The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Part of my work at Westfield House is marking. I suppose most teachers do so. Students expect it and generally want feedback. It is easier when assessing content. A tick for ‘Jesus was born in Beth-lehem’ and a cross for ‘Jesus was born in Sydney’. It is harder when it is something creative or inter-active – written on paper – such as a lesson plan or a sermon – when you have to imagine how it might go in ‘real life’. Now there’s ‘art’ involved as well as ‘science’ in the marking. The lesson plan or the sermon outline needs to have structure and goals but, of course, they’re not what I would have done per se. I look at the material for coherence and imagine its effectiveness at reaching its goals (while also seeing that the messages are in accord with God’s Word). I am not mark-ing them against criteria that would make them ‘mini me’s’ but against criteria that will hopefully help them develop as teach-ers or preachers. And in this process, I learn as well. The teacher as learner is important for me.

Assessments, evaluations, marking are part of the classroom; part of learning; part of being a student. One mightn’t like them but they are part of that world. The same is true when-ever there are standards or competencies to be maintained – in medicine, in the military, in education itself (think OF-STED), law enforcement, engineering, flying an aeroplane or helicopter, and so on. Similarly, we mightn’t like being judged but we recognise their importance and do what is required (and hopefully learn things along the way).

Such appraisals of course deal with us in a particular context or situation. They deal with us as stu-dent or as practitioner but they (usually) leave our sports, hobbies and personal life out of it. We are more than what is assessed. (This can be comforting if the assessment doesn’t go well!)

This makes a judgement that encompasses all of us – our person or self as well as our deeds or actions – something significant and serious. We’re not unaware of the effects harsh judgements have say on children if they’ve grown up hearing ‘you’re no good’ or similar. We’re not unaware of our own unease and even rebellion at the very thought of someone judging us so completely. (Who gives you the right to judge me?!) This makes it understandable that humanity isn’t impressed with any mes-sage that there will be a divine or last or final judgement and sees it as some sort of ‘stick’ or ‘club’ to scare us into certain behaviour. I’ve read atheist columns about God’s judgement which say that they’d still rage at what was happening – ‘Look at the world you made God and you have the nerve to judge me; no I judge you to be a lousy God!’ – and I can feel some of that rage within me – ‘C’mon God, I’m trapped in sin and you’re judging me for it?!’.

This time in the church year – the last few Sundays before a new church year begins with Advent – does tend to have a focus on judgements. It can bring us up short; tell us that we are not the judge after all but the judged. And when we put ourselves into the scene – when we then judge ourselves – even with our own pleading and mitigating circumstances – the outcome isn’t favourable. No wonder this message is not embraced. This courtroom scene with us and the judge has a bad outcome.

That is why we need to hear another message in the courtroom – that of a Redeemer – who has paid the sentence – redeemed us – so that we might live. And the wonder – the mystery – is that the Judge and the Redeemer are one (John 10:30). And the living is not like it was before! — GS