Monday, December 6, 2010

Sermon: Advent 2 - Judgment

This is approximately what I said. Roughly, anyway. Though it's been abridged. And I left my notes on the pulpit so this is from memory, and the ending's not right. Other than that, it's exactly the sermon I gave.

One thing that's great, though, is that for the blog, I can actually use the pictures I referenced in the sermon!

A few years ago, as I was applying to various churches for a rector's position, I saw a church that sounded interesting, so I thought I'd find out some more about it before putting in my application. As I went to the website, I saw that their newsletter was called The Winnowing Fan. I thought that was kind of an ominous name for a church newsletter. And as I read on and looked at the job description more closely, it became clear to me that, though they never really came out and said so, women need not apply.

Implicit in the very title of its newsletter, this parish shared the message that they thought it was crucial to separate the wheat from the chaff. That is not, however, what John the Baptist says. He is very clear that this job belongs to the Messiah alone.

Today I want to take a look at one of the great themes of Advent: judgment; and explore how this is something we should actually look forward to.

To do that, I want to take a look at three ways we use judgment negatively and try and flip that around.

1) You will be judged but I will not. The first bad use of judgment is when we suggest that I have already been ushered through the judgment phase while you have yet to be threshed (and probably burned). But the wheat isn't separated into one pre-threshed pile and one un-threshed pile. It's all one big pile of wheat that needs to be winnowed. No one is exempted from judgment--and that is no bad thing.

2. I have to be very, very careful not to do anything wrong or I will be judged.
One thing that occurred to me as I was learning about this winnowing process is that chaff is not evil. It's just...chaff. It's not the essential part of the wheat, but the dry husk around it. Like the trappings of religion rather than the meaty kernel of religion itself.

John spoke correctly when he spoke of Jesus getting rid of the chaff; Jesus was all about the true heart of religion. The real problem with religious chaff is when we want to hold onto it as essential, rather than being able to let it go.

I learned (thank you, Wikipedia) that in wild grains it is much harder to get the chaff off the grains, while domesticated grains have been bred so that the chaff comes off easily. It seems to me that one of our goals is to be this domesticated grain, willing to let go of the chaff, whatever it may be: our customs, our culture, our habits.

When we spend all our time worrying about not getting it wrong, we may, in fact, find ourself focusing more on the chaff--the protective outside layering--than on the true heart of faith

3) Santa Claus vs. Saint Nicholas You know the Santa Claus model: "He's making a list and checking it twice/Gonna find out who's naughty and nice." But that's not the Saint Nicholas model of judgment.

Compare that with this story of St. Nicholas (whose feast day is today), in which he provides money to a man who had lost his fortune for the dowries of his three daughters. Nicholas could have said the man was foolish or careless-or naughty-to have lost his money. He could have said the daughters deserved no better. Instead, St. Nicholas' impulse was to help them when they could not help themselves.

And that is why I think we can look forward to the day of judgment with hope. God is not interested in us being "nice." God is interested in the heart of the matter, in finding the wheat in the chaff, and sends his son into the world that the world through him might be saved.

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