Sermon: Pentecost 14 / Proper 19 RCL A – “Standing before God”

soul viewIn the Far East the emperor was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or his children, he decided to do something different. He called young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The children were shocked, but the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today–one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next emperor.”

One boy, named Ling, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his mother the story. She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it, carefully. Everyday, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Ling didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure. Six months went by–still nothing in Ling’s pot.

He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow. A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But his mother asked him to be honest about what happened.

Ling felt sick at his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace. When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful–in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other children laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey, nice try.”

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor. “Today one of you will be appointed the next emperor!”

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. He thought, “The emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!”

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. “My name is Ling,” he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!”

Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds that would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!”

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.  Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Many read the Book of Revelation and are frightened by things like the dragon, the woman in the desert, the crashing star, Wormwood, not to mention the Four Horsemen, but this little section toward the end should really grab our attention. Everything that takes place before is leading up to this event. It is the time of God’s final decision with regards to our soul’s eternal destination.

Now, you’ve probably picked up on the fact by now that I’m not a “Hellfire and Brimstone” kind of preacher, and I’m not going to start today, but it was the passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that we read today that made me consider this. Paul writes:

“We will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.”

During your lifetime, whether you confess Jesus as Lord or not, on this day of judgment, you will, for Paul and John both state that we will all come before the throne of God. Therefore, the question for us is: what will we present?

In the story of the Emperor, all the children had been given the same opportunity and the same place to begin. Each had the command to take what they had been given and care for it. Each experienced the same frustration when their seed did not grow. Each had the choice to persevere, even though they believed they had failed, but only one chose to be true and faithful to the Emperor.

Jesus says, “many are invited, but few are chosen.” Why is that? The Book of Genesis states, “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostril the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God has placed within each of us the gift of his breath, of life, of spirit – a soul. Although our external circumstances may be different – some are rich others poor, slave or free, male or female, American or Zambian – we all have different external circumstances, but internally regarding the matters of the soul, we all have the same opportunity when presented with the knowledge of God. Our soul is ours to care for and to nurture. It is also ours to corrupt and neglect. In light of our failures, we all have the choice to persevere and remain faithful, or abandon what God has place within us for something that is unfit for the Kingdom of Heaven. So, coming back to the question: what will you present?

Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

What will you present? “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” By doing so, on the day of God’s final decision, He will say to you, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

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