Our Judgement Call – Sermon on Matthew 7:1-5, 21-23, 28-29

On the whole, people like being nice. People like being pleasant and agreeable. Sometimes though, it’s hard to be nice, particularly if someone is doing something wrong or worse, someone has wronged you. Being nice means you’ll lump it and move on. Often that means whatever’s wrong just never gets resolved. Nice, while most of the time not a problem, can become a problem when it keeps us from dealing with something that’s harmful. In the church, we sometimes have a nice problem. We don’t want to offend anyone. We want to be pleasant and agreeable, so we don’t say anything about something wrong. But then the problem never goes away. We have a nice problem, when that happens.

The thing about Christians is that we are supposed to recognize reality. That’s what confession is all about. We confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. When we say that, we admit that things aren’t always good, that there’s problems, and we don’t possess all the skill necessary to make it right. Such a confession, according to popular wisdom, isn’t nice. It’s a pleasant thought to think that if I can see it, then I can do it, or if I just believe it, there’s nothing to it. But the truth of the matter is that no matter how much you put your mind to it, even if you think about it every night and day, just because you believe it doesn’t mean you can fly. Pointing that out isn’t nice.

We as Christians are called to acknowledge reality, though—not to gloss over it with niceness. But our acknowledgement of reality, particularly when it comes to bear on our life together with one another, must be done virtuously—that is, with wisdom, fairness, mercy, and love. When we acknowledge reality, when we acknowledge the truth, we do it with concern for how it’s received. We do it with kindness and humility. But we still do it.

Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Nick’s alarm went off at 7:00 a.m. It’s Monday morning, and he doesn’t feel great. He hits the snooze button. He’d been out the night before with some friends at a Super Bowl party—Go Iggles!—wishing that the next morning wasn’t Monday after a party. The alarm goes off again. 7:09 a.m. He groans and hits the snooze button again. He rolls over. His dog Brutus comes up and starts licking him in the face. He knows it’s time to get up. Nick pushes Brutus away and decks his head under the blanket to get away from the dog. The alarm goes off again. 7:18 a.m. He has to get up or he’ll be late.

He heads to the shower.

Drops the soap.

The shampoo bottle is empty.

It’s going to be one of those days…

He goes downstairs, puts water and coffee in the pot and goes to pick up the newspaper. There’s an orange envelope on his stoop instead of the paper. He forgot to pay his subscription, so the newspaper isn’t coming anymore. Great. He goes back inside.

Coffee’s not brewing.

What’s wrong?

Oh, fantastic. He didn’t turn the pot on.

This is a fabulous morning.

He looks at the clock. 8:03 a.m. He missed the bus. Fabulous. He’ll have to walk to work…

He can pick up a coffee and newspaper on the way.

He grabs his bag, pushes past Brutus who is being needier than usual. Oh, that’s right! He forgot to feed the dog. He puts down his bag, goes back and gets the dogfood bag. He drops it, and it spills all over the floor. Brutus goes crazy. Food! Nick just shakes his head and lets it go. He doesn’t have time for this!

He dashes out the door and to the corner store. It’s full of people. Kids on their way to school. Retirees who should stay home until working people are in their offices. Just too much. He grabs a newspaper and heads over to the barista. He gives her his order—dark roast with extra caramel, heavy cream and honey, not sugar. The barista takes his order and gives him a slip. He goes to register. An elderly woman is already here paying for a newspaper—with coins. She’s picking through her wallet for nickels, dimes, and quarters, and laughing with the cashier. Nick’s temper is about to boil over. Who pays for a newspaper with coins in this day and age?! What’s wrong with this lady?

She finally pays, takes her newspaper, and scuttles off. He throws his newspaper down, gives the cashier his coffee slip, and silently waits to be rung out. $10.89! The cashier shrugs and Nick swipes his card. By now his coffee is ready. He grabs it and heads off. He’s out the door before he takes a sip of it, and he realizes she messed up his order. It’s iced! How incompetent could she be! Well, there’s a reason she’s a barista—she’s a stupid person who can’t get a better job. Nick chucks the coffee and heads down the road to the office, about two minutes late getting to his desk. “I would’ve been on time if not for that old woman,” he thinks…

We find ourselves once again in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount today. Today, he utters the iconic line, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged,” if perhaps you’ve memorized the King James Version—“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” This is one of those verses that people know well from the Bible, and it’s thrown around a lot by people who feel judged. People don’t like feeling judged. And who can blame them? It’s not a good feeling. Because most of the time, people pass judgements that are particularly harsh. We tend to pass judgements on others much more harshly than we would ourselves…

“We want to hear the whole world say golden things of us,” writes Martin Luther, “yet we cannot bear it when someone says the best things about others.” He calls this this tendency toward wanting the best for ourselves and the worst for others a “common, pernicious plague,” and he’s right. It’s a sickness, a true ailment that we have. It’s sin. And it’s something that’s been around since at least the time of Jesus because here we have Jesus preaching against judging others. In fact, we know that it goes as far back as Cain and Abel, when the first brother killed the other. Cain judged Abel’s offering lesser than his own and was upset when God didn’t think the same way. The first murder came of judgement, judgement of another—and a judgement rendered that put the would-be judge in the morally superior position to the judged.

To be sure, the Bible is clear on judgement. It’s a thing. An assessment of our deeds isn’t foreign to the life of a disciple. The issue is how that judgement is made. Even St. Paul recognizes the need for accountability among the faithful—“If anyone of us is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness.” But like Jesus, Paul goes on to say, “Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

This is an important distinction for us. Our judgments are rendered not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those we have relationships with. Sin is destructive not only to the one who commits it, but also to those around them. And it’s for that reason when sin is recognized, it should be pointed out—but only then if whoever is sinning doesn’t seem to recognize it. Most people are painfully aware of their own transgressions and don’t need you to point it out for them. You, however, can be there to support someone, to carry their burden along with them. In this way you show mercy. You meet someone where they are, not from a place of superiority, but from a place of equality, a place of humility. “For there is no distinction,” Paul reminds the Romans and us, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” God is merciful to us, and so we too ought to show mercy as we’ve been shown mercy.

Mercy is what moves God to come to us in Jesus in the first place—and it’s this same mercy that moves God’s heart to extend us not the judgement we deserve, but the judgement that is within God’s own heart. “For mercy triumphs over judgment,” St. James, the brother of Jesus, writes to those who act as if simply believing in Jesus is sufficient for an abundant life in God’s grace. Faith, our relationship with God, is nothing if we don’t live into it in relationship with each other and the whole creation in the same way that God chooses to live with us. Only when we put aside our own self-interest can we fully embrace the mercy, grace, and ultimately, the love that God shows us in Jesus. We can’t fully comprehend the love of God for us without fully comprehending God’s love for everyone and everything. And it’s in embracing mercy that we come to understand this love.

Nick sat at his desk that day, and things were fine once he got to work. He was only two minutes late, after all. No one even noticed he was late because the fact of the matter was that he was often not at his desk by 9:00 a.m. most days. He would chat with different people on the way into the office. Check out the breakroom to see if anyone brought in some snacks. And when he sat down at his desk, he didn’t normally get right to work. He’d drink his coffee and read Facebook and check out ESPN online. But today, when everything is going wrong, he’s annoyed at the world who’d conspired against him.

The dog. The elderly woman. The barista…

All of them messing up his morning. It was their fault. Or so he acted.

The truth is Brutus loves him like any good dog loves their owner. He was hungry, and Nick was in a hurry and didn’t have time for him.

The elderly woman? The truth is she was counting coins to pay for the newspaper she was buying it for her neighbor, but she’d given all the bills in her wallet to a violin player who’d happened to be in the subway station playing Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, her late husband’s favorite song at their wedding.

And the barista? The truth is she was far from stupid. She’s actually a single mom who takes night classes to earn her nursing degree, and she’s exhausted.

But Nick didn’t take the time to consider all these things, or even think about the other people. He passed judgement on them, but judgement from his own perspective. Nick? The truth is he chose to hit the snooze button twice that morning after partying hearty. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Nick failed to see his own culpability, his own role, his own fault for why his morning didn’t go well. In fact, his morning didn’t go well because of his own choices, not what other people did.

The message from Jesus today is simple: don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, or criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. And especially don’t judge people with a stricter measure than you’d use against yourself. Jesus encourages us, in fact, to do the opposite. We should speak only the best about all people, and go so far as to protect their names, to justify their actions, and to cloak and veil them with our own honor. This is merciful, and God has been merciful to us. God made Christ, who didn’t know sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.

This is our judgement, our judgement call, you might say. It’s the judgement Jesus calls us to hand down should we find ourselves in the place of a judge. For who are we to judge? We who have been treated with unending, unspeakable mercy? God looks upon us with love through the eyes of Jesus, and so we likewise should we look out with the loving eyes of God who for us and for salvation, came down into our world, in our lives, met us where we are, and raises us to a new and radiant vision of what life can be when we no longer live for ourselves alone, but for the sake of everything that God wants. And so ask God to hear our prayer—Lord, have mercy.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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