Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Giving up Judgement (2nd in a series)

Lent is a period of 40 days, excluding Sundays, of deep soul searching to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. In many ways, Lent mimics the 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness, where he struggled with his temptations and gave up things that were hindrances to his life’s mission.

It might be helpful for us to look at Lent as a yearly spiritual wilderness journey where we confront our greatest temptations head-on and try to identify things in our own lives that we need to give up because they are hindrances to our fully following Jesus.

So what are you giving up for Lent this year?

Last week, I talked about a sermon series I preached a couple of years ago entitled, "More than Just Chocolate" where my congregation and I learned that the point of fasting is not to deny joy or pleasure. We say “no” to some things so we are free to say “yes” to others. Using Jesus' seven last words or statements on the cross, we explored aspects of our lives that God may be calling us to give up, more than just chocolate, or coffee or soda. From the first word, we learned last week that God is calling us to give up Anger and Bitterness. (click here to read)   

"He replied, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'" Luke 23:43, NRSV

Jerusalem had already rejected Jesus. They had him arrested, tried, flogged and beaten. Then they called for his crucifixion. We find him already hanging on the cross, left to die a criminal’s death. On either side of him were two criminals, also crucified. One joins the crowd in deriding him. The other one rebukes the first one, reminding him that they were hanging there, as punishment for crimes they’ve committed but this man in the middle had done no wrong. Then he asks Jesus not to save him, but to simply remember him, when he comes to his kingdom.

Now, Jesus could have chosen the way of judgment and say, “You both are criminals. You’re evil. Remember you? Why? You deserve to burn!” But no. When it could have been easier to say, “Curse you!”, when it would have been easier to pronounce judgement and denounce the person, when it would have been easier to say, “Uuugh! You @#%$!”, Jesus lamented instead, and offered grace and acceptance. He chose to look deeper, seeing the person as also a victim rather than just the perpetrator.

Perhaps God is calling us to give up judgment for Lent.

Now, we need judgment to survive. We need to judge between right and wrong. We need to judge between many alternatives. We face decisions every moment of every day and we need judgment to make the best decisions. We need the power and the freedom to choose between right and wrong, the power and the freedom to make decisions.

The problem with judgment is when we use it against each other. We say things like: “Who would do that?!" and "Who in their right mind?!” It’s almost an instinct for us to think wrongly of people when things go wrong. And nobody falls into this trap more than us, people of faith. Claiming righteousness because of our relationship with God, we feel that it is our right and prerogative and that God has authorized us to judge the world and label people good or bad, worthy or unworthy, clean or unclean, right or wrong!

Yet Jesus reminds us. Our call is not to judge people, but to offer grace and acceptance. Now, we may say, “But he was clearly in the wrong!" "She really was out of line!” The people of Jerusalem were clearly wrong. The two criminals clearly did horrible crimes punishable by death. Yet Jesus offered grace, not judgment.

Now, we’re giving up judgment, but were not giving up justice. Justice still needs to happen. But to judge people, to form an opinion of them so strong that we condemn them forever is not for us to do.

Another problem about judgment is when we judge others not because they are clearly in the wrong but just because they look, or speak, or think, or act, or dress, or live differently from us.

Do you know how it feels like to be wrongly judged? Do you know the pain of being looked at suspiciously because of the color of your skin? Have you ever been wrongly judged because of your race, your gender, your sexuality, your accent, your chosen lifestyle or even your choice of clothes?

Or maybe the question is: Have we wrongly judged people just based on these same criteria?

“Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Our call as Christians, as people of faith, is not to judge but to offer the kingdom of God. Remember, our mission is to give everybody, even the people we disagree with, even the people we dislike, even the people who are different from us, a taste of what it means and feels like to be under God’s reign.

Friends, Lent is serious soul work. Lent is not a mere sentimental and emotional revisiting of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. It is preparing ourselves to truly live. And in order for Easter to happen, in order for new life to happen, something has to die. We are to "die to ourselves so that Christ may live in us." We are to give things up so that we may learn how to truly live.

And so more than just chocolate, God is calling us today, to give up judgment and grow in acceptance and grace.

Your fellow disciple,


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