- STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OCTOBER 25, 2020
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Call to Worship Philippians 2: 5 – 8
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.
He had equal status with God
but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.
When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity
and took on the status of a slave, became human!
It was an incredibly humbling process.
He didn’t claim special privileges.
Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life
and then died a selfless, obedient death—
and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Hymn – Micah 6:8
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
God of holiness and justice,
You alone are without sin, so you alone are worthy of judging us.
We know that this thought should make us fall on our knees and tremble,
yet we confess that we do not take your authority seriously enough.
You have laid out for us in your scripture what you require of us,
We know that we should do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you,
yet we confess that we still try to give you armloads of gifts and impress you with our acts of service.
Although we have earned your condemnation with our sin and pride,
instead you have extended to us your grace.
With mercy and compassion, you have forgiven us through the suffering of your Son, Jesus Christ.
Yet we confess that we do not show this same grace to others.
We are critical and harsh, thinking of ourselves as better than others.
Forgive us again. In this time of worship may we come before you with awe at your purity, your justice and your mercy. May we lift our hearts to you not with empty actions and hollow words of praise, but with the devotion to honour you and to follow Christ. It is only through him that we come into your presence and dare to approach your judgement throne. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Ephesians 4:3 & 32
Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk.
Be gentle with one another, sensitive.
Forgive one another
as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.
Prayer for Illumination
God of all, you have shown your mercy to us through your Son, Jesus Christ. As we listen to your word, humble us, so that we may show mercy to others, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Romans 12: 9 – 21
Matthew 7: 1 – 5, NRSV
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is 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 neighbor’s eye. Matthew 7: 1 – 5, NRSV
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” The Message
Message: No judging
Ari and Caleb are leaving the synagogue one Saturday when a cab speeds past. Their friend, Samuel, is running frantically behind it. “Well,” says Caleb, “Sam is a Shabbot (sabbath) violator! Look at him running for that taxi.” “Wait a minute,” Ari replied, “there may be lots of reasons for Irving’s behavior.” “Yeah, like what?” “Maybe he’s sick and needs to go to the hospital.” “Come on! He’s running 60 mph – he’s not sick.” “Maybe his wife’s having a baby.” “She had one last week.” “Maybe he needs to visit her in hospital.” “She’s home.” “Maybe she needs a doctor.” “He is a doctor!” “Maybe he forgot it’s Shabbot” “He knows it’s Shabbot. He’s wearing his Shabbot tie. It’s the blue paisley, 100% silk Gucci tie from Italy.” “Wow, you’re observant! I didn’t even notice he was wearing a tie.” “How could you miss it? It was caught in the trunk of the taxi.”
It’s easy to judge. Most of us are good at seeking and finding fault in others (that’s not the kind of “seek and you will find” that Jesus encouraged). When it comes to criticism and judging I can keep up with the best of them. If a woman has a lovely hairdo but one hair has gone astray, my eye focuses on the stray. If the kitchen is clean except for a bread crumb, I get angry at the person who cleaned the kitchen. When I lived alone and this happened, I’d start to blame someone, only to realize it had to be me. If a caring person does a poor job of something, rather than focusing on the beauty of his soul, I’m quick to name his incompetence – at least in my head. In fact, “I’m silently judging you rigth now”. I silently correct your grammar too.
Jesus condemned the practice of judging. Before we go on, we need to clarify what we mean by “judging”. There are two types of judgements we can make. One is discernment. We are called to be discerning people. Our minds are not to be steel traps that let nothing new in, and they’re not to be so open that everything falls out. Christians are called to listen to and discern God’s voice, and to hear others. We discern ideas, examining them in the light of scripture. We discern what’s acceptable treatment of another human being. We can discern the level of justice, kindness and humility in the actions of ourselves and others. We can discern the better way to approach a problem or conflict. We can discern the blind spots and practices in a system so as to foster growth and improvement. We are to discern between what is of God and what is evil. Sometimes, we’re asked to go to court, listen to evidence and discern whether another person has committed a crime or not. What we are not to do is reject, dismiss or censor the people who do those things. We don’t disdain, shame, condemn or exclude people. That’s the type of judgement we’re told not to practice. We are not called to do God’s job by deciding whose soul is beyond redemption. We can’t know the heart of another person or the journey they’re on; that is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit. So, when it comes to judgement, Jesus isn’t saying we’re not to have an opinion about what’s right or true or good; he’s saying we’re not to be censorious, contemptuous or condemning of others. We’re not to put our self on the throne of eternal judgement reserved for God alone.
Yet, Christians are often labelled “judgemental”. We’re seen as the morality and ethics police, condemning people for their lifestyles or actions. People think we’re critical and self-righteous. We’re called hypocrites for not practicing what we preach. This isn’t completely untrue. We need to confess there have been, and still are, Christians who have proudly earned these reproaches. The Church needs to repent of our condemnatory attitudes which hurt people and push them away from Christ. We need to live so people see Christ in us and understand what our faith is really about. On the other hand, let’s not miss the irony of these accusations. To label someone judgemental is to be judgemental. By it’s very nature, it involves some level of self-righteousness. When others criticize us, they too are being critical. Many gentle, loving Christian people have been berated, dismissed or rejected by those who feel free to judge us. People don’t see the hypocrisy of calling someone a hypocrite even though no one is without sin or completely consistent in their words and actions. Our society has become a secular version of all that people hate in the Church. People are becoming increasingly judgemental. Fueled by the internet, people practice mass shaming. Oddly, when strict Mennonite orders practice “shunning” they’re reviled for their heartlessness, but when we do it, it’s okay. The attitude of many is: “If you don’t agree with me, I will judge you as evil and refuse to listen or discuss anything with you. If you say something I believe is not right, I will judge you as unworthy of having a voice or receiving compassion or belonging. If I feel “defenceless” because you see the world differently than I do, I’ll use my helplessness to get you fired from your job. If your actions displease me, I will judge you as stupid and dismiss you”. During the pandemic, people have declined to wear a mask are quickly labelled “Covidiots”. Without considering the possibility of the individual having serious breathing or mental health issues, others condemn not only their actions but their souls – they are judged to be stupid, inconsiderate people. Judgement and shunning wounds people. Condemnation closes down opportunities for discussion and with it the chance for people to improve. When people feel they’re under attack, they become defensive rather than open to change. Shame leads to division rather than healing. Judgement creates camps and tribes, and therefore enemies. People become more polarized. Regardless of which side you’re on, judgement eventually gives birth to annihilation and violence. This was true at the time of the early Church, when Christians were persecuted for our faith, it was true during the Reformation and the witch hunts, and it’s true in every society today.
There are a reasons Jesus discouraged judgementalism. First, we don’t know the circumstances of others, or what hardships they’ve overcome. Chuck Swindoll was a speaker at a conference where a man approached him and said how greatly he had looked forward to hearing Dr. Swindoll speak. That evening Swindoll noticed the man near the front, sound asleep. Swindoll was gracious, thinking the man might be exhausted. But the same thing happened each evening. Swindoll grew angry at the man’s lack of sincerity and rudeness. On the last night, the man’s wife apologized to Swindoll for her husband explaining he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer and his pain meds made him extremely sleepy. Before judging, we need to remember we don’t know the struggles of other or the hardships they’ve overcome. We don’t know what values they were taught or if their world view is changing. We don’t know their motivations. We don’t know their temptations or how much they’ve improved. A person who grew up neglected or abused can be expected to parent like someone who grew up in a loving home. We don’t know, so we don’t judge.
Secondly, we are all subject to biases. During the 1st WW, an injured pilot went to Buckingham palace to see a friend receive a medal for heroism. The two men then changed into civilian clothes and went for lunch. While eating, a woman handed them a white feather, a symbol of shame given to men who had not enlisted and were considered cowards. It’s better not to judge, than to judge on appearances and preconceptions.
Thirdly, none of us is good enough to judge another person. A man went to an art gallery wanting to impress his friends with his eye for art but he forgot his glasses. Although he could hardly see, he decided to wing it. So, he approached a frame and began criticizing: “Why would anyone want to paint something so hideously ugly? I mean, it’s a true rendering of the object, but why waste time painting such a disgusting subject?” Everyone was laughing by this time as his wife whispered into his ear, “Jerry, it’s a mirror!” Our judgement of others says more about ourselves than it does about them. This is the reason Jesus told us to take care of our own shortcomings before helping someone else with there’s. A young couple moved into a new neighborhood. The next morning, the woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. “That laundry is still dirty,” she said, “Gross. She should get better laundry soap.” The wife’s criticism of her neighbour’s laundry became a weekly ritual, until one day the wife was surprised to see a clean wash on her woman’s line. She continued to be critical saying, “Why didn’t she do that before?” Her husband responded, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.” It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want us to help our neighbour remove the speck from his eye or the dirt on her face, he simply advices us to look at ourselves and clean up our own act first.
Finally, we’re not to judge because our judgements come back on us. A story is told of an elderly man who lived with his son’s family. The man had a tremor and mealtimes were often messy as he frequently spilled his food. The wife couldn’t stand this and one day she told the man, “That’s it! I’ve had it. Mealtime is supposed to be enjoyable, not a time to watch someone make a mess every night.” So, the woman set up a small table in the corner and sat her father-in-law there. A few days later, the man spilled his food covering his table and slopping onto the floor. The woman yelled, “If you’re going to eat like a pig, you’re going to eat outside at a pig’s trough!” So, he did. A few days later the couple’s young son was in the shed hammering boards together. His father asked, “What are you building?” The little boy replied, “A trough for you and mommy for when you get old.” That night the elderly man came back to eat at the family table. Not only do our judgements come back to bite in this life, but God will treat us with the same degree of generosity and empathy we show to others.
At the heart of judgment is the denial of grace. Our ability to extend compassion and clemency to others is closely linked to our ability to be merciful to ourselves. Deep within a heart filled with judgment is the belief that I am not worthy of grace so neither are you. The world can be a harsh place. We are called to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) Only as we do, are we fit to serve others.
Silent prayer and reflection
Offertory: God of mercy, once again we rededicate our lives to you. Cleanse and renew us so that we may use all our gifts and possessions so that we might live justly, compassionately, and humbly in our walk with you and our journey with others. Amen.
Hymn -Make Me a Channel of Your Peace
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Holy God, we give you thanks for your love and mercy which we don’t deserve. We thank you, Lord Jesus, for living among us, for laying down your life and dying for us, for rising again to life and inviting us to share the inheritance which is rightly yours alone.
We thank you for your patience with us, your slowness to judge and your desire to extend grace. Make us like you in our dealings with others. Change our critical tendencies and our hard, judgemental hearts. Help us to be charitable to others and to ourselves.
We thank you for the country in which we live and the freedoms we enjoy because we live in a democracy. Help us never to take this for granted. We pray that we would use our freedom to be a blessing to others, to improve the lives of our fellow citizens and to be a sign and a blessing to our world.
We pray for the United States as they approach an election. We pray that people would exercise their right to vote in a peaceful and respectful way. We pray that violence will not erupt. We pray that the choice of a leader would be very clear and that whoever is not elected will be gracious in stepping down in order to hold up the principles of a democratic state. We pray that the person who is elected will put the needs of all his people before his own pride or advantage. We pray they would give strong, honest leadership that evokes trust and good will.
We pray for governments around the world. So many of our leaders seem to be eager to promote themselves and unwilling to submit to the will of their people. We see corruption and unethical behaviour. We see nations vying for power on a global scale. We do not see many who seek your will. We pray for leaders who know you and follow Christ.
We pray for our world in this time of CoVid, when people are feeling weighed down and fearful. We pray for those who are ill and for those who are mourning. We pray for those who are looking for a vaccine. We are humbled by the power of nature and our inability to contain an invisible germ, but we know that you are greater than anything we face. May this be a time when people re-evaluate their relationship with you and return to you with gratitude.
We pray for the many places where suffering abounds due to poverty, war, oppression, or starvation. We seem to have forgotten the everyday trials people face. Help us to remember and to respond so that your kingdom may be a reality on Earth.
We pray for those we love who are stressed by situations and unhappiness in their lives. For those who find themselves unemployed and struggling. For those who are lost but do not know enough to seek you. For those who once knew you but have turned away. For those you are urging to come here or to another place of Christian worship. For those who are ill and in need. We pray especially for….. Grace, Marty, Kathleen,
We also pray for those we name before you….
We thank you Jesus for hearing our prayers and for responding in love. Hear us now as we pray together saying… The Lord’s Prayer
Invitation to Mission
We go from here
seeking to treat others
as we desire to be treated
to show the mercy and compassion of Christ.
Benediction: May the Triune God bless and keep you, now and always. Amen.