Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the fourth Sunday after Trinity 6/27/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity4 Bulletin 

The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the fourth Sunday after Trinity, click here.

In chapter seven of John’s Gospel, Jesus was teaching at the Festival of Booths. As He taught, He was accused of being unlearned and as having a demon. At the end of His answer to the crowd, Jesus remarks,

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. John7:24

Likewise, at the very end of the Gospel text we just read, Jesus not only instructs the people to judge – that’s the part about identifying that there’s a speck in your brother’s eye – but He goes even further, and tells them to intervene and help dig it out.

Jesus is not confused or schizophrenic. He does not forbid judgment writ large, as the above texts and many more clearly demonstrate. What Jesus forbids is the self-righteous, self-exalting, hypocritical judging which is false in nature and calls down God’s judgment.

As Christians, we ought to engage in judgment carefully, and with self-examination. St. Paul was not innocent. Indeed, he calls himself chief of sinners. But if it were not for him publicly judging others, we would not have most of the New Testament.

You can say something similar about John the Baptist, condemning Herod’s public sin. I’ll actually stop there, because good judgment occurs in every chapter of the Bible.

This is necessary to lay out because Christians have often taken to silence or quietism, because they misunderstood what Jesus is teaching here. Or they did understand it once, but couldn’t explain it when an unbeliever quoted it after looking it up on the internet.

Still, it isn’t enough to say what Jesus doesn’t mean. The question to ask of this and every text is: “What does this mean?”

It means that we who have received mercy from God, are to be merciful – merciful in our dealings, and merciful in our judgments. This is not just a command from God, but it is also a helpful way to live in the world – The Golden Rule, as the kids say.

This sort of merciful, wise judgment is not normal in the world – especially for us. We live in what is probably the judgiest society ever known to mortal men. Judging makes small people feel like big people. We vainly imagine that we sit above it all: objective, fair, wise, and ready to weigh in with wit and insight – earning likes, applause, and other vain accolades.

We delude ourselves is this. We think that we are competent to judge every decision our bosses have ever made; we can judge the public policies of nations and the way the neighbor cuts his grass; we think that we perfectly understand complicated scientific problems. And, yes, I know: many of you can – and so the temptation is actually worse for you.

The rest of us clicked a link on Facebook; we skimmed the first page of results that Google chose for us; and said to ourselves, “Surely, all of these things were the products of wise, thoughtful men.”

The last few years plus the laziness of internet-based “research” has turned all of us into experts on: public health, microbiology, historic slavery, international law, domestic law, religion in all its forms, the constitution, the Civil  War, World War II, the War on Terror, and really, just war in general.

Repent. These are vain delusions. And while claiming to know more than we do about them can cause some harm, we do much worse than make false claims to understanding. More than having misplaced pride, we are enabled and encouraged toward judgment.

We have laughed at the inept, vain contestants on American idol who couldn’t match pitch but thought they should be stars. From the safety of our living rooms, we have watched the videos and been smugly disgusted with the crazy lady self-righteously yelling for a manager at McDonalds or Wal-Mart. And yet, we have done far worse.

We have looked at our own family and friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and silently, or quietly behind their backs, labelled them fools because they dared to have an opinion different than ours — as though we were all-wise and perfectly educated and reasonable and had the right to judge them. According to Jesus if you call a man a fool, even if that man can’t hear you, even if he is only an image on a screen, then you are in danger of Hellfire.

That is not some expression you can brush off. That is what Jesus says and that is what Jesus means. Repent.

Judging in these ways is unbefitting of our calling as Christians, and it is condemned by the eighth commandment. Even if the judgments were accurate or fair, even if your brother-in-law were a fool, these judgments would still damn us. They hurt other people, and they damage our faith.

The Golden Rule exposes us. We hate to be judged in the same way we’ve judged others. Who hasn’t been bullied into silence or quietly towing the party-line? In our own New England context, a single misstep, the repetition of a thoughtless cliché, or even failure to praise and pander to the right group with the right words and sufficient enthusiasm can end a career or incite violence.

And if that can happen when the one being judged is actually innocent, imagine what happens when we genuinely deserve judgment, that is when we say something wrong or ignorant or mean out of stress or pain. You could easily be the next media victim that the world feels superior to and you could lose your job and your family and friends because of it.

We would be fools to not be somewhat afraid of this happening. And yet, for all our caution, still we are weak. We still mange to lash out in that weakness, from pain, or fear, or exhaustion. We still sometimes cave to our baser desires.

And if we weren’t enough of a problem in ourselves, the world’s standards are ever-changing. We cannot appease them, for the prince of this world is the father of lies. He loves the judging, the plotting, and the putting on of appearances. And if we think that we must win his approval through the world’s judgment we will be driven either to self-righteous delusion or to despair.

Let us turn instead to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is more ready and eager to forgive than Joseph. He has plans for us beyond this groaning world, adoption into His home and the redemption of our bodies.

He has been the victim of slander, false accusations, and racism. He has endured terrible injustice and cruelty. He has been tortured and betrayed and killed. He has borne all this in our place. His sorrow and suffering is our bride price.

He has won and paid for us with His own life to free us not only of the punishment that our sins deserve, but also to free us also from judgment. For Christ’s sake we are spared our Father’s wrath, and even the judgment of the world is moot. Christ is victorious over sin, death, the devil, and the world. He presents us as His immaculate Bride, clean and without blemish, free of the past, free of guilt and regret, with eyes only for Him.

That is both a present and a future reality. Our guilt is removed. We are declared righteous by Christ now. And yet, we do not yet fully know this righteousness in our bodies or our minds. We must still contend with our own fallen flesh and the broken world all around us.

This is not our home. We do bad things here, failing to live up to God’s Law, and bad things are done to us, Some of which we deserve and should expect and some of which we shouldn’t.

Thus, we are ever more eager to depart from this world; for us to die is gain.

While we are here, groaning with creation in eager expectation of our revelation to the world as the church, and ourselves as God’s own sons, we fight within ourselves.

The old man is daily drowned by the Law. We hear Jesus’ command: “Do not judge” and we repent. We recommit and set our wills to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in what is good, in what He gives, in what He says, even when what He says it against us. And we trust that our salvation is secure in Him, by His grace, not by our keeping of the Law, but by His keeping of the Law and facing judgment for us.

When it comes to our own temptation to judge in the ways of the world and our failures to resist it, our repentance and the amendment of our lives means that we must do the work of reconciliation. While the world has a clamorous group of spectators ever ready to judge and criticize all actions by their own fickle standards, our homes and our families and our church do not. We must not. We cannot.

We are not spectators. We are not waiting to sweep in on those who make a mistake or who cave in to lust or anger or greed. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are bound by forgiveness and compassion. We kneel together in humility and joy.

We pray for the courage and compassion to act as true friends and companions. We ask that the Holy Spirit would increase our love for one another and give us wisdom so that we would actually care for one another in word and deed and thought.

We are not interested in party slogans or fake orthodoxy. We do not care for code language meant to show that we are in the right tribe or on the right side.

We love one another.

Forgiveness is not a novel ideal for us in this new extra-judgy environment. It is the hallmark of what Christ has done for us, how He sustains us, and who He makes us to be. Our prayer is that God honor us by allowing us to care for one another where it hurts and where we differ.

We do not ignore the specks in one another’s eyes, nor do we seek to profit from them or to show our superiority in any way.

Let there be no schadenfreude among us or delight in the failure of our enemies or our friends. We continue, by grace, in what God has begun, which is taught to us in the Scriptures and in the Small Catechism.

We strive to speak and act and even think in love at all times and places, to put the best construction on why specks exist in people’s eyes, to see one another as Christ sees us, in compassion and mercy, and not as competition.

This the measure that Christ has used with us even though we have no right to it. We ask Him that we might share it also with one another and be His Church.

First Lutheran Church Sermon Archive


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