Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 4

15 June 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 6:36-42

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s Gospel is a favorite of people who believe in “anything goes.” For on its surface, when our Lord Jesus says: “Judge not,” it seems to give the green light to all sorts of evil. People can violate the commandments at will, deviate from nature as God created, flagrantly defy the public sense of decency – and Jesus is giving them the ultimate trump, the “judge not” card.

And when the “judge not” card is flung on the table, Christians are expected to shut up about every controversial issue, not to defend what is just and right, and not to criticize or teach that anything is evil or wrong.

Did our Lord say “Judge not…” in order to silence all criticism? Is it really the contention of our Lord to remove every judge from his bench, to unseat all parents from their authority over their children, to make pastors tolerant of any and all behavior exhibited by his parishioners or by the world in which they live?

Wouldn’t Satan love such a Jesus? And what kind of a world would we live in without judges, without those who enforce laws, without parental curbs, and without the Bride of Christ having a voice in the world?

Rather, our Lord is telling those who do judge not to be hypocrites. He is calling those in authority to pay special attention to his own conduct and life. More is expected of a judge, a school teacher, a police officer, a father, a mother, a magistrate, a senator, and a preacher than is expected of those professions who are not called to make judgments. This is why the Word of God demands that pastors be “above reproach.” This is why society must treat public servants who are dishonest more harshly than those who have not violated the public trust in the commission of their crimes.

“Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.”

Jesus is telling those who are called to judge to be harshest on themselves. Jesus tells all of us, especially Christians, to be especially on guard against hypocrisy. For hypocrisy is Satan’s tool to squeeze the life out of the Gospel. Just as a crooked politician, judge, or police officer erodes the public trust in the political system, pastors, and indeed all Christians, who lead scandalous lives hurt the cause of our Lord’s work of reconciliation and make people unreceptive to the Gospel.

Our Lord doesn’t advise the man with the plank in his own eye to mind his own business and ignore his brother’s speck. Indeed, that would be unloving. For we are our brothers’ keepers. We are to be concerned about the sins of our brothers. What we are not to do is to overlook our own sins and divert them by calling attention to the sins of others. For that’s simply hypocrisy. That kind of thing is not motivated by love, but rather by a self-serving desire to look good.

Indeed, any judge that takes pleasure in inflicting punishment on lawbreakers, any soldier who gleefully shoots down his enemies, any parent who enjoys spanking his children, or any pastor who looks forward to binding a sinner to his sins is acting out of something other than mercy. It is to them that our Lord warns: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

This is not to say that every murderer gets a pardon, every enemy soldier gets a free ride to escape, every child gets to do anything he or she wants with no fear of punishment, and every Christian can expect to live shamefully and sinfully while his pastor looks on powerless to say anything about it – all thanks to the “judge not” card being in play.

But it does say that we need to look to ourselves and our own sins first. We pray every Sunday that God would forgive us our sins. And although we pray it together, we pray it in the first person: “I, a poor miserable sinner…” We don’t confess the sins of others. And we certainly had better not be looking around and condemning others while writing ourselves a blank check. And when we do speak out against the moral and spiritual evils of our day, we must diligently pray that we do not become self-righteous. Our motivation is not to be one-upsmanship or a desire to destroy others, but genuine love.

It is easy to send someone to jail or rail against deviant lifestyles. It is much harder to do so in compassion, love, concern for the sinner’s eternal well-being, and a desire not to build oneself up.

For there is another card Christians are called upon to play, a card that even trumps the “judge not” card. It is the “mercy card”: “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Even when punishment must be doled out, it can be done with mercy, with a desire for repentance and not merely out of rage.

Just before convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed, he met with a priest for the last rites – a ritual of the Church that includes confession and absolution. And while we will never know what was said in that rite between the pastor and his parishioner on this side of the grave, you may well meet Timothy McVeigh in eternity, sharing in the eternal life won for all sinners, won by our Lord Jesus Christ.

If this fact upsets or angers you, you need to hear our Lord’s words: “Judge not…”, not simply a card in a game of one-upsmanship, but rather as a real warning against seeking to limit the power and the length and breadth of God’s mercy and daring to question His will.

For we Christians are ultimately called to remove the specks from our brothers’ eyes, for that cleansing of others is the ultimate calling of the Church: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Pastors especially are called upon to not only cleanse through baptism, but to call attention to the specks and planks by applying the law. And while to the vast majority of pastors, having to point out sin and call folks to repentance is not pleasant at all, it is equally true that nothing brings more joy to the heart of most pastors than when a person sees his own speck, asks for its removal, and allows the pastor, a sinner who by the grace of God bears the authority of God to take out the speck, to pronounce absolution.

The “judge not” card is a lie. It doesn’t grant a single person license to sin, nor does it prevent our Lord from using Godly vocations to keep order in society and proclaim law and gospel to the church and world. To the contrary, we are to hold ourselves to the same standard: “For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

That measure is the Ten Commandments. For just as terrorists and mass murderers break them, so do we. Whether we have specks or planks in our eyes, we are all blinded by sin. And thanks be to God that our “Father also is merciful.” For He calls us to repent not out of hypocrisy, but out of love. And He washes us clean with pure baptismal water and with all the other means He has given us to that forgiveness won for us by our Blessed Lord on the cross.

May we Christians also “be merciful, just as [our] Father also is merciful.” For listen to these merciful words of Him who calls us to repentance as well as gives us eternal life: “Give, and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.