February 5, 2017
Sermon: “K.N.A.T.”, Rev. Steve Anderson
Kids—play telegraph—information gets passed and we think we know something that may not be right…
I was channel surfing the other night and ran across a promotion for a show that was going to present new information on the killing of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Remember back in 1994 how OJ Simpson was found not guilty of killing these two people? I remember how some people decided that he was guilty even before the trial started or the jury came back with their decision.
How were people able to know instantly? Were they there? Did they see OJ do it? Were they psychic? Did they see the evidence and talk to the people that were involved? Of course they didn’t. And yet they passed judgement. The truth is that we pass judgement all the time. We separate, select, choose, determine and decide; whether it is about some guy that our daughter is dating or a new restaurant in town.
In the scripture that we’re looking at today, we hear Jesus telling us to not judge and that if we do, that the way that we judge others will be the way that God will judge us. One of the most familiar and loved portions of the Bible is the Sermon on the Mount which contains the Beatitudes. This advice on how to live with other people might bring about some changes in us as we seek more and more to live like Jesus. One of the things that trip us up a lot is the way we find fault in others and then exaggerate the most trivial and pettiest of details. We all do it. Sometimes we push people down and presume that we are better than them out of our insecurity and our deep self-criticism. We pick at others in an attempt to shore up our own sagging self-worth.
We are certain that people have done something wrong, and we feel that God has sent us on a mission to uncover their mistakes and point them out to others. The longest running TV show was 60 Minutes which made a living for many folks trying to dig up dirt on people. The problem though is that many people involved in this “got ja mentality” make the assumption that people are guilty without having all the facts. Some use their domineering, power-play tactics to keep others in their place through intimidation and hypercritical judgement. Their radars seem to only pick up the questionable qualities that a person may have.
The reality with most people is that if we look hard enough we’ll find something that we can twist a little and spin to make it look like something very bad. Jesus suggested that this was sort of like having a beam in your eye and yet making a big deal because someone else has a speck of dirt in their eye. The real request that Jesus is making here is one of self-examination. Let’s look at ourselves before we start picking at others, jumping on their failures and criticizing their faults. Let’s make sure that we have been honest about ourselves.
So often when we judge others we make quick interpretations of a person’s motives, their abilities, their inabilities and their sincerity. We’re like the person who says “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts”. Maybe our minds are filled with sketchy information which we gleaned by reading between the lines. We don’t know what people are thinking, or what’s in their hearts, but that doesn’t keep us from jumping to conclusions. Drawing unwarranted conclusions is like looking through a keyhole: you can’t see everything; you don’t have all the information, but that doesn’t keep us from trying.
So often we assume the worst about people, and so off we go, gleefully attempting to destroy them because they don’t meet our expectations, have different needs or goals than us, or their way of doing things is not like ours. This is so easy to do. It doesn’t take any talent or brains or character. Jesus sees this task of discovering, discerning, and exposing as God’s business, not ours. Sometimes our judging is based on things we have heard, but not really experienced. We think that we have all the facts.
Sometimes we are like the guy who owned a factory. He was walking through the factory one day when he spotted a man who was lazily walking along with his hands in his pockets doing nothing. The boss walked up and asked him how much he got paid every week. The man was confused but replied that he made $500 per week. The factory owner reached into his wallet and handed the man $500 and said, “Here’s a week’s pay. Take it and get out of here.” The man took the money and walked out of sight. The factory owner asked a nearby foreman how long the man had worked there. The foreman responded that the man did not work there but had just dropped off a package. I have had this happen, and you have too. People make judgments about things that they think people have done. They take a little bit of fact, mix it in with a touch of misunderstanding, add their own twist and garnish it with an innuendo or two.
The terrible thing is that people believe them and never check out whether it is true or not. Often, our judgment is based on something that someone did one time and has no desire or intention to do again. We judge people based on faulty assumptions that presume that all people of one race or age group or neighborhood or ethnic group or religious body will be like all the one or two or three people like them that we have seen exhibit unsavory, or unsocial traits. First, all people in a group do not act the same. Secondly, is our motive to help people to be better, or to drag in bloody corpses of wrongdoers?
I believe that the body of Christ can be used by God to redeem and heal our broken and sinful world. I believe that we can transform our world into a place where God’s kingdom can flourish but I also see many things that hinder this. One of the worst things that I see in the church is people that get worked up over things that really aren’t important. We are so able to find fault in others, while ignoring our own. Jesus uses a very understandable illustration when he compares one person with a speck in their eye with someone that has a bean in theirs.
Friends, we all do and don’t do things that cause us to come short of God’s expectations of us. While it is so much easier to divert our attention away from ourselves onto others, the New Testament teaches us to have hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. It says that we ought to bear each other’s burdens and forgive as God has forgiven us. I’m not a mind reader, but I’m guessing that a few people are thinking, “But the things that I do are not as bad as so and so. We can justify and rationalize all that we want. We can try to make ourselves seem to be better by making others seem to be worse.
Some time back, a newspaper had a Peanuts comic strip in which Linus asked Lucy why she was always so anxious to criticize him. Her response was because she “had a knack for seeing other people’s faults”. Unpassed, Linus asked about her faults, to which Lucy replied that she, “had a knack for overlooking them.”
Sometimes we even disguise and justify our judgment of people by saying that we are just trying to protect some third party. We assume that since God has forgiven my sins that I must be a pretty wonderful person and that it is my God given gift and obligation to set other people straight. So many Christians have taken on the role of the Sadducees who were more concerned with people following nearly impossible rules than they were concerned for the people themselves. I don’t think that Jesus is pleased in any sort of way when we joyfully take on the task of judging people. I don’t think God is amused when we jump to conclusions and assume the worst about people. I think that God looks beyond our critical judging and sees people who are unhappy with their lives and who feel better when they beat up on others.
When we pass judgment on people, we are taking responsibility that isn’t ours. This illustration about a speck of wood and a plank is funny until we realize the truth that it contains. To curtail our judging, Jesus tells us that if we judge harshly, we will be judged harshly, but if our motive is to help people move from where they are to where we feel God is calling them to be, well, this is a totally different thing.
If we are filled with mercy and forgiveness as we reach out to people, well, that’s a different situation. But we still don’t need to put people down to do that. The church has a pretty bad reputation in our world as being critical, intolerant and judgmental. We think that because we come to church, read the Bible and sing hymns, that we have the right to pronounce verdicts in people’s lives. Sometimes we beat up people outside of our faith community, but often we do not exclude from our attacks those with whom we share our pew.
We have been called to live together as the earthly, physical repetition of the body of Christ in our relationships. When we live in suspicion of each other, we might as well close our doors, because we have succeeded in destroying what God has created the church to be and do. Rather than accepting others as imperfect humans, rather than trusting God to make their rough places smooth, we insist that things would be a lot better if people could just get it together or get out of our presence.
I wonder how different things might be if we asked ourselves the following four questions before we pronounce judgment on people: First, is it Kind to share our judgment? Second, is it Necessary to share what we know with others? Third, is what we are saying Absolutely true? Is there any part of the situation that we don’t Totally understand? —K.N.A.T.
I think that what God is saying is that we lay aside our hammer of judgment that is so ready to smash others; come to them as fellow sinners, as pilgrims longing to see the other person healed where they are broken; and well aware that we need healing ourselves. One mistake that I think that we make as followers of Jesus is that we misunderstand Jesus. We imitate what we see and understand as Jesus condemning, being critical, acting in a holier than thou way; and we jump to conclusions, forgetting that there is a difference between confronting sin and condemning fellow sinners.
We need to blend our moral convictions with love for other people. This love ought to move us to encourage and help those who have fallen. We build up others by replacing our critical natures with loving hearts, by reinstating our condemning nature with gentleness, shifting from a cold distance to a warm embrace.
With sympathy, brokenness, and humility we should seek to restore those who have been overcome with some fault. Our goal should never be to straighten out people or punish them. Our hope ought to be helping people to be restored to a place of service in God’s kingdom. Our job is not to find fault, but to encourage our brothers and sisters to keep pursuing the things of God.
Is it Kind to share our thoughts? Second, is it Necessary to share what we know with others? Third, is what we are saying Absolutely true? Is there any part of the situation that we don’t Totally understand? —K.N.A.T