We all have a tendency to judge others. This morning Jesus is telling us, don’t jump to conclusions about the people around you. We all do it. We see something happen to someone else and we want to give a reason. A glaring example is right after the earthquake in Haiti Pat Roberson stated that the reason it happened was because the people of Haiti made a pact with the devil to get out from under the France. He gave a, they got what they deserved, evaluation of the situation. But before you jump on brother Pat you need to think about your own response to things.
What does the Bible tell us about judging others? It’s a question we must all pose to ourselves. Do we have a right to judge others? What does the Bible say?
There are a number of scriptural passages about judging others. “Do not judge so that you will not be judged,” Mathew 5:25. “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” Romans 14:13. “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother and judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it,” James 4:11. “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door,” James 5:9. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to say, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Again in Matthew 7 Jesus tells us that before we take the speck out of our brother’s eye we should take the log out of our own.
These passages seem to point to the way we treat those in the church but Jesus tells us we are also called to love even our enemies. This goes along with the idea of not passing judgment. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men,” Luke 6:35.
There are a number of reasons we are not to judge others. The first is that as we have seen Jesus told us not to. As an act of obedience to the commands of our savior we should not judge. As a purely legal requirement we should not judge because we were told not to.
But there is another reason and that is that we are not much different than the people outside of the church. We need to take a humble stance when it comes to judging others. We are saved by grace not because we are good. This is a hard reality to get hold of but it is true nonetheless. In many ways the church is indistinguishable from the world. As products of our culture in many ways we share the same values as the people around us. Not something I want to hear but true just the same.
We certainly point to things the church calls sin. The divorce rate in the church is not significantly different from the divorce rate of those outside the church. We make a commitment until death yet we separate for all kinds of lesser reasons. Abortion is something the church is against yet Christians get abortions for the same reasons non-Christians do.
But there are other things as well. If anger without cause is murder I don’t think we fare much better than our unsaved neighbors. Greed is certainly a sin that members of the church wrestle with. Poor people as well as those who are well off seek after material gain that goes beyond their needs.
When I lived in Far Rockaway I lived on the border of a very poor/working class community on the one side and a very wealthy community on the other. There was always talk about the rate of single parent families on the poor side of the border but there was an equally high percentage of single parent families on the rich side they just hid it better.
We have a racism problem in the church that we need to remember. There is a quote form St. Augustine that I have been using recently. Augustine said, “The church is a whore, but she is still my mother.” That should raise some eyebrows in the room. I agree with him.
For some reason I have been moving in Jewish circles recently. The problem with being a Lutheran in a Jewish circle is that we have a bad history when it comes to the Jews. The good Dr. Luther was an anti-Semite and the Lutheran church in Germany didn’t fair well during the holocaust. The church is a whore. Don’t get scandalized God referred to his people that way throughout the Old Testament when they didn’t follow his instructions. But there was Bonhoffer who stood up against the Nazi’s because of their treatment of the Jews and Luther taught us that we are not saved because we are good but because of the grace of God. The church is still my mother.
We should not judge others because we are told not to and because we, in many ways, are no different than the people outside the church. After questioning the disciples about their passing judgment Jesus tells a parable. Here is the pint of the text for me. Don’t judge the time line. When we pass judgment we are jumping to the conclusion before we reach the end of the story. Judgment will come, but we must wait until the end of the world because the story isn’t over yet.
Jesus said, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Whey should it uses up the ground?’”
Let me tell you my story. I grew up in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I was baptized at St. Jacobus Lutheran Church in Queens and was raised in the faith at Grace Lutheran in Malverne, Long Island. The church was the center of our family life; we worshiped there, our friends were there, I went to Boy Scouts and youth group there. Church remained the center of my life until confirmation. Once confirmed I shortly thereafter left the church. Now someone could have rightly judged me saying I turned my back on the church and therefore I was no longer worthy of heaven.
I started a downward spiral form that point. I took a Pauline perspective on life. If Christ did not rise from the dead than eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. I believed that and since I turned my back on God the party was on. I drank too much. I started smoking pot and one thing led to another. Soon I was taking LSD and snorting cocaine and speed. Eventually I started shooting drugs. At any pint during that time people looking on could have rightly determined that I was lost and could have passed judgment on my behavior and would have been correct. I was a fig tree that was not producing fruit and had not for many years. But the story wasn’t over.
Things continued to worsen. Spring break 1973 some friends and I headed down to Florida for a wild time. We packed 2 pounds of pot in some boxes, wrapped them in baby shower paper and sent them through the mail ahead of us. Easter Sunday morning I was on the beach in St. Petersburg and some people from Michigan were talking to people about Jesus. The Holy Spirit that day said to me enough. That part of my life came to an end that very day. It was the last time I got high. I came back from that trip and started attending church again and started moving back toward God.
“Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Back track a bit. About six months before I left for Florida some of the people I was hanging with were attending church and serving Jesus. They were telling me to repent and follow Christ. What they were doing was planting seeds. My fig tree had no fruit but they were digging around my roots and spreading manure to see if I would grow. That Easter Sunday morning, my branches started sprouting some buds.
I could have been judged at any time but my story wasn’t over. It still isn’t over. Salvation is by grace alone. The older I get the more I can relate to Paul who said, “Christ Jesus died for sinners of whom I am the chief.” I cannot judge others because I have not yet attained to the image of Christ for which I am headed.
Church don’t lose the sense of God’s timing. Judgment will come but it will come when Christ returns and he will be that judge. As we go out into the streets of this city to declare our faith we have only one message and it is not one of condemnation and judgment. Our message is that God so loves this city that he sent his son Jesus to die that they might live. And if people don’t respond right away, if their fig tree doesn’t bear fruit when we think it should our response must be to dig around the roots and spread some manure in hopes that in God’s time buds will appear.
We are called to love the people around us. Leave the sin question to God. We have enough to work on within ourselves.