Summary: The Keys to the Kingdom of Mercy Judging, condemning or forgiveness
THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 2001
From the Gospel: Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen!
My favorite line, in the most Southern of all movies, Steel Magnolias, is "If you can’t say anything good about anybody, you just come right over here and sit down next to me!"
Now, while this makes a pretty good line for a mean spirited, self absorbed and slightly psychotic Southern Lady, and while it may even voice the secret desires of many of us here today. It is completely contrary to the spirit of today’s Gospel message.
In fact, today’s Gospel tells us that the Kingdom of God calls us to a way of life in which mercy abounds! And the text I have chosen from this mornings Gospel gives us the three key points to living in that Kingdom of Mercy.
The first of these key points is that we must refrain from judging. Well now, wait just a minute! … It wasn’t very long ago that, from this very pulpit, we heard Fr. Rice say that this idea of "judge not" doesn’t ALWAYS mean quite what we think it does. Well that’s true, and with Fr. Rice’s indulgence, I will distill his thought on this matter to one short thought. WE DISCERN, BUT WE DO NOT JUDGE. In fact, later in this same chapter of Luke, Jesus tells us that we can know a tree by its fruit. This discernment or evaluation of a product is NOT the same as judging the motives or spiritual worth of another.
If, for example, my babysitter shows up with green hair, pierced EVERYTHING and a six pack of beer under her arm - it is my duty, as a parent, to discern that she may not be the best choice of caregivers for my child. This is not judging, this is using judgment or discernment.
If, however, based on my limited knowledge and perception of her appearance - I decide she is a base creature and devoid of God’s Grace - this IS a Judgment, one which I am neither qualified, nor mandated by God, to make.
I … WE … need to remember the simple and direct question that the Apostle Paul has put to us, for just such an occasion. Paul Asks "Who are you … to judge another’s servant?"
Now … judgment has but one outcome. A civil judge, having heard all the evidence in a case and, having judged the defendant completes his duty by rendering a verdict. When we judge another, we also render a verdict which brings us to the SECOND Key Point.
Do Not Condemn.
I think the most poignant example in scriptures is that of the woman taken in the very act, of adultery.
There is no need here for a judgment, her guilt is very clear. She did not, in fact, COULD not deny it.
The Story, as we all know, continues with those pesky Scribes and Pharisees demanding that Jesus condemn her to death by stoning, as was the custom of the Mosaic law.
Jesus, we are told, stooped down on the ground, and wrote in the dirt with his finger. Tradition tells us that he wrote the names of each of the accusers, along with their most secret and horrific sins.
He then stood up, and looked each of them in the eye and said simply, "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone." Holy Scripture tells us that Jesus stooped down again and returned to his writing, but we will talk more about that shortly.
Scripture then tells us, that the accusers left -- from the oldest to the youngest. When they had all left, Jesus asks the woman Where are your accusers? Is there no one to condemn you? After she says "no Lord" Jesus says "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more."
Our Lord who was the only one who COULD have cast the stone, being sinless, did not condemn her. For Mercy and Justice are met in him
Let us always remember this story of a poor wretched woman, caught in her sins, just as you and I are. And the lack of condemnation she found in Jesus. Let us also remember that condemnation causes us to depart from mercy.
Which brings us to our third, and final Key Point.
This is one of the most talked about and LEAST understood ideas, (both theologically and practically), in all of Christendom. A problem I have simply never understood. We hear it every time we attend the Holy Eucharist or any other public service of the church, and, HOPEFULLY, we hear it even more frequently in our private prayers.