Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sermon Wednesday in 3 Lent - Matthew 7:1-12

‘Don’t judge me!’
It is the aggrieved and aggressive manifesto
of the teenager, of the nonconformist,
of the transgressor of the mores of society or church,
the defense of behavior or attitude
that parent or peer deems deviant or destructive.
‘Don’t judge me’ is closely related to the opinion
that everything is a matter of opinion;
that there are no standards by which to judge
between absolutely right and absolutely wrong.
‘Don’t judge me’ seems to be the only creed for our time,
a statement of faith in untrammeled individual choice,
one that understands life to be full of gray areas
in which most things, if not all things, can and must be tolerated.

It is for this reason that, in our time,
people who cling to this outmoded idea of God’s will and not God’s will
have such problems with Jesus.
For he himself seems to undercut his own Sermon on the Mount
with his injunction against judgment.
‘Do not resist an evildoer,’
‘Love your enemy,’
‘Pray for those who persecute you.’
‘If you do not forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will not forgive you your trespasses.’
Well, Jesus, that is your opinion.
I have my own opinion.
Don’t judge me for having an opinion.
How is Jesus supposed to say anything positive about God’s will,
if in the same breath he forbids us from judging?
In fact, all of us some of the time
and some of us all of the time
wish Jesus had never said these words.
We would like to explain them away as inventions of the Gospel writer.

When Pope Francis famously said in an interview,
‘Who am I to judge gay people?’
there were many who welcomed his statement,
but there were many who cringed,
as if the righteous judgment of the Pope
were the only thing keeping gay people from becoming even more gay.

Indeed, in our context, Jesus’ statement seems to be a ratification
what seems to many of us to be the most disquieting thing about our society;
that we can say nothing is positively true,
that we as a society cannot say that abortion-on-demand is wrong
or euthanasia and assisted suicide is wrong
or government-mandated provision of birth control
even for those who are religiously opposed to it is wrong
or even that racial prejudice is wrong.

But Jesus certainly believed there were positive truths.
He said that he was the Son of the Father,
and that those who believe in him should not perish,
but have eternal life.
He said not only, ‘Don’t kill someone else,’
but ‘Don’t be angry with someone else,
as if you would kill him if you weren’t prevented from doing so
by the law of the state or the law of God.’
He defended the women of his time
by urging his disciples not simply to avoid adultery,
but adulterous looks and adulterous thoughts,
making women objects of sexual gratification
even if the gratification was not consummated.
He urges us not to worry about our material comforts and security,
because these keep us from seeking the will of God.

And so if we would say to Jesus,
‘Who are you to judge my anger, my desire,
my love of comfort and security,
and my desire to have a more-inclusive God,’
he would simply point us back to his Word.
Then what does he mean by his judgment against judgment?

Judgment is rooted in a fundamental truth,
that there are behaviors and attitudes which disrupt God’s plan
and hurt the people made in his image, for whom Christ died.
But like so many things,
we take judgment and run with it,
so that it becomes a perversion of itself.
We usurp the role of judgment,
so that it becomes an expression of our personal desire to dominate
or we do not distinguish between the sin and the sinner
or we do not understand that there are some things that can be tolerated
and only some things that can’t be.

I remember a story a former music minister of mine told me.
She said, ‘When I was fifteen years old,
I was the organist in my church,
and the pastor reached what I thought was the conclusion of his sermon.
Just as he was about to start speaking again, I began to play the hymn.
The pastor simply stepped down from the pulpit
and the congregation went on with the hymn.
But there was one woman sitting in the back of the church
who scribbled a note and passed it to my mother.
‘Your daughter interrupted the pastor’s sermon!’
There is grace, and there is refusal to offer grace.
There is love that puts up with the mistakes and even with the real faults of others,
and then there is judgment, which seeks only to destroy the other,
as if Christ came to call not real people, but perfect people,
as if he came not to call sinners, but the righteous.
Judgment is forbidden to God’s people
because God’s people are called to love.
One who judges another person cannot love that other person.

However, there is another reason that one cannot judge.
‘Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye,
but do not notice the beam in your own eye?’
One’s desire to judge a neighbor,
to examine his or her faults,
is so often rooted in the refusal of self-examination.
If fault must be found,
let it be with oneself.
Jesus seems to say that when one is sufficiently acquainted with one’s own sin,
one reaches a point where one is able to help another in trial,
to help that person deal with his or her needs and weaknesses.
The difference between the beam and the speck
only serves to help to understand the magnitude of the task of self-examination.
And those who have done so are not thereby qualified to judge others,
but to help them.

There is one more thing to be said,
and this is that mere human beings should not judge
because there is one judge.
Judgment is forbidden not because there will be no judgment,
but that judgment belongs to God.
And he is far more merciful with that judgment than we could ever be.
Indeed, the Son came into the world
to bear the just judgment of the Law,
so that we ourselves would not bear it all by ourselves.
Instead, united to Jesus,
we understand that the curse of the Law has fallen upon him.
We are therefore freed from its curse,
not only from the curse of punishment,
but from the curse of judgment itself.
Who can enjoy life while constantly judging?
Does it not fill our life with bitterness and despair,
as if in Jesus the kingdom of God has not come,
as if he had never been raised from the dead,
as if it were uncertain whether God would be victorious or not,
and all that was keeping the forces of evil from victory
was our gritted teeth and barely concealed rage?
And therefore, Jesus said, ‘Do not judge, that you may not be judged.’
Those who believe in a God who commissions them to judge others harshly
will get exactly what they expect,
a life without love but only judgment.

But the prospect of judgment is positive in at least one way,
and this is that there will be a day
that sin, death and evil will be judged
and the verdict given that those who refuse to let go of these ways of life
will exclude themselves from the life to come,
because God desires freedom for his children.
We may confidently commit the evils of this world,
the diseases of this world to God,
who will deal with them in his time, and in his way,
and with his justice,
his justice which transcends our conceptions
and works in a wondrous way
to cleanse, heal, and save this wasted and wracked world.