Monday, 24 June 2013

Sermon Luke 6: 36 Judge Not

Have you ever felt judged?   That is really a silly question because we all seem to be judged throughout our lives.  We are judged by our parents when we are growing up – and often even when we become full blown adults with grown children of our own.  Isn’t it amazing how we can become like little children when we are with our parents – and not in the good way that Jesus was commanding us  - unless you become as little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

We are judged in school by our teachers and when we write exams.  We are judged in our work.  I worked in a setting before I was ordained that had annual performance appraisals.  Your manager would check off the boxes and give you ratings in different area – unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good or excellent.  The joke was that you needed to walk on water to get an excellent rating.   We are judged by our spouses – do you remember the first time you dated the person who you later married – or your first date with anyone for that matter?  You wanted to make a good impression so you went out of your way to make sure you looked you best and were on your best behavior – that’s because you knew the other person was going to judge you.  It’s interesting but not surprising that after  you get to know someone what you don’t make as much of an effort. 
That’s probably a good thing overall because you are letting the other person know more about who you really are – not everything but more.  It is too bad however, if you  give up completely in making an effort to show the other person that you care about what they think about you.

I imagine that many – if not all of you are judging me this morning.  How is this new priest going to do?  What will his sermon be like?  Possibly Father Peter and Father Ralph were judging me when they met me to see if it was safe to let me lose on their unsuspecting flock.  Of course having roast preacher over Sunday dinner is a long standing tradition – it comes with the territory.
So judging and being judge certainly seems to be what we do naturally.  Here we have Jesus telling us in no uncertain terms that we should not do that, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged”.   What Jesus is calling us to do and be then is something radical in human relations.  Jesus lays out what he expects of his disciples – and of course us.  Judge not and ye shall not be judged; condemn not and ye shall not be condemned; forgive and ye shall be forgiven; give and it shall be given unto you.  As Father Peter mentioned last week the Gospel reading for the season of Trinity focus on Jesus’s parables.  Today’s Gospel is no exception.  Jesus follows up his lesson by giving his disciples a parable to illustrate the point.  Jesus knew that this was the best way to get his point across. 

To paraphrase, he tells them why do you worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye when there is a beam in yours?  Now a speck is very small and a beam is very big.  Jesus doesn’t mince words.  Stop criticizing others and look to yourself.  Have you ever noticed that some people will annoy you at first sight?  Sometimes you take an instant dislike to people – first impressions and all that.  You may not even know why – or perhaps you will have a good idea.  In any case you are judging them instantaneously.  A similar process happens when someone does that make you react completely out of proportion to the facts.  You will explode in anger or other emotions in a way that seems to be almost unrelated to the circumstances.  This happens when we things in others that we do not want to see in ourselves.  We are seeing a speck of something in the other person that is the beam – the big things we don’t want to see in ourselves.
This is not to say that judgment per se is wrong.  We admire people that show good judgment in their lives.  However, that is people who do not make a habit of judging others – usually negatively.  It is people who make good decisions about what to do in their lives.  They judge what is right for them – they judge what they should do to live a good life – for Christians this means following the example that Jesus give for us. – living the life that God intends for us.  That is good judgment. 

Bad judgment is judging others harshly when we should be judging ourselves to determine if we are living the life we should. 
Watch out for those beams in our eyes.  They may be preventing us from seeing ourselves and the world as God sees us.  Amen

Monday, 17 June 2013

Reading the Bible 25: Genesis 32: 22-32 What’s in a Name?

Jacob’s wresting match with the angel – the messenger of God – is a story most of us who are familiar with the Bible know – or think we do.  The encounter comes at a time of crisis for Jacob.  Jacob has sent his family and all that he has away across the stream as he prepares for his fateful meeting with his brother Esau.  He hopes it will be a meeting of forgiveness and reconciliation.  However, he fears the worst – that he might not survive the encounter.  He alone with his God.

How often when we have hit bottom and have reach the end of our tether do we have an encounter with the divine – with God?  It may not seem as clear as Jacob’s encounter but could well be as dramatic in its own way.  One of my favourite scenes from the move The Life of Pi is when the hero Piscine (Pi) finally realizes that despite all his efforts and all his ingenuity there is nothing more he can do and gives control over to God.  It is similar in the 12 step program of AA and any other form of addiction.  The first step is to admit that we are powerless to control our situation.  Then we must give over control over to God - the power greater than ourselves.  It is very hard for us to let go of the illusion that we are in total control of our lives. 
What is may overlook in this epiphany is the significance of names.  Jacob has his name changed to Israel by the heavenly messenger.   He is given this name as he ‘has striven with God and with humans and have prevailed’.   That is a name which anyone would be glad to be given.  It is at this point that Jacob is certain that he has encountered the divine and knows that God is with him.  The messenger also refuses to tell Jacob – now Israel – his? name.  This is because God is not to be named i.e. as Moses will find out i.e. I am who I am.  Some things are not meant to be named because when we name them we begin to make assumptions about them and believe we have defined them.  As we are told, ‘For I have seen God face to face and yet my life is preserved.  Looking back on the times in which we have had to let go of our illusion of control we can be amazed that we have survived.  We are not the same as Israel went away limping we will will changed by the encounter but by the grace of God we will survive.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Reading the Bible 24: Genesis 32: 1-21 The Prodigal Brother

Jacob has just parted company with his Father-in-law Laban – which was done on good terms – something of an accomplishment considering their less than up front and amicable relationship.  Now he is faced with meeting the other member of his family which he had also left on similar less than ideal terms - , his brother Esau.  A very dark cloud hung over Jacob as he approached what he realistically might be his doom.  His chickens had finally come home to roost after all these years and he realized he must face the consequences of his earlier trickery.

Jacob had reached a point here he could not move ahead in life without turning back to face his brother.  For him there was no choice.  I see this point in Jacob’s life much like that of the Prodigal Son when he finally faces the reality that he must return home if his life is to move ahead.  This may seem strange on the surface as Jacob seemed to be is a very different situation from the Prodigal Son.  Prodigal Son had physically hit bottom.  He had wasted his inheritance on wine, women, and song.  He was reduced to hoping he could eat the leftovers from those he served – the swine.  Jacob on the other hand seemed to have it all.  He had wives and children; servants and flocks.  Seemingly all anyone could ask for – the very picture of success.  However, he too knew he must repent of his past and face the consequences if he was to move forward.  He had hit spiritual rock bottom rather than the material one. 
Both the Prodigal Son and Jacob prepare for the day of reckoning.  However, there is a significant difference in their preparation.  The Prodigal Son has nothing material to give. He can only offer that which he has.  He plans to throw himself – mind, body and spirit on the mercy of his father and beg for forgiveness.  Jacob having much materially plans to use that material wealth to try and gain Esau’s forgiveness. Or at least what limited forgiveness he can hope for.  In this Jacob seems less noble than Prodigal Son.  There is a holding back which has the taint of bribery.  However, there is a noble aspect in Jacob’s effort as Jacob knows that he is putting himself in the hands of the one who he wronged and may very well not survive.  However, Jacob seems to be depending on his material possessions rather than the giving all that he has. 

There is a happy ending for both Jacob and the Prodigal Son.  Forgiveness breaks through as a blessing from God.  Blessings are always unerned and no less so in these cases.  The power of God’s love that can bring about reconciliation to the brokenness of our lives is God’s greatest gift to his children.