I said unto the fools, deal not so madly…and…
Set not up your horn on high, and speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion
cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor yet from the south.
And why? God is the Judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
(Ps. lxxv. 5-8)
We have said that Trinity tide is all about spiritual growth, 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)And one of the chief obstacles that frustrates our mystical journey 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 believers as a severe mercy which makes them into vessels of His desire for all men’s salvation. Once we begin to measure ourselves by God’s Judgment, we 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, one who tries to live by the principles of Holy Scripture, you might be on the edge of your seat fortified with a series of Buts!But, you are thinking, we are living in a society that is not interested one bit 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 pierce and singe a few of our neighbors, smarting and startling them into some recognition of His Almighty desire and power?After all, this very nation that we inhabit is calling “good” “evil” and “evil” “good”, and to make matters worse, it imparts this diabolical confusion to our children. God’s judgment and will don’t seem to figure even remotely into the way people are thinking and acting these days. It seems as if people are getting away with so many sins! And, of course, you are right about all of this. An honest assessment of our present situation would have to conclude that the Western world is not interested at all in God’s judgment for wrongdoing since there is no such thing as wrongdoing. 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)
And I am here to tell you that your frustration is not entirely inappropriate. Our Saviour never asks us to forsake or ignore God’s Judgment of human life. He tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father in Heaven is perfect. (St. Matthew v. 48)He nowhere tells us that we should not judge between the principles of good and evil, right and wrong, or vice and virtue. This we must do if we hope to be saved. And He promises us that there will be Judgment for every man. But in order to best surrender to and live under the ruling and guiding light of God’s Judgment then, He insists that we had better stop judging other people now.
No doubt you have heard that old adage love the sinner and hate the sin. Well, this is our Saviour’s teaching, who knows [only too well] what is in [the heart] of man (St. John ii. 25)and the disastrous consequences that result when we confuse the two. John Calvin tells us, difficult or not, if we don’t distinguish between the two, we might very well be weaving our own ruination. Calvin 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.)Men do this habitually, without any thought of dividing and separating the sin from the sinner.
Yet this separating out of the sinner from his sin is precisely what Christ intends for us to do if we will be counted very members incorporate in His Mystical Body. Why? Because He has done this very thing in relation to us. Prior to this morning’s Gospel reading, St. Luke tells us that Jesus had been teaching His disciples the Beatitudes. He concludes with a warning, telling them that if they do not need the mercy, love, and forgiveness that He brings to the world from the Father, they should not expect to 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 they need to focus on the mercy of God which will overcome all of their sins. And knowing full well that His own friends will soon become His enemies in His darkest hour, He impresses upon them the forgiveness that they will not grasp until He rises from the dead. For 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 came to experience, a sinner today might become a saint tomorrow through the mercy of God’s forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being 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)God has judged that we can be made right with Him through the forgiveness of sins expressed by His unjustly crucified Son. Our Heavenly Father’s mercy is so great that His justice allows that His Son should die unjustly, that in and through this death man might begin to live.
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 man’s injustice. Sin is always an act of injustice since through it sinners disobey God’s law. Yet the same man expects justice to be mercy from an all forgiving God. We don’t tend to want either God or other men to be unmerciful, unkind, and unforgiving to us. And yet how quick we are to play God in judging others. How swift we are to say I cannot forgive that man his trespass against me. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.
Today Jesus reminds us that if we judge and do not forgive, we shall be judged and not forgiven. God judges and forgives. We shall be rewarded in so far as God’s merciful justice is alive in our hearts. And so the more we begin to subdue and conquer this vice of judging others with determined effort, the more likely the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ will become a reality in our lives. What we need to search out and find is not the mote that is in [our] brother’s eye, but the beam that is in [our] own eye. (St. Luke vi. 41)We do tend to be adept at discovering other people’s particular sins mostly because we have had such long acquaintance with them as at least temptations in ourselves. The sins of others that most distract, dismay, and disconcert us are those that most tempt us. So we must spend much time pondering our own vices, sins, and failures. Having identified them, we must confess them and embrace the forgiveness of sins, Jesus Christ, in our hearts and souls. 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 closing, we must remember that the forgiveness of sins is just the beginning of the new life that we ought to find in Christ. The forgiveness of sins is ours to embrace as what will bring our sins to death. If they are truly dead, then the forgiveness of sins longs to become the ground of the new life of virtue that makes us good. Our focus must be on this process of dying to sin and coming alive to righteousness. And it is for this reason that we do ourselves great harm when we judge others. To be sure, we must judge specific sins as wrong. But we ought to try to identify and sympathize with our fellow sinners. If they are not suffering in their sins, then we ought to pray for their conversion. If they are converted but are struggling to die to certain sins that so easily beset them, then we ought to offer our patient and prayerful help. We ought never to condemn or sentence them. Rather we ought to find ways to welcome them into a struggle with sin that is part of every Christian’s spiritual suffering. St. Paul tells us this morning that we ought to remember that the whole creation groaneth and travailleth in pain together until now. (Romans viii 22) He means that we are not yet what we ought to be. We are all in this together. We are not yet whatwe ought to be or wherewe ought to be. St. Paul says that must we undergo our present sufferings for the sake of future glory. If we suffer inour daily struggle against sin, we shall be better suited to help others in the same. One thing is certain: We cannot help others out of their sins if we have not discovered what a struggle it has been to die to our own!
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons