Sermon for March 19, 2017
by Jim Kane
Last week, Q___ reminded us of the power and sting and wrongness of judging unfairly that is also called, judgmentalism. That is, the jumping to conclusions about people based on external things like dress, speech, past history, even race and gender.
It gave me a very important pause for reflection and I trust that it gave us one as well.
Before we meet the servant, Malchus, who was both the recipient of Peter’s rush to judgment and Jesus’ act of compassion, let’s visit with Pilate whose judgment results in the crucifixion of Jesus…
“…even your wife warned you about condemning Jesus.
(Scornfully) My wife. What did she know? You don’t understand the pressure I was under. Sure I was at a choice point, but the choosing was not really open to me. What was I supposed to do, go against common sense and risk my future by releasing Jesus just because I thought he was innocent?
Wouldn’t that have been the right thing to do?
(Angry) And you all stand in judgment of me? Look at yourselves. How many times have you made a choice that would make life easier for you, even though you knew it was not the best choice, or even the right choice?
You compare us with you?
Of course. What about the businessman who cheats on his income tax, the woman who tells the story about someone even though she knows it will hurt, the youth who goes along and tries the drugs? Sure, they have pressure. They have to do what seems best in the moment. Of course a little shading here or lying there won’t hurt, they think.
Is that the same as your choice?
Certainly it is. And there are those who run others down to make themselves look better, those who lie to improve their standing in the community, and … Well, you know the sins as well as I do. What about them? Are they better than me?
(from Week Two: Judgment, from the series At The Crossroads: A Series of Services for Lent by Ted Schroeder, ©2016 Creative Communications for the Parish)
Judgmentalism had a field day with Jesus. Untrue claims based on envy and a desire to get rid of Jesus because He posed a threat to the status quo are used to charge Jesus and have him crucified. If that is not one way judgmentalism was expressed, then I don’t what it is. Jesus was judged in a rush to judgment by those who had already judged Jesus to NOT be the Messiah.
But a rush to judgment, somewhat understandable given Peter’s desire to protect Jesus from His enemies, was also part of that moment when Jesus was betrayed and Peter swung his sword as noted in our main text for this morning Luke 22:47-51:
While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him
Let’s meet Malchus, the servant of the High Priest and the recipient of both Peter’s impetuous act…and Jesus’ compassionate response.
And how has it changed you?
I’m not much good as a guard anymore. I can’t wield the sword in my hand or the hate in my heart anymore. I saw a way of compassion, of love and I make different choices now.
Is your life easier now?
Easier? No. In some ways it is harder, but I find the face of Jesus in my eyes when I am tempted to ignore the needs of others, to strike back when I am hurt, to get revenge when I am insulted or injured. I see the face of Jesus and he calls me to make a choice of compassion and mercy. I know this. In Jesus I am forgiven that dark past and called to a new life. I know that Jesus went to the cross for me, he healed me by his death and resurrection, but he did not only heal my ear, he healed my heart.
What message would you leave with us?
I’m nobody important. I don’t have a great speech to give you. But I know this. When we are tempted to live by the ways of the world, when we are tempted to live in the darkness, we can make a choice to follow the way lighted by Jesus, a light that comes from the truth that we are healed and whole in him. In him we can dare to live in love. And that’s the most important message.
(from Week Three: Compassion, from the series At The Crossroads: A Series of Services for Lent by Ted Schroeder, ©2016 Creative Communications for the Parish)
There is a wonderful passage in Isaiah 54 and verses 5 through 10 that says this:
For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.
“To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
God judges us (and He is the ultimate judge, we are not.) But as Isaiah writes, even the Lord has compassion on and for the wayward people of Israel and he goes onto write in chapter 55:
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
In the heat of the moment, in a blind passion, Peter sees a chance to make good on his promise to Jesus as noted a few verses before in Luke 22:33
“Lord,” he told Him, “I’m ready to go with You both to prison and to death!”
And He swings his sword in what I am sure he (Peter) thinks is a statement of commitment to Jesus. “See Jesus! I told you I am ready to go to prison and death with you! Let the revolution begin!”
It was the wrong kind of revolution. Malchus experienced a revolution. A revolution of and within his spirit, his heart. Peter was consumed by judgment. Malchus, we assume and hope, was consumed by compassion.
In this season that is called Lent, it is not all gloom and doom nor is it a time for self-inflicted punishment to appear to be spiritual. It is about reflecting, growing quiet, silent even to again hear God’s voice, and experience His redemptive and hopeful presence through the Holy Spirit so that as we continue to meet the world where we are, we do so with renewed faith in Christ and compassion.
How do we then navigate the crossroads of compassion so that we are people of grace, of hope, of love through which Jesus works to speak to people who are used the judgmental voices around them…and within themselves?
Several years ago, C Michael Patton shared four steps to overcome judgmentalism which I prefer to call four ways to express compassion and be compassionate:
- Know Thyself: Patton says, “I think the way to heal the disease of judgmentalism is to take a long hard look at ourselves. We must recognize the severity of our own shortcomings.”
- Know Christ: “Christ is a pretty solid example to follow,” says Patton. “It is very hard to read too much of Christ’s engagement with people and not be convinced of how attractive he was to sinners and how unattractive he was to the self-righteous. In fact, they had a name they called him. No, it was not “goody two-shoes,” “Bible banger,” or “Mr. Perfect.” It was “friend of sinners.” Have we ever been called this? He goes on to say, “Could we ever be accused of being a friend of sinners? If not, I imagine we are judgmental.”
- Know the Pharisees: “The only people I see who hated Christ were the self-righteous people who had it all figured out. Among the Jews in Christ’s day, these were the Pharisees. People were scared of the Pharisees,” says Patton. They were not ever accused of being friends of sinners. Yet Christ didn’t have much good to say about them. In one candid moment he told them that they strain out gnats and swallow camels (Matt. 23:24). Translation: they kept the parts of the law that were easy, visible, and insignificant compared to the parts they did not keep (which were difficult, invisible, and significant). They did not curse, drink, or go to parties (gnats). Yet they were unkind, without mercy, and graceless (camels).
- Confess Thyself: Patton notes, “These alone don’t solve it. There is a hard part. We have to let others know about our sins. This does not mean become a lush and vomit our problems all over people at every turn, it just means we go public with those things that are so easy to keep in private. Once we do this, it is hard to idolize ourselves, much less look down on others. We simply don’t have a leg to stand on and others know it.”
As Q____ spoke last Sunday this question came to mind, “What if the wounded man cared for by the Good Samaritan was the prodigal son on his way home?”
Now the story of the prodigal son and the story of the good Samaritan were parables Jesus used to make some very important points, respectively, about the passionate love of God and mercy as the hallmark of a good neighbor who fulfills the Great Commandment to love that neighbor.
Or were they just parables?
Could they have also have been true stories? Stories which Jesus and His audiences observed as they walked the paths and roads and streets of first century Israel?
They were also choice points, crossroads…of compassion. The compassionate response of the Samaritan to the situation and condition of the wounded man. The running embrace of the Father welcoming his ‘lost’ son home.
Thanks be to God.