No one likes being judged. It's just not pleasant to think about. And yet, we come to church this time of year, and the Scripture readings are about judgment.
This time of the year, we hear from the Bible that God will judge us. But here's the good news: Christ is the Judge, and Christ loves us. So...the One who judges us is the One who loves us most fully.
I'm going to say that again, because it's so important. The One who judges us finally will be the One who loves us most fully.
So I have a story today. It's not my story, but it's the story of my best friend, back when he was a teenager. His name was Brian, and he died young, after being a priest only 9 years. So you see, I have to keep telling his stories as well as my own. And he had some great stories.
Brian was a nightmare to his parents as a teen. He was always getting caught doing stuff. He was always getting grounded for something or other. The more he got punished, the more he got mad. And a distance grew between him and his parents.
So one time, he'd had a big conflict with his folks. He was sent to his room. He had been planning to go to a big party that night, and it was gonna be the party of the year. But they said that was now off. So let me give you his story in his own words:
Around 11:00 p.m., my parents' day had ended and they were asleep. My day was just beginning. I stuffed my pillows under my covers in the shape of a sleeping teenager. I used my globe of the earth as the head. I crawled out my bedroom window, tiptoed across the roof, jumped down on a brick wall, and with a small leap over the hedge, I was on my way to the party.
Around 4:00 a.m., I found my way home in the dark. I climbed the brick wall to the roof of the house, tiptoed across, and crawled back in through the window. I carefully climbed into bed and began to rearrange pillows. I bumped the globe with my elbow. It began to roll off the other side of the bed. I flipped over and caught it in midair.
That was when I saw my mother lying on the other bed, staring at me. My life passed before my eyes. I was sure it was all over. She just looked at me. I could see she'd been crying. There was a long silence.
Then, speaking quietly to avoid waking anyone else in the house, she asked, "Where have you been?" "Just out," I answered. I remember being disappointed with my answer. If I expected to be caught, I would have had a good lie ready. But I was caught totally off-guard. She said, "I was worried something had happened to you." More silence.
Then she said, "I'm just glad you're home." She left the room, closing the door quietly behind her. No more questions. No more discussion.
And I don't remember it ever being brought up again. All I remember is lying on my bed after she was gone, staring up at the ceiling. I was still holding the globe in my hands. I wondered how long she'd been lying there, waiting for me to come home. And why the tears? What was she thinking about?
Somehow, I knew she was not thinking about what a rotten kid I was, or how often I had disappointed her. Was she remembering the night in June 1957 when I was born? Or my first steps? My first word? My first day of school? Was she thinking I'd run away and left her life forever?
I don't really know what happened to me that night. But inch by inch, things began to change in me, and in my fractured relationship with my parents. Maybe that's because when we come face to face with that kind of compassion and love, we are never the same again. Our world is turned upside down. We are actually in the presence of God.
As human beings, we have a tendency to wander, to drift away from God's love. That love was given to us from the day of our creation, when the earth and the heavens and all the angels rejoiced. And even when we wander away from that love, God always welcomes us home again.
And that's Brian's story, and Brian's sermon for the day. I tell it because he was my friend. I tell it because it's true. And I tell it because it's a God story.
Brian's mom was like Jesus that night. She suffered for the ones she loved. And that image of Brian's mom is my image of the final judgment of Christ. The One who judges us most finally will be the One who loves us most fully.
Brian saw the pain his actions had caused his mom, and how she loved him anyway. That was the judgment he faced.
Some day we will see the face of Christ and see the pain our actions have caused, and how he loves us anyway. That will be the judgment we face.
The judgment will be for us to see clearly what we have done.
The mercy will be for us to see clearly how we are loved.
We are loved in spite of the wrong we've done.
We are loved through it all.
We are loved to the end.