnutrition and a lack of personal hygiene.  He was miserable.  Hungry as well, the beggar only wanted to be fed from the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  This is notable, because in the ancient near East, the wealthy would wipe their hands with pieces of bread, like napkins, and then discard them under the table or throw them to dogs.  This is what the poor beggar wanted. Moreover, hungry, mongrel dogs licked his running sores, hoping perhaps even to devour him.[iii]

In time, the starving beggar died.  He is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom, where he is comforted and eased. There has been much debate as to what “Abraham’s Bosom” means.  Although that might be of great interest, that is not the focus of our discussion today. Suffice it to say that the beggar, tormented in life, is now comforted to the infinite degree in Heaven. 
Note also, the rich man died as well, but he discovers he has arrived in Hell.  Immediately, he is in torment.

The contrast couldn’t be greater. There is bliss to the beggar, and torment to the former rich man.  One commentator says, “the poor man got rich, and the rich man got poor.”[iv]
How true.  The beggar, unattended by men during life, is now attended by angels in a blessed state.  The rich man, used to attention by men, is now subject to the attention of devils, and is in a wretched, tormented state. [v]

These two scenes stand in complete juxtaposition.  Our immediate lesson is that our earthly actions have consequences. The rich man ignored the beggar deposited on his doorstep.  He was a lover of luxury and wealth, with no regard for others’ sufferings.  His complete self-interest so occupied him that he was blinded to all else, other people, and most importantly, his relationship with God.  It wasn’t his wealth that was his sin, but his complete consumption by it.  When one blots God completely out of one’s life, the result is willful separation from Him, now and forever. The beggar, although distressed in life, may have had a deeper spiritual life than the rich man.  No doubt, in his agony and deprivation, he cried out to God many times.

The question remains, how does the love of God, mentioned in the Epistle from 1 John, and judgment, mentioned in the Gospel selection from Luke, have any connection?  If God is love, why does suffering, like the beggar’s, happen?  How could judgment be linked to love? While one could argue that the rich man, in his blatant disregard for others, deserved his fate, how could a loving God impose such suffering?

Let us remember the state of our world as it is.  Since the downfall of our first parents, we live in a fallen world. It is cursed because of Adam’s sin.  Thus, suffering abounds.  We must kill to eat.  The animal kingdom is ruled by survival of the fittest. Bad things happen to good people; in fact, bad things happen to all people, sooner or later. Natural disasters happen, for no apparent reason.  It seems unjust, and perhaps it is. At times, life isn’t fair.  Thus, the poor beggar suffered in this life, unjustly and cruelly. He died and was forgotten to man.

He was, however, not forgotten by God. God is a lover and creator of all things.  He is absolute truth and absolute love, which means that He is a lover of all virtues. Chief among these is justice, which means that things will be set right, sometime, in God’s time. If God is love, from St. John, we know that He loves justice.  This means that all situations will be corrected, and consequences for all actions imposed. Abraham tells the rich man, who even in Hell thinks he is superior to the beggar, that his situation is just.  “Send Lazarus” he cries to Abraham. In life, he received the best, and ignored the rest. Now, he is in agony, while Lazarus is comforted.

God’s justice may be one of His highest forms of love.  It requires that debts be paid, and actions be accounted.  Things must be set right. Inequity and evil will not go unrequited forever. God’s complete Holiness and absolute Truthfulness demand no less.

This was once a hard concept for me.  How could a loving God separate those from Him to perish everlastingly? How could He show such disregard for His Creatures?  The answer is just the opposite.  Jesus Christ paid our debts.  He provides that God be propitiated for our actions. He is the complete expression of God’s Love and justice.  Justly, God himself bore the price that only God himself could pay.

We are unjust to Him when we reject this great, awesome love. When we live in the sin of rebellion, it is us who reject Him, not the reverse.  Yet, when we acknowledge our sin and wretchedness before Him, He lovingly grants forgiveness for one reason: the propitiation of Jesus.  Even the rich man, had he repented before his death, could have secured forgiveness.  It is not sin by itself, that separates us from God, forever.  It is unrepented sin that causes the complete break between man and His Creator.

To heal that rift, we have our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation for our sins. AMEN.
1 John 4:18   18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

[iii] ibid
[iv] Ibid
[v] CONF-RCOB, op.cit.

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