(You can view a video of this sermon is available here)
My reflection this week is continuing with what came up last week in my sermon about Jesus’ beatitudes.
A couple of people have told me that in reflecting last week on the beatitudes they were struck by this sense of reciprocity, giving and receiving:
“Blessed are those who mourn, they shall receive comfort / Blessed are the merciful, they shall receive mercy / Blessed are the humble, they shall inherit the earth/ Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, they will be filled / Blessed are those who labor for peace, they shall be called Children of God.”
When we give of ourselves we become open to receive the whole world and beyond – the realm of God.
This reciprocity is sacred reciprocity, it’s at a deeper level than the way things can first appear to us.
This gets at an astonishing insight: When we enter into certain modes of being and modes of activity, we become participants in the Realm of God on earth, we are ushered into the movement of the Divine here and now. This provides nourishment for our deepest needs.
Now, notice how this is different from a kind of reward and punishment view, where we try to do good things hoping we’ll be rewarded in the future by God. And we try to avoid doing bad things because we fear that God will give us our comeuppance. That’s missing the point I think of what Jesus is doing here.
What do all these things have in common? Mourning, humility, mercy, compassion, the hunger and thirst and sweat and labor of those who yearn for a more just and peaceable way of life together?
These are all about attitudes that are more open handed and open hearted. They are postures of being you could say that are open and real about how we depend on one another and on God.
No inflated ego here. This openness helps deepen our relationship with God. And in that relationship, there is reciprocity. We say Yes to God and discover that God has already said Yes to us.
You can’t be like this with an ego raring up with a sword and a shield, attacking, defending, trying to take from you to get mine. The attitudes of the beatitudes deflate inflated ego.
Now, this is developed more in the teaching from Jesus we heard today, that Theo read for us.
“Be as compassionate as your Creator is.
Don’t pass judgment, and you won’t be judged.
Don’t condemn and you won’t be condemned.
Forgive, and you’ll be forgiven.
Give, and it will be given to you, in full measure, overflowing.
For the standard you apply will be the standard applied to you.”
Now, this is kind of provocative, isn’t it?
This is still about that sacred reciprocity, but it’s also about what it’s like when we block it. “Don’t pass judgment, and you won’t be judged.” But we will be judged if we do pass judgement. The standard you apply will be the standard applied to you. This may seem really puzzling at first.
But just think about someone who is very judgmental. How is it with their soul? How is it with our souls when we are really judging someone, condemning them?
If we’re dishing out a lot of judgment and condemnation, we may find that we ourselves are feeling a lot of judgment or are afraid of judgment. We are suffering under the thumb of a domineering god of judgement. Now, that god may not be ultimately the real god, but the suffering sure can be real.
Or we may be trying to prove to ourselves or prove to other people just our righteous we are by making a big deal about how unrighteous that person is. We’re still trying to appease that god of judgment.
We can think of different examples.
A lot of these viciously anti-gay preachers end up getting caught with young men. They judge and hate their own sexuality, can’t make peace with it, they deny it. What they judge and attack in others is them striking out at their reflection in the mirror. It creates inner hell for themselves and other. It’s really sad, and very damaging.
Or less dramatic example: Parents, grandparents, when we find our kids making the same stupid mistakes we made, we can get really, really mad. Why is that? We may say it’s because we want to protect them, but deep down we haven’t forgiven ourselves for the harm that we’ve done in the past.
The antidote to all this is mercy. That takes letting some Jesus in. The false god of judgment can loosen its grip and the true God of mercy can come in. Blessed are the merciful, they shall receive mercy.
Let me here give a quick public service announcement:
Jesus’s saying “Judge not lest ye be judged” gets misused a lot.
It’s been bandied about quite a bit lately, in fact – I don’t know if you’ve had the pleasure of getting tangled up in political arguments recently.
“Judge not” does not mean that we shouldn’t be discerning about the content of people’s character in making important decisions.
If someone has proven themselves to be untrustworthy, as Christians it’s okay if we name that and choose to not trust them.
If someone has proven themselves to be irresponsible, it’s okay for us to name that and choose to not entrust them with responsibility.
If someone has proven themselves to abuse power, it’s okay for us to name that and choose to not give them power.
When Jesus first sent his disciples out to minister on their own he told them that it’s a dangerous world out there, so they should “be as savvy as serpents, and as gentle as doves.”
The gentleness is the antidote to the ways that savviness can make us vicious and self-righteous.
We should use sound judgment, but guard against becoming judgmental.
We do this by keeping our hearts merciful, humble, open to the flow of sacred reciprocity that can bless us each moment.
Thanks be to God.