July 26, 2020

“JUDGEMENT”

Matthew 7:1-6

 

Today’s topic for the sermon comes from someone who has struggled with judging others, particularly due to our political climate these days, and how difficult it is not to get angry and judge outrageous comments or behavior of those on the other side of our political spectrum. That person fits me to a tee, but I am not the one who submitted this topic. It is indeed a struggle! I recently received a saying about judgement from a friend, attributed to English writer Samuel Johnson, which says, “God does not propose to judge someone until he or she is dead. So why should you?” Pointing a finger in judgement - There is such a feeling of power when we wag our fingers in judgement of others. I was told years ago, that when a pastor points a finger in a sermon, he or she must remember that there are three pointing back at them.

 

Speaking of pointing fingers, you may remember that just a few years ago, our nation was at odds over reforming healthcare. This was certainly one of the main focuses during President Obama’s second term. I remember a story in the paper about two folks who had gathered at a town hall meeting with their congressional representative, who were on opposite sides of the discussion on healthcare reform. Apparently, the discussion got rather heated, and they began judging one another. The one who didn’t want any healthcare reform stuck their pointed finger in the face of one who was for healthcare reform. That pro healthcare reform person’s reaction was to bite off the finger being used for the pointing, which then somewhat ironically resulted in the person against healthcare reform being treated by their government-run Medicare insurance.

 

Well, if Jesus were running a town hall meeting, more than likely he would use today’s passage from Matthew, in the hopes of keeping finger waggers and finger biters from going too far. Jesus tells us: Do not judge. How does this principle given from Jesus apply to us today?  First, let’s look at the word translated as “Judge”- κρίνετε-krinete, which means-not to try or condemn. Why are we to stay away from such behavior? Jesus says, “For the way you judge, you will be judged (by God and others).”

 

I admit to personally struggling with this teaching when it comes to our President. Despite support from evangelical Christians, I see nothing in this president’s moral character that has been shaped by Jesus in any way. I judge him to be morally corrupt, and to be in opposition to God’s vision for a just world, to speak racist words, to degrade and objectify women, and to lie repeatedly. What would Jesus have to say to me about that judging? Can we call out corrupt behavior when we see it in others, or should we just keep quiet and keep our judging to ourselves?

 

First, let us consider what this passage does NOT mean. Jesus isn’t saying here, “You live your life and I’ll live mine. You keep your nose out of my business and I’ll keep quiet about yours.”

 

If we truly love God and try to have God as moral center; if we truly love our neighbors and are willing to speak the truth in love; if we are called at times to speak in the prophetic voice and speak truth to power, we cannot just throw these principles out the window when it comes to judging certain behaviors. Civil rights leader, former Congressman and a man anchored in his Christian faith John Lewis said, “Sometimes you have to get in the way. You have to make some noise by speaking up and speaking out against injustice and inaction.”

 

 

Are there examples of people judging others in scripture? Clearly, Paul didn’t keep quiet about judging how others lived their lives. He proclaimed that a man who was in a relationship with his stepmother was not to be tolerated. He had a laundry list of those he said were living wrongly in 1 Corinthians 6, calling them wicked; He said those who believed that the church was only to reach out to the circumcised were misguided and called the church in Corinth not to be yoked with unbelievers for they were wicked. All of those actions sound pretty judging to me! Consider also that Jesus himself certainly judged the actions of others - calling the money changers at the temple thieves, telling the Pharisees they neglected the justice and love of God (Luke 11:37) calling those gathered around him “a faithless generation.” (Mark 9:19) And verse 6 of this passage seems to judge some people as pigs or dogs, as to who are worthy or unworthy of learning holy things. These passages suggest we cannot totally abstain from judging or having opinions regarding someone’s conduct.

 

What can we do then? How do we approach this passage and make sense of it? What did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not judge, lest you be judged?”

 

In his book, The Relationship Principles of Jesus, author Tom Holladay writes, “Not being judgmental doesn’t mean you can’t be discerning; nor does it mean you can’t say it is right to do one thing and wrong to do another. So we can look at someone’s life and disagree with their choice of lifestyle. We can point to someone’s words or actions and call them wrong. Perhaps it has to do with just how we do that?  Let us take a closer look at today’s passage and see just what Jesus IS trying to say about judgement.

 

This passage first tells us if we live our lives seeing other people’s faults and constantly pointing them out, if we harshly judge others in this life, we ourselves will be judged in the same manner. Verse 7:2 tells us this.  So, if you wag your finger a lot, do not be surprised if it gets bitten off at some point. I think the golden rule from Luke 6:31 applies here- “Treat one another the way you want to be treated.” If you want to treat others with judgement, you will be treated similarly.

 

Next, verses 3-5 of the passage remind us that it is so easy to look at the speck in a neighbor’s eye without seeing the log in our own eye. Jesus’ main message in this section of scripture is that there is a problem in constantly finding fault with what others say and do, without also looking at our own actions and faults. Paul in Romans 2:1 says, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you the judge, are doing the very same things.”

 

 

Jesus wants us to focus upon ourselves first, rather than upon the perceived faults we see in others. Yet it is so much easier to wag our fingers at others, rather than look in the mirror at ourselves. It is less painful as well. 14th-century German spiritual writer Thomas a Kempis said, “How rarely we weigh our neighbor in the same balance in which we weigh ourselves.”

 

Holladay suggests there are three things in this passage Jesus teaches us to keep away from regarding judgement:

 

First, Don’t say one thing and do another-don’t be a hypocrite; Jesus addressees hypocrisy in today’s passage - He says, “Don’t focus upon the toothpick in someone else’s eye while there is a 2x4 in your own eye!”  We need to see our true selves and not in some false sanitized way instead. For as Paul states in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”

 

In Matthew 23:25-Jesus called the teachers of the law“hypocrites” - saying they cleaned the outside of a cup and dish, but inside they were full of greed and self-indulgence. Jesus was saying that these teachers were more concerned about their outward appearance-washing the outside of the cup-their clothing, their standing within social circles, than on the reality of what was inside - greed, cheating, and being focused upon themselves. Their outward appearance was nothing more than a false projection of themselves. This leads us to the root meaning of hypocrisy- Holladay says, Hypocrisy is “Derived from the Greek word for actors on stage who spoke from behind masks held in front of their faces, upokritai. Hypocrisy is all about hiding behind a mask.”

 

 

I have played the part of someone else, though I was not in roles on stage many times - in operas and musicals. The first major role I received was in a children’s theater production of The Music Man - Harold Hill. I spent a number of weeks learning my lines and songs, watching the movie with Robert Preston as Hill, memorizing where to go at certain points on stage, and doing my best to learn some occasional dance moves. By the time the show was ready to go, and I was wearing the costume of Harold Hill, when I walked on that stage, I was no longer Dan Fowler, a 16-year-old high school student - I WAS Harold Hill. That imaginary character is what I became when I was up on that stage. In every role I have had since then in an opera or musical when I am playing a character on stage, I am living, breathing, and feeling like that character rather than who I really am. But, in reality, it is a false sense of the real me.

 

Jesus is in effect saying that this is one show that must not go on and on. We have the capacity to take off the mask of hypocrisy by looking at our own faults first, by looking first at the log in our own eye before finding the speck in the eye of another. So, the first part of being careful in how we judge others is that we must remember who we really are, not the character we project to the rest of the world.  It is in effect remembering that the finger pointed at another has three pointing back at us, and to be willing to look at and find fault with ourselves FIRST.

 

Secondly, Holladay says, “Judge yourself rightly and be willing to make changes- show that you have integrity.” The word integrity means two things- First, it means, according to the American Heritage dictionary, “Rigid adherence to a code of values. But its second meaning is equally important- “soundness, completeness, unity.”

 

 

One who has integrity is one who lives by a set of values, completely and in all circumstances: yet a person of integrity is also sound, complete, and whole. One who lives a life of integrity knows themselves fully-never playing a part, but really authentically themselves in all situations. They see their faults and look to make improvements upon their own behaviors. There are no masks. Who they are in public is who they are in private. It is about trying to live your faith in every single aspect of your life, not just at church or on Sunday mornings, but 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

 

I will share the story of someone from a congregation I served quite a while ago who was an example of integrity - who was well respected, the father in a Christian family, who helped coordinate our local little league, and was very involved in our church life. He worked for a small publicly traded software firm, where part of his job included the reporting of financial results to the investing public. He began realizing that some of the transactions his boss wanted him to report were suspicious, and so he asked his boss about this, who told him to stop asking questions and just do his job, which he did for a while - but he began to feel uncomfortable, and he was unable to live his code of values at his job because he knew he was now covering up for illegal activity. He knew that not only was his boss benefitting from misleading the public, but he too was now part of that conspiracy. He knew the truth about himself and looked first at the log in his own eye. He knew that if he contacted the authorities, he likely faced prison time, a loss of his standing in his community, his family, and his church due to his own sinful actions. But he felt called to have integrity in the situation, and so he reported his boss’ actions to the board of directors, which led to a call to the federal authorities. Over the course of four years, he cooperated with the federal government, implicated his boss in a huge insider trading conspiracy, provided documents and testified in court to convict his boss, and as a result, spent time in prison himself. He faced all of these things bravely, and with integrity. He faced the log in his own eye, accepted his punishment, made changes, and is once again a person with standing in his community.

 

 

This leads to the third thing that helps us balance judgement - mercy. If we are living as our authentic selves with integrity, we are aware of our faults and are then thankful for God’s mercy. Holladay says, “Give to others the same kind of understanding, grace, and forgiveness that God has given you-make sure you show mercy.” What is mercy?  Mercy is remembering that we ourselves are given abundant mercy from God. In Ephesians 2:4-5, Paul reminds us “God’s mercy is so abundant, and God’s love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our sins, we were brought to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved.”  So if we are to live lives of mercy, we must remember that we have been given mercy, even though we did not deserve it. Judging others without mercy means forgetting our own faults, and forgetting the mercy God has extended to us in Christ upon the cross. I can certainly judge the president’s behavior as corrupt but must remember God’s mercy given to me when I have lied or done something morally corrupt in my own life, and therefore extend it - by no means an easy task, but I am working on this.

 

Theologian Gary Thomas says, “When we fail to fall in love with mercy, we often deal with our own sin by denouncing it in others. In contrast, mercy invites us to admit our guilt, receive God’s forgiveness, and then stop judging others.” I think part of the reason the president’s rhetoric disturbs me so greatly is that I do not begin from a place of mercy. As a result, I see some of those sinful behaviors deep within my own self. I see my own implicit racial bias, my telling lies, my degradation of others, my seeking of power and status, my own abuse of power, the way I too have objectified women at times in my life. Seeing such blatant sin in someone else is a painful reminder of my own sinfulness. I am challenged in my own sermon today, to begin from a place of mercy.

 

So may we take away these truths from Christ’s teaching today.

Be willing to speak up to speak out when we see unjust or wrong immoral behavior.

But do not live your lives from a place of judging others. 

Always look at the log in your own eye before pointing to the speck in someone else’s.

 Be your authentic selves, living a life of integrity, recognizing and admitting your own faults.  Remember God’s mercy for you and extend that mercy to others. Alleluia. Amen.

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