Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
"Judge not, and you shall not be judged." These words from our Gospel text are perhaps the most used words in the whole of human history. Christians toss them about without a second thought. We love to use them to defend ourselves from the prying eyes of our neighbors-and even from the Law spoken to us by Christ through the mouth of our pastor. And even people who think the whole Bible is a load of horse manure know these words, and they throw them in the face of believers to justify and force acceptance of whatever depravity they follow. So it is likely that these are the most used words in human history. But certainly they are the most frequently mis-used words in human history. Many take these words to mean that we may never condemn sin or say anything is right or wrong. "So they're living together before marriage. It's not what I think is right, but who am I to judge?" "I'm personally against abortion, but it's not my place to say anything." "Homosexuality isn't the normal way things are supposed to be, but what happens in someone else's bedroom is none of my business. After all, judge not, lest ye be judged."
The problem is, Jesus is not commanding us to ignore sin. In fact, Jesus says in the seventh chapter of the Gospel According to John, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." John tells us in his first epistle, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." As Christians, we rightly test what we hear and see against the Word of God, and we rightly denounce that which does not measure up against that Word. What Jesus is condemning here is a double standard. You can't hold others to a higher standard than you yourself hold. And what is the standard by which we are all judged? The standard is God's holy Law, not our own petty rules. And God's holy Law does not bend. It doesn't allow us wiggle room or loopholes. We all stand condemned before God's Law, which we all break time and time again. Don't answer this question aloud, but let me ask you: How many times have you sat in the pew right where you sit now and sat in so-called righteous judgment over your fellow Christians next to you? It's so easy to pass judgment. But how can we judge someone for gossiping when we spend our days on the phone with our circles of friends, exchanging the latest juicy details of our neighbor's latest drama? How can we condemn someone for struggling with pornography when our own heads turn every time we see a pretty girl?
That's what makes this whole judging business so sad. We know exactly how hard it is to overcome the things which tempt us to sin. We know the struggles our neighbors face, because we ourselves struggle with the same sins. We know the temptation to overindulge in alcohol, because we've been there. We know the struggle of marital faithfulness in thought and word and deed, because the television parades man after handsome man past us, and you can go to Wal-Mart and see women dressed in clothes that are tighter than their own skin. We know the allure of material possessions, so it's not hard to understand how someone could lose himself and steal from his neighbors. Knowing how easily we find ourselves tempted, it should be a simple matter for us to show understanding to our neighbors who face the same temptations. How gentle and patient we could be with them, loving them and helping them to bear their burdens. Instead, we condemn our neighbors. We point out their faults, and we pass judgment. We are the pot that calls the kettle black. We are those who live in glass houses and yet throw stones. We are those with logs in our eyes, seeking to remove specks from our neighbor's eye.
It is not our job to stand as judge, jury and executioner over our neighbors and fellow Christians. That is God's place. Our job, when it comes to our neighbor, is to defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way-whether it's our family or friends, or even our enemies. Our place as Christians is to remember that we are all poor miserable sinners, and we are simply being liars by claiming to be better than anyone else. To point out the sins of our neighbor is to call down the judgment of God upon ourselves. That is not our responsibility. Our obligation is to show the same mercy to our neighbors that God has shown to us. God calls us to mercy. To be merciful means to have love and pity toward our neighbor in his struggles, to see our neighbor's struggles as our own, to help him, to pray for him, to console him-even as the Father loves us and shows mercy to us.
For indeed, God in Christ has been merciful to you. Who knows better than God how hard it is to overcome your sins? After all, your forgiveness cost the Father the life of His Son. That is the measure of the mercy the Father has for you-good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over endlessly. God loves you despite what your sin deserves. Knowing that He Himself is a just God, He sent His Son to bear your unrighteousness, to bear the brunt of His righteous judgment against sin, to carry the sentence of death which your sin deserves. The white robe of Christ's righteousness, made white in His own blood, applied to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, covers over your sinfulness. He gives you life. This life that the Father gives by mercy isn't just any life. It is eternal life. It is His life, rich and full of blessing. When you receive the body and blood of His Son in the Sacrament, you receive mercy in the flesh. He gives you mercy. He doesn't judge you. He doesn't condemn you. He forgives you. He gives you Himself. He gives you the good measure of His grace and mercy that has no end.
And what's more, His mercy to you leads you to mercy for your neighbor. We love because God first loved us. We cease to be the blind leading the blind, for the mercy of God in Christ allows us to look at our neighbor and see, not his faults, but the salvation won for him in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Instead of standing in the place of God to judge, we stand as redeemed children of God among redeemed children of God, loving our neighbor with the love with which Christ has loved us-defending him, speaking well of him, explaining everything in the kindest way. It is not the easy way, but it is the way of the forgiven. Lord, teach us so to be merciful, as you are merciful to us. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.