Rev. Leah A. Grundset
February 20, 2010
Greatest Sermon Ever Preached: Hold it Close
On Wednesday night, I did something I had never done before: I watched American Idol.
I mean, nine years into the show, who hasn’t seen it? Just me, I think. And I’m a music snob so you would think I would have tuned in by now. I know, I’m so out of touch. Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson are all household names now, but I never watched them as they started out.
Now, since Wednesday, I’ve conducted some research with avid American Idol fans and discovered that these days, Idol (as it is called) is not nearly as good as it used to be. HOW DID I MISS THIS ALL THESE YEARS? I certainly heard about American Idol in its first season as I was living in Texas and the winner hailed from the small town of Burleson, just up the interstate from Waco. And I remember all of the drama surrounding Paula Abdul.
But I can’t believe what I had been missing. I’d never watched the auditions before and I found myself with some free time. This past week, finalists were forced to create groups, learn and perform a song complete with harmony and choreography. As you can imagine, what ensued was most often, a train wreck. The judges faces told it all. I guess mine did too. My co-watchers of American Idol suggested that I was a bit too harsh to some of those auditioning. I questioned if they were watching the same thing I was. Are there any avid American Idol watchers here—it’s ok, claim it. Don’t you wonder if some of it is a joke? Does everyone really think they can sing or do they just want to be on tv? It’s a mystery to me, quite honestly.
Stephen Tyler, Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez are the judges this year. And I suppose all three of them know a little something about show business. And actually they were extremely kind to people, lowering their heads when they said, “I’m sorry, but this is the end of the road for you.” I kind of felt bad for them, but then I remembered it is a competition and my lack of competitiveness reared its ugly head. Also, they make millions of dollars for telling people they are either good or bad at something.
So since Wednesday I’ve been wondering—what is the hype that surrounds American Idol? And then it dawned on me- we watch this show because we want to see people judged. We want in some way to affirm their skills or deny their skills. What is it that draws us to this type of public criticism
I wonder if it doesn’t make us feel a little better or worse about ourselves? When someone is really terrible, we can laugh and say—why would they even try out? And when they are really good we say- wow, I wonder what it’s like to be able to sing like that. Our judgment seems to come out of a self-based axis of ability to judge and skill. We want to judges to weed out the ones who are actually gifted musically and perhaps if we’re being honest, we want to see a big of the harsh criticism of those who have no giftings.
In a way that I never thought possible, American Idol made me think of our Gospel passage that we heard just a few moments ago. Wondering why? Here we go…listen again to the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew from his greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?
Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Jesus is using that loaded word a lot- judgment. Suddenly, I would prefer judgment from JLo and Steven Tyler. So let’s all acknowledge that we’ve been hurt by these words. Let’s put it out there that so often, these words from Jesus have been misconstrued and hurled at people in hatred and ignorance. These are words I’ve heard people use it in the midst of hate-filled speech.
But as those who are followers of Jesus, we do not get to throw away the tough passages. We must, with due diligence take them in, look at them in context, do study and find out what he might have meant in his context and exactly why Matthew may have written it this way. We also must ask the question of how Jesus understood his own scriptures—the Old Testament and from where he might be pulling some of this language. He had a tradition of his own and didn’t say too much outside of that tradition.
As Jesus first introduces this section of scripture about judgment, he does so within the framework of his disciples. As he makes his statements about judgment and plank in the eye and all of that he is speaking to the disciples within their own community. Imagine someone talking about us a church community.
This was just for them—this wasn’t for someone in Rome to apply to the people in Jerusalem. This kind of judgment and conversation was to happen when you know someone and when you are known. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches though, does he? He says, don’t judge unless you want to be judged by the same standards. If you are quick to judge someone else, you might want to pay attention to what is actually going on in your own world. Again, what Jesus is saying is not something we don’t know—so often we are quick to correct something that bothers us because it is actually something that bothers us about ourselves. He tells us to clean ourselves up first, then look at what might really be going on. It is so easy to throw out our hate-filled words before we even look within ourselves with intention.
Of course, Jesus was speaking to people in his world. And this metaphor of the log and speck were commonplace in the Greco-roman and Hellenistic Jewish world. It was an sentiment that many would recognize. Consider these words from Horace, “When you look at your own sins, your eyes are rheumy and daubed with ointment; why, when you view the failings of friends, are you as keen of sight as an eagle?”
Horace makes the same point as Jesus of course. When we turn and look at ourselves in the light of of sin or our mistakes, quite often we do not notice the huge log coming out of out eyes or as Horace says, we fail to recognize that our eyes are full of gunk- the kind of gunk you get in your eyes when you are super sick. And how possibly, in that state could we attempt to judge our neighbor?
Jesus is intentional to use this type of judgment within community, using familial language. We live and walk together in community in the good, the bad and ugly. When times get raw and we are faced with our problems, God is present and active, working to heal and to make whole what was broken. And sometimes in the midst of our action and life together, that means having the hard conversations. We all know this. Within relationship, conflict arises. Within this community, conflict arises and it is necessary to have grace-filled conversations that are difficult.
We do our best work when we are honest and wrestling in the midst of hardship and pain. That doesn’t mean it is the best time, but the promise of those to walk alongside us and those who gently nudge us back on the holistic path offers us great hope.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul knew this better than anyone when he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. He wrote to them, a community struggling with infidelity, dietary laws and general conflict. After his beautiful passage on what love is, he penned these words:
12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
He wrote to them knowing that right now, we only partially see who we are and who others are. We cannot possible know our entire created selves or those around us because we are looking in a mirror dimly lit. Lines and creases can’t be seen then.
We can see shadows and movement, but cannot see the fine lines of spatial reasoning or dimension. Right now, we only know in part, but one day, we will know fully who we are as we have been fully known. And what remains in that day, you wonder? Faith, hope and love remain then, but the greatest of these is love.
Our greatest promise is that even now when we judge our neighbor because we are looking through our own sin and pain to look at them, we will one day be able to fully see and be seen. It is good to be known and to know one another. And in that day, faith, hope and love will remain, but the greatest of those will be love. As Jesus reminds us to take a look at ourselves before we throw out our judgment, he also reminds us in the next section of our passage for today that we know how to live rightly. We are people who are called to live the words of Matthew 7:12- do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule. I wonder if Jesus knew this little sentence would get so much air time in our world today. We often spout this off as a catchy way to encourage good behavior and right living.
But I think before we can truly live out the Golden Rule and Jesus’ sense of right living, we must ask the question- how can we do unto others as we do unto ourselves if we don’t treat ourselves well? More and more we must look inwardly before we can look outwardly. Jesus is only repeating the same message as he did with the log and the sliver from a few verses before. We must love ourselves before we can treat others as those created in the image of God. To not profane what is holy means to keep the sacred close, to recognize that which has been given to us and to see it as ours to care for. Karl Barth said that the two chief sins in our world are: not loving ourselves enough and loving ourselves too much.
Within that dichotomy, falls so much of the pain and brokenness of our world, doesn’t it? Selfishness and insecurity lead to oppression and dictatorships. Self-worship and pride lead to…oppression and dictatorships. Fascinating, isn’t it? And right now in our world, we watch as people are standing up for themselves against oppressive regimes.
Our brothers and sisters around the world are asking for fairness and justice in which people are treated equally and respected. This is a form of judgment within their own context, which only they can speak to. So what do we do with these statements from Jesus about judgment? They don’t exist in a vacuum. We must understand the context of judgment within the New Testament. Jesus wasn’t speaking to all of us. He was speaking to the disciples who sat around here, huddled together to hear his words as they wafted down the mountain.
“These judgment passages have more to do with how we are going to live out the greatest commandment with fellow disciples” (Garland, 84) than they do how we are to tell fellow disciples to live out the greatest commandment.
“Jesus contends that the love of neighbor is the heart and soul of the law and the prophets and expresses God’s will. It is the canon for discerning what is God’s will in the law and the prophets and for correctly interpreting them. The love that knows no bounds is the principle that governs Jesus’ interpretation of the law.” (Garland, 86) “Disciples are to do unto others as they would ask, seek and knock for God to do for them.” (Garland, 87) Our judgments and our words can have damaging and lasting effects on people.
Think of how often we have all been turned off by the church because of words thrown at us or someone else in the tone of judgment or condemnation. That is not who we are to be. We are to recognize that we do not see fully. But we will one day, and so with that–
Paul’s words offer us great hope— 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Thanks be to God. Amen.