Judging Others – Sermon

Matthew 7: 1-14. (Briarwood, January 2013)

Do not judge.  Do unto others.

Good morning.

I don’t usually quote Shakespeare in a sermon, or anytime – except for the one passage we had to memorize in High School, which I still know.  The quality of mercy is not strained, it falleth like a gentle due from heaven upon the place twice blessed, it blesses he who gives and he who receives.  I don’t usually quote Shakespeare in a sermon, but today I’d like to.

It comes from a play by the man, called Measure for Measure.  In the play, as you might remember, if you’ve read it recently, the Duke of Vienna announces his departure from the city, leaving Angelo in charge.  It is a trick. The Duke secretly stays around to spy on his underling.  As it turns out, Angelo is a very strick ruler, and a case comes before him where he must judge on the validity of a marriage.  He applies the law to the letter, and sentences the young husband to be to death.  The husband’s sister, a nun, comes before Angelo and pleads him to show mercy, to not judge her brother so harshly.  The Duke is in town watching and eventually  works to fix everything, but not before this sister’s speech to Angelo, who was judging her brother so harshly:

Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once;

And He that might the vantage best have took

Found out the remedy.  How would you be

If He, which is the top of judgement, should

But judge you as you are?  O, think on that;

And mercy then will breath within your lips,

Like man made new.

Measure for Measure Act 2, Scene 2.

Let us pray.

I was recently in the grocery store at the Pointe Claire village, picking up a few things.  As I went to the cash to pay, I recognized the woman in front of me.  She runs the bakery across the street from the store – a 100% organic, whole food, pure vegan if one wants, grain fed, fair trade type bakery.  Delicious stuff.  If you can afford it.  Anyway, there I was behind her at the cash.  She was holding lentils, green leaks, and other very healthy looking things.  We had talked before, so I said hello and said a few things.  As I did, I placed the things I was buying down beside hers, separated by one of those plastic separator bars.  She looked down at my stuff.  Eggs, and big box of those McCains Pizza Pockets.  Immediately I felt guilty.  I said, o Lorraine, you know, I realize I shouldn’t be buying these.  They’re not organic.  They’re not local.  I could see down the side of the box where it listed the ingredients – sodium benazgate, thymate, alligate, acidic nirate gum, natural flavours.  I was thinking of excuses.  Could have said they’re for the dog, but we don’t have one.  Couldn’t lie.  And cats are fussy.  So, I just said, as she was leaving with her arms full of natural ingredients, and it was my turn to pay, I just said, oh, I know I should be buying the organic stuff.  To which she responded with a hint of mockery at all,

I’m not judging.

I’m not judging.

Who am I to judge.

Jesus warns pretty sternly against judging others.  Do not judge, so that you may be not judged.

When we judge other, he says, a couple of things happen.

One, is that it all bounces back at us.  As we given any focus at all in sorting out the problems of other people, and pointing them out without any invitation, then, says Jesus, our own “problems will loom so large we won’t be able to see straight” (Wright, Matthew).  That is the judgement, the criticism, the uninvited opinion or interference, that, says Jesus, will actually become a problem for us.  It will be like, us having a log in our eye – we’ll lose our sight.  We won’t be able to see or to discern clearly for our lives.  It’s not part of who we are as humans beings, says Jesus, and it doesn’t build true and good character in the kingdom of heaven, to judge, to criticize other people.  It just doesn’t.  Don’t do it, he says.  It’s not on.

Part of it, is the recognition that we are in no place to judge others.  At all.

Rob Bell was the pastor of Mars Hill mega church in the states.  He built the church up to thousands of people.  Multiple ministry staff.  Huge building.  He started a dvd/online series that spread quickly all around North America and became very popular, called Nooma.  But he recently left that church.  Resigned.  And moved to California.  Around that time he published a little book, called Love Wins.  It talks about judgement and hell.  He opens the book by saying how there was an art exhibition at a church.  He went in and saw photos of famous people from all around the world, up on the walls of the gym.  One picture was of Muhammad Ghandi.  And someone who had attended the show, had written on it, Don’t you know…He’s going to hell.

And that formed the beginning of Bell’s book, when we asked these questions back:  are you sure, are you really, really sure, are you certain. As a human being, as infinite and smart and amazing and all-knowing as we are, are you sure?

And that’s one of the things about judging, isn’t it.  When it comes down to it.  We don’t know.  We’re not that other person.  We don’t know someone’s life as well as they know their own, or their challenges or their successes.  Or what has formed them.  And when we judge someone says Jesus, form that opinion about them that is critical – we forget who they and we really are.  That we are creatures of a creature.  That we are imperfect.  All of us.  And so when we judge, says Jesus, we’re putting on a mask like the greek theatre actors, the hypucrites, and not seeing ourselves for who we are – and we become hypocrites.

Strong words.  Strong words!

But who said following Jesus would easy.  It is, after all, a narrow gate.

The helpful, the kingdom of heaven centered responses to something we see wrong in others, is not judgement, Jesus says, but confession of our own sin.

That log in our eye.  Following Jesus means us recognizing something:  the one I am tempted to judge is like me – “a person who has received forgiveness manifest in the cross.”  (Haweras, 86.)

Instead of judging others then, we are invited to become schooled in the humility of Jesus.  Schooled in forgiveness.  To become experts in that.  And not in the critical.  Grace is to overflow out of our lives.  So that at every turn we are seen and experienced by others, by our brothers and sisters, coworkers, store owners, repair people, and yes, fellow church goers – grace filled and forgiving.  Because when it comes down to it – we all don’t need judging – but we all do need forgiveness.

Choosing forgiveness and humility instead of judgement does something.  Right here.  Right now.  It actually “forges a space, making possible a community that has learned to live by receiving”.  It actually builds a way of life “that makes possible for us to be befriended by God and each other.” (Haweras).

It’s not a dog eat dog world anymore.  Or at least it’s not, in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is bringing to the world.  It’s mutuality.  It’s humility.  It’s forgiveness.  That’s the kind of community, of family at home, of church, of world that Jesus is talking about in the kingdom of heaven.  And so we’re part of the building that and growing that here on earth, in our short lives, every time we choose, with God’s help, not to judge, but to forgive each other.

It is, in fact, the kind of place

where you might do to others

as you have them do to you.

“We are often ready”, says one pastor, “to form opinions on the people we deal with.  ‘Be careful’ is the warning here.  [Of course Jesus expected people to use their common sense…for dealing wisely and appropriately with the different people we meet.  But we need to deal humbly and patiently too.]  Critical gossip, comment that demeans and destroys, interference without love, and opinion without knowledge – all of this is ruled out.” (John Proctor, Matthew, 58).

Do to others

as you have them do to you.

It’s not a stand alone mantra that can be transferred from one worldview to the next.  In fact, it’s more of a stand on top.  Underneath that phrase, that ultimate way of life in the kingdom, underneath it, is a Father’s love, says Jesus.  Is there any among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?  Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?  …how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask?, says Jesus.

The Golden Rule, doesn’t stand alone.  In fact, when we try it by ourselves, we don’t really stand a chance.  So intense and radical as it is, if we really take it heart.

Life in the kingdom of heaven, life in the love of God the Father, is says Jesus, something to treasured, beautiful and valued.  Something so good.  And it’s only in knowing the Father’s love, who gives good things, it’s only in knowing the Father’s love, that “we find ourselves able to obey this rule, gladly and freely…reflecting God’s light and love.” (Wright).

A rabbi once asked his students how one could recognize

the time when night ends and day begins.

Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?

one asked.  No said the rabbi.

Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a date palm from a fig tree?

another asked.  No said the rabbi.

When is it?

It is when you look into the face of any human creature

and see your brother or your sister there.

Until then, night is still with us.

Doing unto others and loving God are interconnected.

It’s not a long path to get to God, we just must love our neighbour.

It’s that real.  That hands on in the kingdom of heaven.

It’s not a complicated thing to bring God’s kingdom, we just must love our neighbour.

That path, that way of life, day in day and day out,

is, says Jesus,

a hard road.

The road that leads to life.

And the gate is narrow.

Outside Jerusalem today, there are many different roads and many different gates leading into the city.  Some of the gates are wide, wide enough for cars, trucks, all kinds of traffic.  That’s the direction most take.  Most of the traffic, most of the activity, most of the flow of goods and people and things, most of it, goes through the wide gates.  But there are some gates into the city that are narrow.  Only wide enough for one person at a time.  And to get into those gates, the narrow ones, who have to step off the busy, step away from the direction of all the other traffic, step away, and go- as it were – against the flow, and to get to the narrow gate.

It’s like that, says Jesus, to do unto others as you would have them do to you.  To see others first not as people or lives to judge against your intellect or experience or opinion;  but to see them first as loved by God.  To see ourselves first, as humans forgiven and embraced by God.

But that way, says Jesus, that way in the kingdom,

leads to life.

And there are few who find it.

 

Thanks be to God,

for Jesus Christ,

our friend and saviour,

who leads in the way of God’s kingdom,

and God’s love,

who has gone through that narrow gate before us.

 

And all we need to do,

is keep our eyes

on him.

 

He isn’t our judge or our critic or our fault-finder.

He is

our way.

 

In the name of the Father,

the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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