Friday, September 26, 2014

Do Not Judge? (Matthew 7:1-5; James 4:11-12) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do you make judgments about things?  Of course.  So do I.    Peter Falk was an actor who spent his career playing a wide range of roles in comedy and drama.  Most notably, he played an eccentric, rumpled but always triumphant detective in the hit show "Columbo." In real life Falk had a glass eye, resulting from an operation to remove a cancerous tumor when he was 3.  In spite of his missing eye, he was a high school athlete.  He liked to tell the story about being upset when he was called out at third base during a high school baseball game.  Peter said: “I removed my eye and handed it to the umpire and said  "Here ump, you'll do better with this.”

Do we make judgments?  Sure. “I don't think he is a very good Christian.” “I think she is smarter than he is.” “I like him, but not her.” “I like this restaurant, but not that one.” “I think the Padres are a better team than the Dodgers.” “I think  SDSU is a better school than UCSD.” “I think she is a good person, I think he is a bad person.”

And then we encounter a teaching of Jesus: “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.”  A simple teaching right?  Well?  

What do you think Jesus means?  How are we to interpret Jesus words?  I don’t know about you, but I find this teaching challenging.  And so do many people.  This teaching has been interpreted in different ways. 

Some people see it as an absolute and all-encompassing principle, which applies to any and all circumstances about people.  They assert: “Don’t judge people's behavior, adults or children, don’t judge their ideas, don’t judge their character, don’t judge attitudes, don’t judge values, don’t judge anything.”  Don’t say someone is wrong or right or that someone is good or evil.  Why, because you are judging.  

Other people apply Jesus’ teaching selectively depending upon their personal bias.  Some say Jesus meant - let judging be in the hands of the legal system, the court system and not the individual.  And still others ignore it altogether because that they are stumped about what Jesus means. 

The truth of course is that despite Jesus' teaching, we make judgments about people everyday.  We make judgments about people's guilt or innocence.  Perhaps you have had jury duty.  I just received another summons for jury duty.  I have been calling each night after 5:00 pm to see if I have to report the next morning.  I have been through this many times before.  I have been called many times but have never served on a jury.  As soon as they learn I am a minister, they excuse me.   The judge asks:  “Well pastor, do you think you can serve on a jury when the Bible says do not judge.  I say yes I do,  I will weigh the evidence like everyone else.”  Then the judge confers with the two attorneys, and I hear the familiar words, “Thank you pastor, but your services will not be needed.  You are excused.” 

What does Jesus mean?  Based upon my study and reflection I offer an interpretation, which is shared by some others, which I also happen to believe is correct.    First, Jesus didn’t mean that we should never make moral judgments, that is, judgments about people's behavior.   I believe this is a gross misinterpretation of Jesus words.   Moral judgments are necessary.   Jesus isn't saying here that we should suspend moral discernment or not be morally discriminating.   Jesus did not promote moral indifference or moral neutrality or moral equivalency, where everything is permitted, everything is tolerated, everything is equal, everything goes, its all good.   Jesus clearly taught that there is righteous and good and moral and kind and virtuous behavior.  There is also destructive and unrighteous and immoral and evil behavior.

Did Jesus make judgments about people?   Jesus quoted the 10 commandments which deals with true worship and ethical behavior in regard to stealing, murder, coveting and adultery.  Jesus said: “Whenever you pray do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogue so others may see them.”   Jesus said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  Jesus said: “A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit in speaking about those who claimed to follow him.”    Jesus called some of the religious leaders of his day, white washed tombs, because they strutted about seeking positions of privilege, but did not practice compassion and generosity toward the poor.  Following Jesus teaching in Matthew about not judging others, he said:  “Don’t give what is holy, meaning his teachings, to dogs and do not throw your pearls before swine; or they will trample them underfoot and turn and maul you.”  He was speaking here about being discerning in regard to whom you teach and share your faith with.  He also taught his disciples - “Go proclaim the good news.  Whatever town or village you enter find out who in it is worthy and stay there until you leave.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”  Jesus told the men who brought the woman caught in adultery before him: “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone,” and he said to the adulterous woman, “Do they condemn you, neither do I.  Go and sin no more.”   Clearly, Jesus teaches that making moral judgments about people is right and necessary.

Second, Jesus did not mean that we shouldn't evaluate or appraise each other’s character or talents or gifts or abilities or qualifications.  Jesus chose certain people as his disciples, but not others.  The early church discerned who should be deacons and elders based upon their spiritual gifts, wisdom and the call of God.   We rightfully make judgments about business partners or marriage partners or doctors or lawyers or teachers or ministers or baby sitters.  

We should judge people about whether they can keep things confidential which we share with them. You learn that there are some people you can trust and others you can’t trust.   Jesus is not saying - refrain from making judgments about people’s character or gifts or abilities or qualifications.

Third, Jesus is not speaking out against constructive criticism, legitimate criticism, appropriate criticism, done in the spirit of humility and love with the aim of restoring and correcting and helping and guiding someone.

So then what does Jesus mean? We get a clue from his words about the speck in our neighbor's eye in contrast to the log in our own eyes.  You hypocrites Jesus says.   Jesus is condemning harsh, mean-spirited, biting, sharp-tongued criticism which continually finds fault.  He is condemning a censorious spirit that tears someone down.  Jesus is condemning the attitude of self-righteousness, arrogance and judgmentalism.  He is criticizing being hypercritical toward others where one is always faultfinding and nitpicking.  He is talking about misjudging and prejudging other people, based upon first impressions or appearance or some other criteria.  He is condemning making hasty judgments about another’s motives without any knowledge to base them on. Jesus is condemning self-righteous judging, arrogance, being condescending, putting others down in order to feel superior.  Jesus is speaking about hypocrisy, accusing others of saying or doing things that you and I do and say.   Jesus is condemning gossip which hurts and runs down other people, of speaking critically of others to bolster one's ego.  We get a further clue from the letter of James.  The letter of James says:  “Do not speak evil against one another,” that is to utter slander, to defame, to malign.   This is what Jesus condemns and says that we shall be judged by God for when we judge others in this way.

I don't know about you but Jesus' words get my attention.  It is so difficult to be impartial and not be judgmental toward others.  It's our nature.   What are prejudices after all?  It is prejudging and stereotyping others based upon: appearance, speech, race, gender, religion, nationality, education, occupation, income, or social status. 

Jesus is our model as we interact with others.  He was comfortable in the presence of rugged fishermen and wealthy tax collectors, with both rich young rulers and poor lepers, with Jews and Gentiles, learned rabbis and despised Samaritans, business-women and women of questionable character.   I believe we need to recognize this flaw in our character, confess our sin, ask God to change our hearts, and to forgive us.  And the good news is that God will answer our prayer. 

A recall a friend from Santa Monica who owned a clothing store and told me: “I have ladies come to my store who look like they did not have two nickels to rub together, yet they purchase thousands of dollars worth of clothing, get into their chauffeured limousine and drive off.  You would never have guessed that they were wealthy.”

Jesus paints a picture in this teaching.  About a person with excellent vision, 20/20 vision, who clearly sees the splinters or specks in other people's eyes, but is totally blind, completely oblivious to the log in his own eye.   Dr. Peter Marshall was fond of saying, “Any time you point a finger at someone, there are three pointing back at you.”    Our guide as followers of Jesus comes from Matthew 7:12 where Jesus provides a basic moral principle: The Golden Rule, “In everything, do to others as you would have them to you.”

Jesus in these words espouses three basic biblical truths: First, every person is a unique child of God and is loved by God and has potential.  Second, God is the ultimate judge.  We must leave final judgment to God.  And third, there is a huge difference between using our God given minds and hearts and exercising moral judgment toward a positive end and the negative attitude of being self-righteous and hyper-judgmental  toward others.

Let us turn to God's grace as we seek to follow Christ's way - “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”  Amen!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Come to the Table (I Corinthians 11:26-35) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Where do you go to renew your spirit?  Where do you find spiritual renewal?  What do you do to experience a moment of peace?   I know where you don't go.  You don't open up the newspaper and start reading the headlines or go to the television and turn on the news.  You don't get into your car and head out for a tranquil drive on interstate 5 or 805.   You don't go to the beach or the bay on the 4th of July.

45 years ago, this past July 20th, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history in Apollo 11 by landing on the moon.  You probably, those who are old enough, remember where you were on that historic day.  Astronaut Aldrin sent a radio broadcast to earth asking listeners to contemplate the events of that day and to give thanks.  Then, in radio blackout for privacy, Adrin read from the scripture:  “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit.” and then he and the others quietly partook of the Lord's Supper.   Yes, on that historic day, they went to the Lord's Table.

Jesus invites us, he invites you, to come to His table.    Now you should know that standing here before you, serving communion, can be risky for pastors.  You are thinking, oh come on now, how can that be, its' risk free, but not so.   I vividly recall in CO, when another pastor and I were leading a retreat for a group of churches and everyone was seated outside.  It came time for worship and for the Lord's Supper.  After I broke the bread, the other pastor picked up the cup and noticed a bee swimming in the wine.  She tried to flick it out and it stung her on the tip of her finger.  Since I am allergic to bees, I was intently watching the whole thing, and to my amazement, she continued serving and never lost a beat, even though it really hurt.  I asked her later how she did it and she said  - I just kept thinking about the supper representing Jesus' sacrifice and thought I can deal with a little bee sting.

The Lord's Supper is the sign and seal of Jesus' followers eating and drinking in communion with the crucified and risen Lord.  During his earthly ministry Jesus shared many meals with his followers as a sign of community and as a means of grace.  These meals strengthened the disciples not only physically but spiritually for their mission.  They were times in the midst of the disciples’ arduous life, of following Jesus from village to village, as well as going out two by two ministering in His name, for renewal, refreshment and replenishment. 

The Lord's Supper is a visible sign of Jesus' atoning sacrifice for our salvation.  The Lord's Supper is Christ's gift for followers to experience His grace and presence.   The Lord's Supper is God's seal on the promises of the gospel, such as “You did not choose me, I chose you,” and “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the earth” and “Come to me all you who are overburdened and I will give you rest.” 

Jesus says come to the table, do this in remembrance of me.  We come remembering Jesus' ministry: his travels to towns and villages and to the Holy City Jerusalem, his healing people and accepting outcasts, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and women by breaking the cultural stereotypes of the day, his teachings like the sermon on the mount, his conflicts and struggles with his enemies, his disciples who both listened and learned and deserted him.  We come remembering his death on the cross as God's way of forgiving our sin, and yet, we remember the empty cross and Jesus' resurrection and His opening for us the promise of everlasting life.

We come to the table in the spiritual presence of the risen Lord.  It is the Lord's table and the Lord's supper.   Jesus calls you by name and invites you as his guest to this table.  We gather around the table to eat and drink with one another and with the risen Lord.  The broken bread and the poured wine are occasions of his presence.  Christ is present as the host of this meal.  Christ is present in our hearts as the indwelling Christ through faith.  Jesus is personally and spiritually present at this table.   We enter into spiritual union or communion with Christ and one another.   We share a common guilt from sin and receive by faith a word of forgiveness by the risen Lord.

We come to the table and catch a glimpse of the future of our life together in heaven.  The Lord's table is a foretaste of something we shall experience fully in heaven.  We come knowing Christ is coming.  Taking communion is like watching the preview of a movie that is soon to be released.  It's not the whole movie, its a trailer for the coming movie.  One writer said:  “Don't ever forget that the meal we share together in once a month or so in the church, with a tiny piece of bread and a tiny cup is a foretaste of the heavenly feast of the Lamb that we will celebrate together for eternity.”

We come to the table to be spiritually fed by the Holy Spirit.   Just like a meal feeds our bodies, this table is God's means of grace, it feeds our souls, it renews our spirits, it nourishes our faith, it overcomes our fears and brings courage to our hearts.

We come to praise God and give thanks.  The Lord's Supper is also called the Eucharist a Greek word which means thanksgiving.  This is a meal where we give thanks to God for God's gifts, for God's blessings, for God's forgiveness, for God's courage, for God's leading in our lives, for God's sustaining and strengthen us in the midst or ordeals and trials. 

Someone wrote:  “The Lord's Supper is a most ordinary and extraordinary experience all at once.”  We don't come because we deserve a place or are worthy to be here or have earned the right to sit at the table.  We come because by faith we know that Christ has declared us righteous before God, because Christ has pardoned us before God, because Christ has reconciled us to God, because Christ has made us worthy to stand before God,

Where do you go to renew your spirit?  Jesus says, come to my table!  Amen!