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*Sermon on the Mount* - Judge Not Wednesday - March 25, 2020

In this service for Week 4 of Lent, we recognize that we live in a very judgmental world, so Jesus’ advice not to judge sounds radical to our modern ears. When we leave all judgment up to God, we free ourselves to look at one another through fresh and forgiving eyes.

• TheGospel Reading, Matthew 7:1-5,

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.


The Children’s Message:

(Object: A gavel or the picture of a gavel.)

(Show the children the gavel.) Have you ever seen one of these? What is it? It looks like a hammer, doesn’t it? It’s not a hammer. It’s a gavel. A gavel is what a judge uses in court when she makes a judgment. When a trial is over, the judge pounds the gavel on the desk and says one of two things: either “guilty” or “not guilty.” That’s what’s called a judgment.

If you are judged “guilty,” that’s not a very nice thing. It could mean you lose your freedom and go to jail. On the other hand, if you are judged “not guilty,” you get to keep your freedom and you don’t have to go to jail. Anybody who ever goes before a judge would much rather be judged “not guilty” than “guilty.” Nobody likes to go to jail. Everybody loves their freedom.

We all stand before a judge, don’t we? Who is he? (Solicit answers.) Our judge is God. Because of our sin, it would be completely understandable if he would judge us all “guilty” and sentence us to the punishment of hell. Every sin that we commit against him or against other people deserves to be punished. We are guilty of our sin and we can’t wiggle our way out of it.

But here’s the surprising thing. Even though we completely and totally deserve God’s “guilty” judgment and deserve to be punished, when we were baptized, God gave us Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life for us. He died on the cross for us. He rose again from the dead for us. In our baptism God forgave all of the sins of our entire life from the very first one to the very last one. Even though we should be judged “guilty” by God, in our Baptism God declares us “not guilty” because of Jesus. All of his perfection was given to us as a gift.

Because of Jesus, God looks at us through the eyes of forgiveness. And he calls us to love and forgive the people in our lives, too. When somebody hurts you, it’s easy to hurt her back. But because we have been forgiven, we forgive. When somebody lies to you it’s easy to say bad things about him to other people. But because we have been forgiven, we forgive.

Dear Jesus, we deserve to be judged and punished. But because of Jesus, we are forgiven. Thank you for your forgiveness and please help us to forgive other people. Amen.


Sermon

Steven Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) told of riding on a New York subway one Sunday morning. People were sitting quietly until a man and his children entered the subway car, The man sat next to Covey, while the children ran wild through the car, yelling, throwing things and just plain misbehaving. Meanwhile the dad sat there next to Covey and did nothing.

Judgments were made about the man’s neglectful parenting as he sat there in a trance, completely ignoring his children’s misbehavior.

Finally, Covey broke the man’s trance with an appeal that he get control of his children. The dad responded with these unexpected words, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.” Covey talks about how, in an instant, his attitude toward the dad was changed. He moved from judging criticism to compassion as he saw things as they really were.

When Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” He is not suggesting that we set aside our ability to look at things critically or to discern the difference between what is good and what is evil. He isn’t suggesting that we should never try to help a friend by a gentle word of correction. God has blessed us with a critical apparatus that helps us navigate through life. Christians are discerning. We “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) as we follow Christ. We confront evil when we see it. We speak up for the good.

Jesus’ command not to judge others is rather a warning against a prideful critical spirit which is quick to make conclusions about the character or behavior of others. It’s Covey on the bus, writing the story in his head about the dad’s neglectful parenting. What’s more, Jesus is confronting hypocritical judgment which sees only the sins of others and not one’s own sins. This explains Jesus’ humorous hyperbole of trying to remove a speck in another’s eye while we have a two-by-four in our own. The picture shows us how ludicrous it is for us judge others without having judged ourselves. If we are to point out a friend’s sins, we do so from a clear vision of our own sins. We come at moral criticism humbly as a fellow sinner, not as a righteous judge. God is the only truly righteous judge. God alone judges from a posture of perfection.

Clearly, the target here is the Pharisees who delighted in finger-pointing. Jesus unveils their hypocrisy as they play God and mercilessly judge the behavior of others. Over time these guardians of community morality had “assumed the bench.” Jesus shows that they have been disqualified from the bench by their own hypocrisy. He warns that they will be the victims of the same kind of merciless judgment from God.

It was Jesus who once stepped into a scene of Pharisees ready to stone a woman caught in adultery. They tested Jesus, asking if the law of Moses was right in saying that such a woman should be stoned. Jesus wrote on the ground with his finger and then said, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone at her” (John 8:7). They walked away, one by one.

Jesus spent much of his ministry under the watchful, plank-in-the-eye Pharisees. They called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34). They said he was in league with the devil: “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (Mt 12:24). Ultimately they pointed at Jesus and charged him with blasphemy.

In his trial before the Sanhedrin, he was asked if he was the Messiah. He answered, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). The high priest tore his robe and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” (Mark 14:63-64). And they condemned him to death. The Pharisees had written their own story of Jesus. Their prejudice and injustice were driven by self-righteousness, jealousy and fear. They could not see clearly with such huge planks in their eyes.

Jesus knew that his own followers would not be immune from self-righteous judgment. Today one can hear a pastor describe a hypercritical congregant as an “alligator.” Books are written on how to handle antagonists in the church. It is said that “the church shoots its own wounded.” Christians are shocked when they hear that one of our own “could do something like that!” We judge certain sins harshly and completely ignore others. We may look across a gathering of God’s people and begin writing our own stories of where this person falls short and how that person has failed. All along, as we judge others, we can fail to see the planks in our own eyes.

The great irony of the cross comes as the perfect Judge, the one “who will come again to judge the living and the dead,” is falsely accused, convicted and executed. The Judge of all is judged unjustly. In that judgment gone wrong, God amazingly works a unique kind of justice. God counts the execution of Jesus as ours. God judges Jesus as if Jesus were you, as if Jesus were I. God points the accusing finger at Jesus. God puts grace in play and rewrites the story. This is much more than the story of an innocent victim of injustice. This is God sending Jesus to suffer and die as a consequence of our sins. Among those sins are every hasty judgments we’ve made of another’s character, every hurtful word of criticism, every attitude warped by prejudice or fear.

The next time we are ready to write the story of another’s failure or another’s sin, we will remember what happened at the cross. We will see the plank in our own eye. We will see our sin. And we will see the planks of the cross and the one who died for us there. Then, as it always is with God, judgment will be tempered with grace. Amen.

By Dean Nadasdy. © 2019 Creative Communications for the Parish.

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