Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, March 12, 2017
Scripture Reference: Matthew 7:1-5, 15-17
Sermon: Give Up Something Bad for Lent – Judgment
I have to admit that this was a painful week as I was reflecting on the bad habit of judgment. It brought to mind the anonymous letters I’ve received over the years telling me how horrible I am, conversations I have had with people questioning my faith and love for Jesus, standing in front of people preaching when they wouldn’t even look at me, or even the many times I go to make a visit at a hospital and I hear someone say, “Oh, you’re the pastor?” because clearly I didn’t meet their expectations. It hurts still to remember those moments, and I have no doubt that we all have those painful moments in our lives when we felt judged by someone, when we learned just how untrue it is to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Words do hurt. All we have to do it listen to the growing concerns of cyberbullying with 43% of teens reporting they have experienced it, and 13% afraid to then go to school. It is even believed that cyberbullying, the judgments people are making and writing about someone else, is a significant factor in the rise of suicide among young people. In his book, Giving Up Something Bad for Lent, James Moore tells the story of a junior in high school. This young woman was an honor roll student, band member, member of student council. One evening she spent the night at the hospital with her grandmother who was gravely ill. Early the next morning her uncle dropped her off at home in his flashy red sports car. A neighbor happened to see her, and noticed the young girl’s disheveled clothes. Unfortunately the neighbor jumped to the wrong conclusion and started a rumor that she had been out all night with an older man. The rumor, the stares, the laughter and pointing became too much for her, and she took her own life. It is painful to realize just how much harm can be done by our words and judgments.
That is another reason today’s sermon was hard to prepare, to hear the truth in Jesus’ words, to recognize we have not only been on the receiving end of harsh, judgmental words but that we have also spoken them. It is hard to answer with honesty, “How have my words hurt someone?” Or perhaps more painfully to the point, “When have my words hurt someone that God loves?” When have I used my body to send a message, whether it be walking past someone or refusing to make eye contact? Maybe it is because we are trying to protect ourselves from what others say, or because of our own insecurities and need to feel better about ourselves, but regardless, we all are guilty of making judgments.
The truth hurts. So much so that we try to defend ourselves, to justify what we have done. We argue that we have to make judgments all the time like what we should wear for the day, if we should get up or sleep some more, what works needs to be done. And it is true we have to make judgments about what is right or wrong. It’s why Jesus’ teachings are helpful, to guide us in making those decisions. But we all know these are not the judgments Jesus is warning us about. Rather it’s the other definition, “to criticize” or “to condemn.”
And, unfortunately, we in the church are no exception. All too often people leave or avoid church for judgments being made. I’ve heard them myself; “I can’t believe what our young people are wearing to church,” and then we wonder why they aren’t here. Or I’ve heard people say, “I can’t believe we have to feed people to come learn about God. I was always able to get my children fed and to church.” I’ve even heard people express fear of coming to church, let alone be in a leadership position, because they are divorced and what people might say. Unfortunately the church is not a place people experience as a judgment-free zone. And yet, the church is to be a place where we build people up, where people can come to be affirmed and know they are loved.
So how do we change? How do we get rid of this bad habit? Jesus says, “Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? . . . First take the log out of your own eye. . .” Have you ever noticed that what you tend to be thinking about in your life you start noticing more with other people? For example, when Joe and I were trying to get pregnant I was noticing more and more pregnant women I would pass. Or when I am dieting I tend to zero in and notice what everyone else is eating and how much. I think the same happens in the judgments we make. Those things that we are critical of in ourselves, or our own insecurities, those are the things we notice and criticize in others. So perhaps it starts by listening to ourselves, noticing what we are saying, and then asking ourselves, “How am I guilty of doing that?”
Only Jesus also says, “God will judge you in the same way you judge others,” or as another translation (CEV) reads, “You will be treated as you treat others.” Just remembering how it hurts to be judged is a powerful reminder that none of us wants to experience that. Rather we would like to hear kind words, words that people say to affirm and encourage us. So shouldn’t we do just that for others?
That leads us to what Jesus said in verse 17, “A heathy tree bears good fruit.” How can we make disciples, draw people to Christ, build God’s Kingdom, if we are instead cutting people down? Something I read this week in preparation for our Wednesday study can be helpful, I think. It said that it is a lot easier to break a bad habit if at the same time you add doing something positive. In other words, as we try to stop judging people we should start focusing on seeing the positive in people, of speaking only words of affirmation. After all, is that not what we are called to do, to build God’s Kingdom, to produce good fruit?
That is the work we are called to do, not judging one another. Often I hear people say, “Who am I to judge? That is for God to do,” and yet I think there is often a judgment being made. Maybe this Lent it is time for us to actually mean that and give up our harsh judgments.