Monday, September 15, 2008

Fear of Judging - A Sermon

You may be familiar with Fox TV’s Bill O’Reilly.  A couple of months ago, Bill O’Reilly called the parents of Jamie Lynn Spears -- a teenage singer -- pinheads when she became pregnant at age 16.  He said they failed to supervise her.  When it came out that Sarah Palin’s daughter became pregnant at 16, he told the audience it was a private matter that should not be discussed.  Someone pointed out the discrepancy in his judgement, and Bill O’Reilly argued that while the Spears clearly failed to supervise their daughter, there was no evidence that the Palins had not supervised theirs.

This is not a political statement, nor is it about the Spears or the Palins.  Their family issues -- well known as they are -- really are not for us to judge.  What it’s about is the original judgment of the Spears that was made on national TV.  It should never have happened.  Yet it does because it delights us -- it appeals to our self-righteousness.   We would never be such bad parents as those pinheads -- not until someone WE care about is put in the same situation.

Judging ranges from gossip to starting wars.  Every time we look at the actions of somebody else and declare how good or bad it is, we’re judging.  It is one of the easiest things we do.  But it’s also one of the deadliest -- not so much to the person we judge as to ourselves.

It’s bad enough for public folks like Bill O’Reilly condemn other public figures only to have their condemnation fly back in their faces.  That’s show business to a degree.  But when we do it in our lives -- it’s best to approach all such judgment with fear and trembling.

There are so many ways to judge:  The Gospel has a man who refuses to forgive a small debt -- even though he’s just been forgiven a much larger one.  

Isn’t this like us?  We see our own faults as relatively minor -- just a little thing.  But when others harm us -- even if it’s much less significant -- well, they’re practically guilty of murder!  

Jesus warns us that such judgment has a way of falling back on our own heads.  The standards we hold others to will be the same by which we will be judged.  Our own flaws are typically much bigger than we admit while those of others are smaller than we want.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, shows us a different kind of judging -- that self-righteous kind that says, “We do it right while you are all wrong.”  In the Roman context, early church members were still sorting out what it meant to be a Christian.  Some new Christians, for example wanted to continue their special diets from their previous religions while others condemned them as not having enough faith because God makes all food acceptable.

In other cases, some argued that Sunday was the day to worship because that’s the day Christ was raised.  Others said the Sabbath had always been Saturday and should remain so.  Still others maintained that there was no special day -- that every day was worthy of worship, so making a special day was artificial and pointless.  They were splitting up over these things -- suggesting that those who disagreed were not really Christians at all.

Paul saw through this.  What he saw was self-righteousness.  If you don’t do it my way, then you are wrong.  No good.

Whether it’s judging a perceived wrong someone has done to you or judging their personality flaws, we love to do it.

But again, we do so at our own peril.  Because judging is God’s domain.  When we engage in it, what we’re really doing is trying to make ourselves look good.  We’re trying to bring others down so we are on top of the pile. 

It’s like a soccer game -- you’re playing against the number one team and its star foward who runs past defenders like they were standing still.  So what runs through your mind before it starts?  “I hope their star forward breaks his leg.”  If we make them worse, we feel better.

But Jesus tells us over and over that this just isn’t necessary.  It’s not the point of God’s love for us.  Being number one -- or one of the best -- is meaningless.  It doesn’t lead to the Kingdom of God.  It leads to our own judgment by our own standards -- just like that unforgiving servant.  

A word of caution: This doesn’t mean that using our judgment isn’t necessary.  We have to decide when people or situations are a danger to us, and we have to act accordingly.  If you’re in a job where the work environment is unhealthy, you might need to complain or even get out of that job.  If you’re in a relationship that’s abusive, you may well need therapy or even to leave that relationship.  But there is a difference between protecting ourselves (like in Exodus) or putting ourselves above others for our own small purposes.   That sort of judging we can leave to God (or the TV shows).  Amen.