Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday in Advent 3: All come together before God

Opening Sentence
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. Isaiah 40:5

Commemoration: Dorothy L. Sayers
Almighty God, who gave to your servant Dorothy L Sayers special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 55

Lessons: Zechariah 8:9-17, Revelation 6, Matthew 25:31-46

"The dead small and great," St. John says that he saw standing before God. In that great judgment day, another truth is that the difference of sizes among human lives, of which we make so much, passes away, and all human beings, in simple virtue of their human quality, are called to face the everlasting righteousness. The child and the greybeard, the scholar and the boor, however their lives may have been separated here, they come together there. It is upon the moral ground that the most separated souls must always meet. Upon the child and the philosopher alike rests the common obligation not to lie, but to tell the truth. The scholar and the plowboy both are bound to be pure and to be merciful. Differently as they may have to fulfill their duties, the duties are the same for both. Intellectual sympathies are limited. The more we study, the more we separate ourselves into groups with special interests. But moral sympathies are universal. The more we try to do right, the more we come into communion with all the others who are engaged in the same struggle all through the universe. Therefore it is that before the moral judgment seat of God all souls, the small and the great, are met together.

All may be good -- all may be bad; therefore, before the One whose nature is the decisive touchstone of goodness and badness in every nature which is laid upon it, all souls of all the generations of mankind may be assembled. Think what a truth that is. We try to find some meeting ground for all humanity, and what we find is always proving itself too narrow or too weak. The one only place where all can meet, and every soul claim its relationship with every other soul, is before the throne of God. The Father's presence alone furnishes the meeting place for all the children, regardless of differences of age or wisdom. The grave and the learned of this earth shall come up there before God, and find, standing in God's presence, that all which they have truly learned has not taken them out of the sympathy of the youngest and simplest of their Father's children. On the other hand, the simple child, who has timidly gazed afar off upon the great minds of his race, and who comes to stand with them before God, will not be shut out from them. Even that child has a key which will unlock their doors and allow and entrance into their lives. Because they are all obeying the same God, that child also has some part in the eternal life of Abraham, and Moses, and Paul. Not directly, but through the God before whom both of them stand, the small and great come together. The humility of the highest and the self-respect of the lowest are both perfectly attained. The children, who have not been able to understand or hold communion with each other directly, meet perfectly together in the Father's house, and the dead, small and great, stand in complete sympathy and oneness before God.

And now one question still remains! Is the fulfillment of the vision of St. John for us to wait for until we are dead? Can only the dead stand before God? Think for a moment what we found to be the blessings of that standing before God, and then consider that those privileges, however they may be capable of being given more richly to the human soul in the eternal world, are privileges upon whose enjoyment any soul may enter here. Consider this, and the question at once is answered. Already, now, you and I may live by the standards of the eternal righteousness, and we may claim our fellowship with the least and the greatest of our fellow human beings, and we may so lay hold on God that we shall realize our immortality. The soul that has done all that, is now standing before God. It does not need to push aside the curtain, and to enter into the unknown world which lies behind. While we are living here, walking these common streets, living in closest intercourse with others, we are already in the everlasting presence, and our heaven has begun.

But now these are the very things which Jesus Christ promises to give, and which he has given to multitudes. All who will come to him and serve him are brought thereby to the loftiest standards of righteousness, to the broadest and deepest human fellowship, and to such a true knowledge of God that their own immortality becomes real to them.

Is it not true, then, that Christ does for the soul which follows him, that which the experience of the eternal world shall take up and certify, and complete? Already in him we begin to live the everlasting life. Already its noble independence, its deep discrimination, its generous charity, its large hopefulness, its great abounding and inspiring peace gathers around and fills the soul which lives in obedience to him. Already, as he himself said, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life."

And yet, while we need not wait till we are dead for the privilege and power of "standing before God," yet still the knowledge of that loftier and more manifest standing before God, which is to come in the unseen land, of which St. John has told us, may make more possible the true experience of the divine presence which we may  have here. Because I am to stand before God in some yet unimagined way, seeing God with some keener sight, hearing God's words with some quicker hearing which shall belong to some new condition of eternity, therefore I will be sure that my true life here consists in such a degree of realization of God's presence, such a standing before God in obedience, and faith, and love, as is possible for one in this lower life.

When the change come to any of us, my friends, how little it will be, if we have really been, through the power of Jesus Christ, standing before God, in our poor, half-blind way upon the earth. If now, in the bright freshness of your youth, you give yourself to Christ, and through him do indeed know God as your dearest friend, years and years hence, when the curtain is drawn back for you, and you are bidden to join the host of the dead who stand before God eternally, how slight the change will be. Only the change from the struggle to the victory, only the opening of the dusk and twilight into the perfect day. "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master."

Phillips Brooks

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