I saw two signs on the way back from Richmond one day. “We are you going, heaven or hell?” read one. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” intoned the other with a white Jesus standing on stage while a bunch of hands reached up for him. I found myself wondering, “where’s the ‘God loves you’ billboard?”
Now, before you jump me: yes, I believe that there is judgment for those who have met Jesus and rejected him. I believe that we will all have to answer for our lives before the one and only Almighty God one day. I get that.
But is that the point of the Bible?
Now, some of you are starting to squirm and think, “what does this have to do with that parable, about the manager?”
Jesus tells his disciples, note, not a giant crowd of anonymous souls, but those who have already chosen to follow, a rather strange tale of a shrewd manager. The manager is caught dead to rights, we assume by his peers, and he’s reported to his boss.
But this manager thinks fast on his feet. He asks what he should say, because he knows he’s about to lose his job. He recognizes that he isn’t strong enough to do manual labor, and his pride won’t let him beg, but he figure that the people who owe his boss money will operate out of the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ and let him stay at their houses.
The manager called in the first debtor, and asked how much he owed. “Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.” The manager told him to sit down and slash the debt in half, to four hundred and fifty.
The manager called in the second and asked how much he owed. “A thousand bushels of wheat.” So the manager said to sit down and slash off two hundred bushels, to eight hundred.
The shrewd manager’s boss commended him “because he had acted shrewdly.” Seriously? The kingdom of God is like that? Rewarding a dishonest middle management type? What in the world could Jesus possibly be getting at here?
I have to admit: I’m not sure.
Jesus concludes his parable with this piece of advice for his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
The truth is that anyone trying to serve two opposing things can’t accomplish that. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to choose.
You have to choose blame or forgiveness. You have to choose to focus on the life without God or the life with God. You have to choose to embrace your own God-filled life or examine the lives of others you see. You have to choose law or grace.
Which brings me back to the billboards I saw in Richmond.
There are certainly many verses in the Bible about God’s judgment, about parables where those who don’t get it, or better yet, claim to get it and absolutely miss out on it. But there are also many more verses about the ways that God’s grace supersedes everything, even the law of judgment.
And yet, too often, we ‘church folk’ seem to be hung up on all the wrong things. We seem to be focused on telling people how they’re not getting into heaven, how they have problems that they have to get fixed before they can be made right. We seem more concerned with asking people “are you going to heaven or hell?” than “have you loved your neighbor this week?” We seem to more caught up in the small stuff, like theology (yes, I just said how we articulate what God looks like is relatively ‘small’), and who does what, and what choices a person makes that we don’t particularly care for… than we are with the big stuff, which I’d sum up like this.
God is love, and if we are like God, then we are love.
So, what would it look like if we were trustworthy?
What would it look like if we put our own biases aside and really presented the gospel of Jesus Christ to each and every person we met?
What if we forgave our spouse for their latest mistake, or better yet, stopped keeping track of their mistakes?
What if we ignored a person’s sexual preference, past drinking history, timeliness, cleanliness, fashion sense, child raising skills, or education, and loved them no matter what?
What if we stopped caring whether the other person in the conversation was ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ but listened to what we could learn from their life, even if they were Republican or Democrat?
What if we stopped #tagging everything, from styles of worship to denominations to ways of differentiating theology?
What if we discontinued our need to compare ourselves to others in weight, job performance, marriage, possessions, salary, and lifestyle?
What if we stopped worrying about where someone was from, or what car they drove, and respected them simply because God chose to give them life?
What if we actually loved ourselves in spite of all of those things?
The shrewdness of the kingdom of God is that it fines a laser-like light on what the ‘main thing’ is.
God loved us enough to make the world.
God loved us enough that he sent Jesus to show us what love looks like.
God loves us enough to chase after us to establish, maintain, and grow a relationship with us.
That’s the main thing. All of the other stuff? It won’t matter much in the long run.
SO, may grace grow. In you, in me, in us. Let it wash over, fill up, overflow, erupt. Let it be enough, and be so amazing that the whole world can see signs about judgment and hell and damnation and find hope and peace in the grace they see in you and me.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin. (Julia H. Johnston, “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”)