Saturday, November 22, 2014

2014/11/23 - Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda...

“and these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”
Doesn’t it seem cruel that God would condemn ANYBODY to eternal punishment?  I mean, if God is a God of Love, then how could he be so heartless?
We’d LIKE to be able to ignore Hell… to say it doesn’t exist… that God has wiped away all of our sins and there’s nothing more anybody has to do to avoid going there…but – well – here it is in black and white… in the very words of Jesus himself,  “these will go off to eternal punishment”.  That sounds like Hell to me… so it MUST exist.  It would be dangerous for us to just ignore it.
But - I’ve got some good news and some not so-good news and some even better news. 
First the Good News – God does not send ANYONE to hell. 
Did you hear me?  God does not send ANYONE to hell.
Your eyebrows should go up about now… what… Mike you just pointed out in that reading how those people will be sent to hell…. Make up your mind….does God send people to hell or doesn’t he?!
Actually – read that again – “these will go off to eternal punishment”.   God didn’t send them there – they went by their own free will.  They CHOSE hell!  Can you believe it?
See – that’s the worrisome, not-so-good news.  We all get to choose heaven or hell.  But –unless you understand how you choose it, you might not even realize you’ve made that choice.  Look in the reading – those who chose heaven asked ‘when did we see you hungry and feed you?’  ‘when did we see you ill or in prison and visit you’….   They didn’t know they were choosing heaven – they just knew they were doing the right thing.  It was their very nature to do the right thing: the Loving thing.  That’s super important… their personality was such that it was just second-nature to do the Loving thing.
Now – look at the other guys… they didn’t realize they were choosing Hell.  ‘When did we see you hungry and NOT feed you?’  They had the chance, but they chose NOT to do the right thing.  Since they didn’t practice acts of kindness and Love, it didn’t become their very nature to Love.  Instead, their very nature is Love of Self… selfishness…looking out for number 1.  By choosing themselves, they failed to experience the Grace and Peace that God gives to those who do the right thing….and they chose themselves over Jesus.
Which leads us to the ‘Even Better’ news!  Fortunately for us – we’re not like these guys in the Gospel.  They didn’t know they were choosing… but because we’ve all read this reading today – we all KNOW the rules!  We know now that every act of kindness to anyone is actually an act of kindness to Jesus.  We know now that these very choices which will determine where we spend eternity.  Do we love Jesus more – or love ourselves more?
Notice in that Gospel, that those who went to Hell didn’t go there because of anything they DID…but rather for what they DIDN’T do.  “For I was hungry and you gave me no food.  I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome…”  This is important – it’s not what they DID – but what they DIDN’T DO!  This is known as the “sin of omission”… as opposed to the “sin of commission” where we actually  COMMIT a sin… in this case, we sin by failing to do something. 
Imagine being one of those people in the crowd that day when Jesus says, “what you did not do for one of the least ones, you did not do for me.”  I’d be standing  there thinking… but, but, but… if I had KNOWN it was you, I woulda…. If I had known this was important, I coulda… If I had realized that my eternal life was at stake, I shoulda…
Woulda, coulda, shoulda…  I think THAT is their Hell.  It’s called ‘regrets’.
Regrets can really eat at you…  Does anybody else experience this?  I’ve found over the last few years that the things in my past that I regret keep popping-up in my mind.  I’ll be hoeing the garden and suddenly have a memory of when I cheated on a test in high school… it’s like a slap in the face…I really regret that.  Or - I’ll remember the time I was driving too fast on an unfamiliar wet road and slid into the guard-rail… the memory makes me physically wince…I really regret that.  I could go on… Like probably everybody here, I’ve got plenty of regrets  - and those regrets are physically and mentally painful to me.
But – regrets can take two forms.  We can regret what we did…or often, the more painful regret is what we DIDN’T do.
My buddy, Jerry’s Dad was near death not too long ago.  It came on kinda sudden and was like a kick in the gut to Jerry.  In talking to him, he was really hurting watching his dad so close to death – but the thing that really tore him up was that there was one topic he had always wanted to talk to his Dad about – in a heart-to-heart, man-to-man, father-to-son conversation.  It hit Jerry that he would never be able to have that conversation.  That regret continues to eat at him today.
Researchers say that people near death are often torn with regrets, but most of those regrets are for things they DIDN’T do….  I wish I had spent more time with my kids when they were young.  I wish I would have worked on my relationship with God more.  I wish I would have set a better example to my kids by going to Church regularly.  I wish I had stayed at home with the kids rather than sending them to the babysitter while I went to work.  I wish I had given my wife more attention so she would have known how much I love her.  You fill in the blank from your own life… we all have regrets.
These regrets can really eat at us.  And that is Hell.  Imagine the pit in the stomach of the folks in that reading as they head off to eternal punishment… man, they are REALLY regretting what they didn’t do.  And that regret will stick with them for eternity.  That mental anguish is their hell.
So – what are we supposed to do?  It’s really quite simple…but not easy.  In every moment of every day – every decision we make – choose the most loving option.  By doing so, not only are we choosing to serve Jesus, but we will experience God’s grace and peace NOW… we will experience the Kingdom of God NOW.  And every time we choose the loving thing to do, we train ourselves to be Loving – until it becomes our very nature to be that way….   Make sure you understand this:  God puts the poor, sick, hungry in our paths as a means to give us His Grace.  It is in serving them that God blesses us…know what I mean?  When we do good things for people, we feel good about it!  That is God’s Grace.  When we avoid those opportunites to help others… we are avoiding the Grace of God.  That’ really what our Grace Co-Op is all about – helping our parishioners to find opportunities to serve others so that we can all experience the Grace of God.
This is Jesus’ plan for YOU.  Like it says in the Gospel – “come inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  From the Foundation!”  That means he intended from the beginning for every one of us to join Him in heaven…   Every time we Love, We DO experience heaven.  Anything else leads to regrets – where we’ll spend eternity with a pain in our gut as we’re thinking - Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

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