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September 10, 2017

“JUDGMENT”

Matthew 7:1-5

 

I recently received a number of sayings about life in the church from a friend, and one of them applies to today’s sermon on judgment. It says, “God does not propose to judge someone until they are dead. So why should you?” Judgment, or as the dictionary defines it, criticism; censure” of someone is a powerful feeling. And pointing a finger- There is such a feeling of superiority when we wag our fingers in judgment 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. As a result, I try not to point my finger when I preach.

 

Speaking of that, you may remember a story a few years ago during the debate over healthcare reform prior to the ACA becoming the law of the land.  The story had to do with two folks who were on opposite sides of the discussion on healthcare reform- Apparently the discussion got rather heated, and the one who didn’t want any healthcare reform or the government sticking its nose into his medical coverage 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... You just can’t make this stuff up.

There’s a lot of judging going around these days with arguments about all kinds of things: from the removal of Confederate statues and the weak response from the White House regarding denouncing white supremacy, to the repeal of DACA, to the standoff with North Korea, to the discussion on global warming and its causes-the effects of which we are experiencing right here in the Rogue Valley. There is plenty to get our fingers bit off about! Well, Jesus gives us today’s passage in the hopes of keeping wagging fingers and finger biters from going too far. Jesus gives us an important and very difficult relationship principle: Do not judge. How can we live in such a way in such a divided, judgment filled, angry nation??

First, let us consider what this passage does NOT mean. Jesus isn’t saying here, “Let people do what they need to do to make them happy. Mind your own business and do what you need to do to make you happy.”Living in such a way would take away Jesus’ call to love of neighbor and of self, and throw them out the window. So then, if we can’t judge and yet are called not to remain silent when it comes to behavior that goes against God’s calling to live out our faith, what then are we to do?

 

 

Clearly Paul didn’t keep quiet about how others lived their lives. He proclaimed that a man who was in a relationship with his step mother 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. All of those actions sound pretty judging to me! And Jesus certainly judged the actions of others- calling the Pharisees and scribes terms like “a brood of vipers”(Matthew 12:34) or “hypocrites”(Matthew 23:23), calling those gathered around him “a faithless generation.”(Matthew 17:17)  These passages suggest we cannot totally abstain from judging or having opinions regarding one another. 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?”

 

 

Tom Holladay, in his book, The Relationship Principles of Jesus says,  “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.” Nor does Jesus say, “If you tolerate the sins of others, then you’ll live the life Jesus wants you to live.” If Jesus and Paul had both lived in such a way, their message of a new way of life would’ve never been heard. The lives of those whom they challenged would have remained as they were- without the hope, love and truth of the gospel guiding them. Therefore, we can look at someone’s life and disagree with their actions or ideas.

 

So then, perhaps I can speak out against the President’s decision regarding DACA, the dreamer immigrant offspring who were protected under President Obama’s law, and who in six months will be under the mercy of ICE unless a dysfunctional congress acts upon their behalf. I can speak out against this action, which I believe is against Biblical principles and post passages of scripture on my Facebook feed such as “The LORD your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. God enacts justice for orphans and widows, and God loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19 CEB).  I just need to be careful not to wag my finger in the face of commenters who strongly disagree with me- not the easiest thing to do.

 

Perhaps Jesus is cautioning us not to constantly find fault with what others say and do, without looking at our own actions and faults FIRST. 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.”

 

This passage then goes on to say that if you harshly judge others in this life, you will yourself be judged in the same manner, or as Eugene Peterson’s version says, “The critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.”(Matthew 7:2 MSG) Verse 2 tells us in effect, “If you wag your finger a lot, don’t be surprised if it gets bit off at some point.”

 

This passage also tells us it is forbidden to judge, to take God’s place as judge of all. We are not to damn someone, to make final judgements on anyone’s character proclaiming them evil or horrid in some way, or to pretend we know God’s verdict on other peoples’ lives, saying things like, “His motives are purely evil,” Or, “She’s just a rotten individual who doesn’t care about anyone else but herself.”

 

 

 

Jesus wants us to focus upon ourselves first, rather than upon the perceived faults we see in others first. Yet we are fighting human nature to keep from rushing to judgment about others. It is easier for us to gripe and complain about others, rather than look at our own faults. That can be especially true in the church. Consider another saying I received from a friend about church life which says, “Quit griping about your church. If it was perfect, you couldn’t belong.”  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 judgment:

  1. 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!” 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 I was not in roles on stage for many years. The first major role I got was in a children’s theater production of The Music Man- Harold Hill. I spent a number of weeks learning my lines and songs, where to go at certain points on stage, with 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, 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, when I am playing a character on stage, I am living, breathing and feeling as that character rather than who I really am. I am a hypocrite when on stage performing.

 

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 keeping away from judgement is that we must remember who we really are, not the character we project to the rest of the world. So, do you want to be known for the mask you wear or the real you? Do you want a life where you know people respect you for who you are, not who you are pretending to be? 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Human beings look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” If you live to impress others, the show will go on forever. But if you live your life to impress God, who already knows all our faults intimately, then you will be able to live a true life, one of integrity- our next focus for today.

 

  1. Integrity-In order to refrain from a life led by judging others, we must be willing to judge ourselves rightly and be willing to ask God for help in making changes. This gives us a faith that has 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 even more important- “soundness, completeness, unity.”

 

 

One who lives a life of integrity knows themselves fully-never playing a part, but really authentically themselves in all situations. There are no masks. Who they are in public is who they are in private. Integrity is being honest about who you are and your own faults. Integrity is about doing the right thing when no one is watching.  It is about removing that 2X4 in your own eye first, rather than looking for faults and sins in others first.

 

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 have a story of someone in a congregation I served two calls ago in Sacramento who demonstrated integrity, and at heavy cost- He 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 just do his job, which he did for a while- but he began to feel uncomfortable, and he was unable to live with integrity at his job, because he knew he was now covering up for illegal activity. He knew that now 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 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. 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 significant time in jail himself. He faced all of these things bravely, and with integrity. He judged his own actions as sinful first, before acting with integrity to make things right.

 

 

This leads to the third thing which helps us steer clear of judgement-

  1. Mercy-If we are living as our authentic selves, we are aware of our faults, and are then thankful for God’s mercy. What is mercy?  Mercy is remembering that we ourselves have been given abundant mercy from God. In Ephesians 2:4-5,Paul reminds us “God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our sins, he brought us 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. Turning to judgement means forgetting our own faults, and forgetting the mercy God has extended to us in Christ upon the cross. 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.”

 

K. Beckstron said “Live your life so that the preacher won’t have to lie about you at your funeral.” So today, let live in such a way- Let us go from this place, striving to follow Jesus’ teaching for today and all the days that follow, with fingers down, masks off, mercy in tow- sharing the truth in love, rather than judgment. Alleluia! Amen

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