Monday, May 2, 2016

Judge Not

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 7:1-5:

We continue today in our series on the things Jesus commanded us not to do with the one that is probably the most famous. It is certainly the one that the most people outside of the church know of, even if they don’t know that it was Jesus who said it, or even where to find it, but they do know that the Bible says “Do not judge.”  As a result it is a phrase that gets thrown back at the church and Christians on a fairly regular basis, and in my opinion often rightfully so.  But in the ways it is used by non-Christians it is clear that they don’t understand what Jesus was actually saying, but more importantly for us as Christians, it is also clear that many of us do not understand what the statement means for us as individuals or as a church.  So what does Jesus mean when he says that we are not to judge?

First we have to understand and remember what one of Jesus’ biggest pet peeves was, which was hypocrisy.  One definition of hypocrisy says it is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.” So one of Jesus’ constant complaints was that some of the religious leaders and religious groups were looking at what others we doing, finding what they did did not rise to the same level as themselves and therefore condemning them, while simultaneously ignoring all the areas in which they were violating the law or not living up to and into the same standards that they themselves were promoting.

Now there are really two ways to be a hypocrite, or perhaps two ways to deal with hypocrisy.  The first is to admit that you are hypocritical, this is by far the road least traveled, but the one I think Jesus wants us to pursue because the truth is all of us are hypocrites, every single one of us, and I am not being hypocritical in saying that because it includes me.  One of the biggest charges made against the church by outsiders is that it is full of hypocrites, but as Adam Hamilton says, “of course it’s full of hypocrites, just like everyplace else, because we all fall short of the glory of God.”  Or as we covered Jesus saying last week, “Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.”  Admitting our hypocrisy is one thing, but the more common path is not to admit that we are hypocrites, and instead to go down that path that is properly seen as self-righteousness.

That is what Jesus is talking about when he uses the term hypocrite, and it is one of the favorite phrases found in Matthew who uses it much more than any of the other gospels.  In a sense we could say that being self-righteous is even worse than just being hypocritical, because it elevates our own status above everyone else, or as Andy Stanley has said, “It increases our holiness while simultaneously pulling God’s holiness down.”  It puts us up on a pedestal and says if only everyone could be like me, and then everything would be great, without paying any attention to what we are actually doing.  That is what Jesus is dealing with when he gives this injunction not to judge. But normally we just leave it at that. Do not judge. Period. Except that’s not what Jesus says.

Now in Greek, which is what the entirety of the New Testament is written in, there is no punctuation, but when this passage is translated into English we have to add punctuation, and they do not put a period there.  Instead, there is a comma, a break, a pause for breath.  And so Jesus says “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”  And then he tells us exactly why this is so, “for with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”  That means if we are judging people, or really when we judge people, since we all make judgments, then by that same measure we too will be judged.  So if you make fun of Red Sox fans, then when your team starts playing terrible baseball and is in last place then it’s only fair that they make fun of you.  You get what you give. So Jesus is saying that how we judge others is how they will judge us, if we are judgmental others will see us as such and make judgments about us in regards to that, but more importantly this is about how God will judge us.

While we talk about salvation in church, we don’t talk a lot about God’s judgment very much, unless we are using it in reference to someone else, and say “God’s not going to like you doing that,” or “God’s going to punish them for that.” We like to offer God’s judgment for others, but rarely do we ever think about it for ourselves, as if somehow it doesn’t apply to us. But what Jesus is saying is that if you are harsh and critical of others and nitpick about everything they do, then God is going to do exactly the same to you. So how do we want to be judged? Do we want it to be harsh or do we want it to be done with mercy, with kindness, with grace, gently? If we want mercy, then we have to show mercy, just as Jesus tells us that if we want to be forgiven then we have to forgive. As we give so too shall we receive. Or to put it another way, just 7 verses after today’s passage Jesus gives us what has become known as the golden rule which says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So I think we could change this injunction to “judge others as you would want to be judged.”

So in actuality Jesus is not telling us not to judge, but instead he is giving us instructions about how to judge.  But the instructions are not really about how we are to judge others, but instead how we are to judge ourselves first before we do anything else.  And so Jesus says, before you begin to worry about the speck in the other person’s eye, to tell them how wrong they are, and what they should be doing better, or not doing at all, we instead need to worry about the log in our own eye.  And pay attention to the dichotomy that Jesus is setting up here.  It’s a speck in their eye, whereas it’s a log in our eye. Jesus is not denying that there might be something wrong with the other person that needs to be called out, but what he is saying is that it is miniscule in comparison to the work we have to do on ourselves, and our own recognizing, and this is true for several reasons.

The first is because it’s always easier to see the faults in others because they are more obvious to us because we see them, whereas it’s much harder to see ourselves.  We might look in a mirror a couple of times a day, unless you’re incredibly vain and then I am judging you about that, so we don’t really see ourselves that often because we are not looking inward, we don’t see what’s there, and this could be because we are arrogant, which is that self-righteous piece again which we’ll get back to, or it could be that we are ignorant, that we don’t see our own faults, or perhaps a little combination of the two.  But the second reason it’s harder to judge ourselves is because we know the story behind our actions.  That is that we judge others by their behaviors, but we judge ourselves by our intentions, or as the title of James Moore’s book says “Yes Lord I have sinned, but I have several excellent excuses.”  We know the background of the things we have done wrong, and we know the where’s and why’s.  But that’s not the only reason we don’t judge ourselves as harshly.

Often we can admit that we have done something wrong, but then judge that what we have done wrong is minor, because we inadvertently make a hierarchy of sin, when none exists, and so what we have done is not nearly as bad as others, and so we move into that self-righteous position again. That’s one of Jesus’ greatest concerns, hypocrisy, of not being aware of who we are and what we do, of the brokenness in our lives. That’s where humility comes back into play. The Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes said “The most profound of all religious sentiments should not be certainty, which leads to arrogance, but modesty, which, because of a generous God, leads to mercy and forgiveness.”  That is how we should approach the world, with humility, because we have done a self-examination, and we know where we have harmed others and where we need to seek forgiveness, which then leads to learn how to forgive.

That’s what this table should remind us, is that all of us are in the need of grace and forgiveness and so God offers that to us, and we need to remember that just as we are forgiven, so to we need to forgive, and we need to judge the way we want to be judged, and that is with mercy, which means we need to approach the world with a sense of humility.  When we do that, when we remember who we are and where we have fallen short, then we are able to recognize the log that is our own eyes. And then, Jesus says, once we have worked on removing the log from our own eyes then we can start looking at others. Now I would wonder whether we can ever truly remove the log from our own eye, but Jesus says that once we have removed the log then we can see clearly in order to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.

So where does that leave is to this point. First it’s not that we are not to judge, but to remember that as we judge so we will be judged, by the same measure.  What you give is what you will get.  Second is that we need to remember that we need to move past the easy instict for ignorance and arrogance to either think that we don’t sin, or that our sins are not as bad as others, and thus to move away from a position of self-righteousness. Instead we need to remember that while we can see the speck in the other’s eye that we have a log in our own, and that leads to two things. The first is to move to seek to remove the log, whatever it is, to ask for forgiveness, from others and from God, or perhaps even to give forgiveness for some hurt that we can’t let go of.  And when we begin to do that, we begin to see more clearly, and learn to approach people more clearly to talk about their speck, not from a position of authority or superiority, but from a position of self-effacement and humbleness and love.

Because the truth is there are things that people do that we need to call them out for, and this is not about chastising non-Christians for not behaving like Christians, which we are good at.  But instead to talk with them about things they are doing which is damaging them, or others. To show them their speck for their own good, for their own health, for their lives, or for the lives of others they are harming.  So we don’t say to someone in the midst of addiction, or someone abusing someone, or someone cheating or stealing or breaking the law, “it’s none of my business because I can’t judge,” instead we are to address the issue not as a way of being better but out of a sense of love, remembering that we will be judged as well, and remembering that on the last night, on the night in which Jesus shared the bread and cup with the disciples, he said “This is my commandment for you that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Self-righteouness, hypocrisy, blocks our ability to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and it most certainly gets in the way of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  And so if we appraoch the world with judgment and self-righteousness then we cannot do what God has called us to do, and worse is that that judgment will come back onto us, I believe in both the short-term and the long-term. Instead we are to remember who and what we are, that we too are in the need of mercy and grace, and so when we remember that then we begin with a position of humility and work to remove the log from our own eye, and once we have done that, and only once we have done that, then we can “see clearly to take the speck out of our neighbor’s eye.” Not in judgment, but in love, just as Christ came to offer love. I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

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