Giving Up Judgment For Good - Matthew 7:1-5 - Wednesday Night Reflection
It was fifteen days ago. I had just sat down in the office when my phone went off. I looked and what I saw was a little shocking. I looked out the window…everything looked fine—the water in the sound was not drawing back. I wondered where in the world an earthquake had happened that would cause a tsunami warning to be issued for Harkers Island, and how far away any suspected tsunami would be…so I clicked open the warning. It was a test…only a test. When looking beneath the surface of the warning, we could easily identify it as a test. However, most folks evidently judged the alert by the cover and failed to look inside—choosing instead to enter into panic mode…forcing the National Weather Service to send out a follow-up message reiterating that it was only a test. (By the way, the test evidently failed, whether they realize it or not, because there were quite a number of folks I talked to that morning who never received the alert.)
I have shared with y’all in the past my battle with bi-polar. One of the biggest troubles with bi-polar is the fact that so many people don’t understand how it works. Some use the term flippantly – I’ve heard family members and friends talk about someone they were having a hard time getting along with or didn’t understand their actions and say, “they’re just bi-polar,” using it kind of as a put-down or name calling term. Then there are those who just don’t know how to deal with folks battling the illness. It is probably one of the most painful parts of my mental health history, and it is an area that when we talk about bitterness and forgiveness in a few weeks, I need to work on. I was a fifth year senior at Methodist College. I had entered Methodist on my track to be an ordained Methodist minister. However, in the midst of a battle with bi-polar disorder as I struggled with depression and the desire to take my own life, I walked away from the ministry, thinking that might solve all my problems. It didn’t. I found that the only time that I had any peace, the only time I wasn’t thinking about cutting into my wrists, was when I was working at La Petite Academy during the summer and Faith Wesleyan Daycare during the school year—anytime I was working with children, my heart and mind became focused in on them and not on myself and the darkness. I had changed my major at Methodist from Religion to Elementary Education, but I began to consider that maybe I was still called to ministry, not to general parish ministry, but to children and youth ministry and so I reapplied for the church vocational grant, a grant that would pay half my tuition to finish the degree in education and allow me to work toward becoming a children and youth pastor. When I met with the college chaplain and a lay person representing the grant committee they informed me that I was being turned down for the grant and that given my mental health status, they thought it was best if I did not work with children and youth until my bi-polar condition was resolved. There was no room for discussion about how working with children was working hand in hand with my therapy and helping in my recovery—they just informed me that I had no business in my condition being around kids. Judged and sentenced.
How often are we guilty of doing just that kind of thing?
Maybe we look at the guy with tattoos all over his arms and his neck and decide we need to avoid getting anywhere near him because he is probably a drug-using violent gang member. Judged and sentenced.
Maybe we look at the young woman struggling with her children through the grocery store, getting up to the counter and pulling out her WIC checks and food stamps card, and think to ourselves, “there goes someone else taking advantage of the system, she needs to stop having kids and get a job.”
Maybe we look at the family showing up in the nice-looking truck at the food bank. And we start thinking, “…if they can afford a car like that…they can afford food.” Judged and sentenced.
Maybe we look at a child wearing short-sleeves when the high for the day is only 25 degrees and wonder why his mother doesn’t dress him any better than that in the mornings. Judged and sentenced.
I could go on and on about the snap judgments we make as we look at those around us…but maybe it’s not a visual judgment we are making—maybe we’ve heard something. Maybe we heard that Doug was seen at the mall eating with some woman that was not his wife and when they finished the meal, they were seen embracing. Your aunt’s hairdresser just knows that he is having an affair. His poor wife. Your aunt wouldn’t have told you if it were not true, so since you know you his wife’s best friend, you tell her. Pretty soon you learn that Doug left his wife that week after she accused him of the affair and felt their trust was forever shattered.
Somehow we never take into account that they may be a reformed gang-member who is trying to fit in to the community; a single, newly widowed mother whose husband died in a car accident; a man driving a truck he paid off two months ago, just before he lost his job and now he’s just trying to feed his family; a child who only has one long sleeve shirt to his name that he wore yesterday when it was only 9 degrees;, or that Doug was eating with his sister from out of town.
Our theme for our “Lenten Reflections” this year is “Giving Up Something Bad For Good.” It is a call, during our Lenten self-reflection and self-examination, to see what things in our lives do not need to be temporarily sacrificed, but need to be put out of our lives permanently in order that we may need to grow more Christ-like in our lives.
Jesus says, “’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.’”
Judgment…it is something that many, if not all of us, struggle with. It is a tendency to see, hear, and believe the worst. It is about condemning a person because of what we think, what we hear or overhear, or even what we might know—it is about condemnation of a person or group of people based on perceived or actual information.
You see, Jesus’ statement doesn’t even get to the issue of mistaken judgments, his statement about not making judgments is based on the assumption that the other person has done something wrong, they do have a speck in their eye—they may be a drug-dealing, law-breaking gang member; they may be a woman who keeps having kids to abuse the welfare system; they may be a parent who doesn’t care enough about their child to dress them appropriate; they may be a man who is cheating
Jesus came not to condemn but to save—we saw how the self-righteous religious leaders were quick to judge him for eating and hanging around those that they had already judged as unwelcome, unworthy sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the others who had strayed from God’s will—Jesus though, like He did with the woman caught in adultery, refused to judge and condemn those lost in their sin, but instead offered compassion, forgiveness, and encouragement—it is in this way that God began establishing His Kingdom here amongst us, and it is in this same way that He continues to build it—when judgments fall away and relationships are sought and forged.
My brothers and sisters, may the ways we judge and condemn those around us be something bad we give up for good this Lent be brought to the altar and left there.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.