Site Overlay

How Am I Doing?

Matthew 25:1-13

November 9, 2014

Sermon preached by Rev. Donald Ng at the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco.

I asked Joy this week how many reality food shows are on the air? There are many: Top Chef, Cupcake Wars, Cut Throat Kitchen, Chopped and so on. When I try watching these shows, I don’t get the recipes even though the judges had ruled that one was the best. I barely get to see what went on after the cooks have gone shopping for their fresh ingredients. We only see them rushing around the kitchen, sometimes bad-mouthing their fellow competitors and then after a commercial break, they stand in front of the judges and get judged. We like to see who are the winners or losers.

Sometimes when we eat dinner at 7 o’clock we watch Judge Judy. To fit into a half a hour show, we only hear a few examples of what the case is about because the real point of the show is Judge Judy’s judgment. We get to see the looks on the faces of the innocent or the guilty.

Today’s lesson from Matthew is about judgment, about final accountability before God, the final reckoning, the gavel of the judge coming down and the final verdict being rendered.

How Am I Doing?

Back in the late 1960s, I had a friend who attended Williams College in western Massachusetts known as a thoroughly progressive school. The students there received absolutely no grades for academic work.

Here’s a story of a student in a college like Williams. No grades sounded great to him at first. It was liberating to begin a class and to participate without worrying about the grades.

He could read the books that he really wanted to read or the books that he needed to read, without worrying about whether or not he would be tested on those books on an exam. He could attend those classes that he felt he really needed to attend, and skip those he deemed to be unnecessary. Was UC Berkeley like that in the 1960s?

And yet, eventually, not ever receiving any grades and just getting a few vague comments from a professor on a paper became very frustrating. He wondered how he was doing, how he was doing in comparison with the other students, and most important of all, how he was doing in the eyes of the professor.

One afternoon, the student went to see his professor to find out how he was really doing in his class.

“You are doing very well,” the professor said.

“How well?” he asked.

“”Well, very well,” he said.

“How am I doing in comparison with the other students that you have taught through the years?” he asked.

“Very well,” he said.

This was very frustrating for the student. After three years of this open-ended, permissive, everybody-gets-a-pat-on-the-head approach, he was desperate to receive just one letter grade that would tell him in a definite, particular way how he was doing. It wasn’t so much that he was craving to receive judgment and grades from his professors, rather, he was wanting to judge himself and needed the professors’ judgments of him to answer his simple but very important question, “How am I doing?”

I don’t think many of us here would like to have attended Williams College. Someone once said, “The reason why Asian Americans get “As” is because the word “Asian” starts with the letter grade “A!”

Now that the baseball season is over and we are in the middle of the football season, football coaches know how they are doing. The 49ers are doing disappointingly okay and should have won last Sunday’s game against the Rams. The Raiders are not doing well at all with a 0-8 record! Football coaches don’t have to wait until the end of the season, or 30 years later, to know how well they are doing. They know every Sunday and sometimes Monday or Thursday. All they have to do is look up on the scoreboard and they know.

How are we doing? It is a question of evaluation, accountability, judgment.

Ten Bridesmaids

There are many stories about judgment in the Bible. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a big wedding, with ten bridesmaids, all arriving together in the limo with their flashlights, since there’s been a blackout but the ceremony must go on. Five of them bring extra batteries, since who knows when the bridegroom will show up? Sure enough, he’s late, and not just a little bit. They pace up and down the aisle, keep refreshing their makeup, sticking their bouquets in water, sitting around talking for hours in the church parlor, until finally they all fall asleep.

Read Related Sermon  September 2010 Newsletter

At midnight the wedding coordinator bursts into the room and yells, “Look! Here’s comes the groom? Come out to meet him!” They all turn on their flashlights to show him in, but of course after all that time the batteries are just about worn out. The five who packed extra batteries swap them out and they’re good to go. The other five watch their feeble beams flicker and go out, and they beg the plan-ahead girls for some of their extra batteries. But the other bridesmaids tell them, “Sorry, girlfriends, not our problem that you didn’t bring extras. There’s a 7-11 Store around the corner that’s open 24/7; run down there and see if you can buy some batteries.”

So those five bridesmaids hitch up their skirts and hobble down the street in their heels. They get their new batteries and get back to the church as soon as they can.

Outside, they can hear the music playing, and glasses clinking, and people laughing. The lights are back on, and the reception has already started!

One of them steps up to tug open the heavy door, but it’s locked. They all bang on the door, so they can be heard over the sounds of the party. “Open up!” they call.

But then, the groom—the one who was so late himself—comes to the door and says, “Do I know you? I don’t think so. Sorry, girls.”

These five bridesmaids who didn’t come prepared with extra batteries in comparison with the five who were prepared with extra ones, were not doing well at the end. They got voted off.

God’s Judgment

Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like a man who goes on a journey, entrusting everything he has to his servants. Eventually, without warning, the master returns, and when he returns, there is a time of accounting. The master asks, “What have you done with what I have given you?”

At the end of the Matthew Gospel, Jesus tells the gospel of the great judgment. On that last day everyone will appear before the judge. And the judge will say, “Well done, good servants. I was sick, and you visited me. I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.” In the end, when all is said and done, there is judgment. Our actions, or lack of actions, have consequences.

Just like at the end of a reality food show, the judges vote who is going off the show and who will be staying. Just like Judge Judy judges who will win or lose.

For most of us, we don’t hear much about judgment in our churches. We are more into acceptance and affirmation rather than accountability. As we speak, we are just completing the pastoral staff’s annual appraisals—it’s always the least thing we like to do! We are not like some of those Christian churches that are always beating up on you, listing all of the terrible things that you do, always pointing the finger, always judging you. We preach Jesus as loving acceptance and affirmation.

Church is where there are never, ever any grades.

That’s all well and good. But according to today’s scripture, churches that don’t have any grades really don’t have much to do with Jesus. Matthew records Jesus as having told many parables of judgment, and today’s Gospel is one of them. The bridesmaids had good intentions of buying oil for their lamps in order to be ready for the beginning of the party. But first there was one thing and then another and, by the time the party began, they were out and about in town seeking more oil for their lamps. They missed the party. Now they must pay the price for their indecision and procrastination. This is judgment.

When harvest time comes it is time for judgment of the fruit tree. If there is fruit on the tree, we call that a good, productive tree. Some of you have blessed me immensely when you share with me your persimmons. But if there is no fruit, we call the tree unproductive. Judgment.

You won’t know if you built your house well until that soaking storm comes.  And we are still hoping there will be many rainstorms this winter. But you will know whether or not you have a good foundation or a good roof over your head when the rains finally come. The test is of how many pans and buckets you’d need to put out. Judgment.

If we’re going to follow Jesus, then we can’t follow him without evaluation. The word, “disciple” comes from the word, “discipline.” Jesus says in the end, there will be an exam. There will be grades. What have you done with what you have been given? Did you follow Jesus words with the right deeds?

Read Related Sermon  Eat Like Jesus

As we have said we judge ourselves. We can’t live without having some accurate sense of just how well we are doing in life. Judgment is the mirror before which we stand and assess how our lives are going. Sunday morning worship becomes a time when each of us is given the opportunity to sit for a moment and gaze into the mirror of truth, God’s truth that is scriptural and ask ourselves, deep in our souls, “How am I doing?”

But God also judges us. Not that God is going around and judging us, saying to us, “Just you wait! I’ll get back at you at Judgment!” No, it is perhaps more biblical to say that Christ, in his very being, is judge. To see life lived so obediently, courageously, and faithfully in Christ is to have exposed all the ways that we live our lives in disobedience and deceit. To witness his love for us is to see clearly all the ways that we have betrayed his love. Just to have God come into our lives is to experience judgment. To stand face-to-face with the God who loves us is to stand before the judge.

Remember in Luke 5 when Peter witnesses a marvelous work of Christ. Peter’s response is not, “How did you do that?” or even, “You must really be the Messiah!” Rather, Peter’s response is, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” To see clearly who Jesus is and what he does is to see too clearly who we are. His presence is indeed his judgment.

How Shall We Live

There have been times when we come to these parables about judgment and we are worrying about “Will you be ready to meet Jesus at the end?” Rather, our question is, “Now that we have met Jesus, how then should we live?

When Jesus speaks to us of judgment perhaps he is paying us a high compliment.

First, in speaking of the consequences of our actions, Jesus is saying that our actions have important, even eternal, consequences. It’s so easy to think of yourself, “I’m just one person. What difference can I make?” Jesus tells us that we are important and that how we live our lives is of consequence. You know from your own working life that only the boss who believes in your ability, who really thinks that you have something important to contribute to the company, holds you accountable for your work. Well, I think it’s that same way between Christ and us.

Jesus is also saying that he really does need us to do well as his disciples. And with his help, we will do well. Jesus has handed over to us responsibility for his kingdom. He has given us everything he has got. When he speaks to us about trees that bear good fruit and houses that have such deep foundations they are able to withstand the storms of life, he is saying to us, “Hey, I need you. I care about what you do. How you live your life reflects upon me. In my kingdom, your performance really does make a difference. I’m acting in the world through you! You are my appointed agent for the growth of the kingdom! I promise to hold you accountable for being all that I believe you can do with my grace.”

Being a disciple of Jesus is not simply a matter of everybody-gets-a-pat-on-the-head; it is also a matter of accountability. Somebody will be voted off the show. The judge on TV will pass down a verdict. There will be grades at the end of the semester.

Let us pray.

Loving God, teach us to so value our lives and our days that we waste not our time on this earth. Teach us to savor each moment of life, to love the little things of life, and to delight in the richness of your good creation. Teach us to number our days, to admit to the fragility of life, the temporary of all things, that we might learn to cherish what we have been given and to enjoy what we have while we have it.

Gracious God, teach us to prepare ourselves for life’s dark valleys and difficult days, that with prayer, study, and reflection we might be ready to greet any time as time with you whether in the light or in the darkness. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.