God is the Judge; He putteth down one, and He setteth up another.
(Ps. lxxv. 8)
Trinity-tide is all about spiritual fertility and progress. In this season, we are called into a state of sanctification and redemption that ensures our safe and eventual passing through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal. (Collect) Today we shall learn that one of the chief obstacles that frustrates our spiritual advancement is judgment or judging. Jesus tells us this morning, Judge not and ye shall not be judged (St. Luke vi. 37). God is the Judge, as our Psalmist reminds us, and God’s Judgment is offered to us as a measure which has all the potential of transforming our lives and imparting the efficacy of severe mercy to others. Once God’s Judgment begins to inform and govern our lives, we shall begin to feel that the sufferings of this present time, the fruits of God’s severe mercy, are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. (Romans viii. 18)
Yet if you are a healthy Christian, trying to live by the principles of Holy Scripture, you might be frustrated. But, you are thinking, we are living in a society that is not interested one whit in God’s judgment or God’s will for human life. But, you protest, would it be too much to ask for a bit of God’s judgment and even wrath to singe and startle a few of our neighbors into some consciousness or realization of His Almighty desire and power? After all, our nation has been reduced to an adolescent free-for-all, where men are calling ‘good evil’, and ‘evil good’. To make matters worse, they are teaching this to our children. God’s judgment and will don’t seem to figure even remotely into the way people are thinking and acting. It seems as if people are getting away with murder and more! And, of course, you are right about all of this. An honest assessment of our present situation must lead us to conclude that the Western world seems bent on the eradication of any sense of God’s judgment of good and evil and right and wrong. Judge not, you ask? How can we hope to do this, if we are bidden as Christians ‘to abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good?' (Rom. xii. 9)
If these are your protestations, your preacher is here to tell you that you are not entirely wrong, though also not entirely right. Our Saviour reminds us that we forsake God’s Judgment of human life at our own eternal peril. He says, Be ye therefore perfect even as your Heavenly Father in Heaven is perfect. (St. Matthew v. 48) He nowhere tells us that we should not judge or discern between good and evil, right and wrong, or virtue and vice. This we must do if we hope to be saved. For every man shall be judged. But in order to best surrender to and live under the ruling and guiding light of God’s Judgment of our own lives, He insists that we had better stop judging others.
No doubt you have heard that old adage, Love the sinner and hate the sin. This is our Saviour’s teaching, who knows [only too well] what is in [the heart] of man. (St. John ii. 25) But to avoid disastrous consequences that result when we confuse the two, Christ teaches us to look at sin in our own lives. John Calvin tells us, difficult or not, if we don’t distinguish between the two, we might very well be weaving our own ruination. He observes that all men [tend] to flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure [or judgment] on others. There is hardly any person that is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults. (Harm. of Gospels, xvi.) We tend to have an overweening interest in other people’s sins. It makes us feel better about ourselves and thus free to forego the amendment of our own lives since they don’t seem to be all that bad in relation to others.
Yet separating out the sin from the sinner is what Christ intends for us to do, if we will be counted very members incorporate in His Mystical Body. He expects this from us since He Himself has separated out our sins from us sinners, in order to conquer the one and reform the other. Prior to this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus had been teaching His disciples the Beatitudes. He concludes with a warning, telling them that if they do not come to need His merciful love which alone can overcome their enmity with God and make them His friends, they will not be saved. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you… For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.... But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (St. Luke vi. 27-36)
Rather than rendering evil for evil, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, Jesus reminds His disciples that if the healing mercy of God does not overcome their sinning in this life, the justice of God will in the next. Knowing full well that His own demise is imminent and that they will betray Him, He teaches the Apostles about a forgiveness that will be theirs in His Resurrection. Later they will remember that if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans v. 10) As the Apostles and disciples would come to experience, a sinner today might become a saint tomorrow through the forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ imparts through His Death and new Life. We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans iii. 23-26) Our Heavenly Father’s mercy is so great that His justice has decreed that His Son should die unjustly, that we might see how the love of God mercifully conquers all evil as pure good will make the enemies of God into His friends.
Is there injustice in the world? Absolutely. But where is it found most profoundly? In the unjust death of the Holy One of God who suffered at the hands of unjust, judgmental men. Judgmental men judge, pass sentence, and often kill. Rather than hating the sin, they hate the one they have judged to be the sinning sinner. We do the same. We judge and we condemn, conflating sin with the sinner. How swift we are to hate the sinner for his sin. How quick we are to say, I cannot forgive that man his trespass against me. But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are. We expect God’s forgiveness and yet we cannot bear to share it.
Today Jesus reminds us that if we judge and do not forgive, we shall be judged and not forgiven. God is perfectly fair. We shall be rewarded with the very quality and quantity of justice that we have meted out to others. But if we begin to embrace and perfect the forgiveness of sins in our hearts as what we do not deserve and can never earn, we might begin to be so overwhelmed by the gift that we cannot help but share with others. If we begin to search not for the mote that is in [our] brother’s eye, but the beam that is in [our] own eye, (St. Luke vi. 41) we might be doing ourselves a great service. After all, the sins of others that most distract and dismay us are outward and visible signs of our own inward and spiritual insecurity, immaturity, and imperfection. We ought rather to be turning our minds to own weaknesses and temptations; they should provide us with sufficient food for thought. God’s desire and ability to work them out of our lives ought then to strike us as an inestimable benefit and help. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 St. John i. 9)
In the Lord’s Prayer, we petition our Heavenly Father to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Romano Guardini tells us that this is what it means: When you begin to pray…and suddenly remember that you have a grudge against someone, forgive him first! If you do you’re your unforgiveness will step between you and our Heavenly Father and prevent you from reaching Him. (R.G.: The Lord, p. 302) This does not mean that we somehow earn God’s forgiveness through our forgiving. God’s pardon is pure Grace, which is not founded on our worthiness, but creates it. (Idem) If we would make room for God’s forgiveness, with all urgency we must be emptied of any unforgiveness. If God’s desire to forgive, heal, redeem, and save us is to take effect, we must discover our desperate need for it! Furthermore, we should forgive because we should love. Forgiveness is so free because it springs from the joint accomplishment of human and divine pardon….The one who pardons resembles the Father ‘who makes His light to shine on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.’ (St. Matthew v. 45, Idem) When we forgive, we are freed from the chains of resentment, bitterness, anger, and revenge. When we forgive, we begin to see all other human beings in the light of God’s loving desire for their salvation. This is God’s justice, that His forgiveness offers salvation to all men. That some will not accept it is none of our business. We must forgive all men if love will possess and move our hearts to Heaven. Who knows, then some of them might notice. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons