THE FULLY QUALIFIED CHRISTIAN
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Let us pray. Everlasting God, whose tenacious love holds us: make our hearts the house of your truth, and make our minds the realm of your wisdom so that our fellowship will become your dwelling place, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged;” Well, that’s not going to happen, is it? Earlier this month I was involved in a Zoom meeting with about five other pastors including Marc Potvin, the CBOQ staff person responsible for pastoral leadership. A-Zoom meeting uses the wonders of technology to make it possible for a group to sit in front of their laptops or tablets; it’s almost like a face-to-face meeting. You can see one another, hear one another and speak to one another. I understand nothing about how such a thing can work but on a day when freezing rain had turned the roads into an icy disaster, the Zoom meeting was by far preferable than having to venture out of the house.
The reason for the meeting? Frankly, it was about judging others. Without going into all the dreary details, the process of being ordained in our family of churches involves more than simply graduating. One must complete a year of supervised ministry and that’s where someone like me comes in. I have been one of those supervisors. The reason for the meeting is that I was also asked to review a revision of the supervision handbook. The reason I thought of all this as I began to write this sermon is simple: at the end of the supervision process, I am asked to sign off with a recommendation that this person either proceed or not proceed toward ordination. If that’s not judging another person, I don’t what to call it.
It seems to me then that what we have in this text is a word from Jesus that we need to work on understanding because the alternative is to simply ignore it. All of know that we are not going to give up judging. What is Jesus saying to us? If you have your Bible with you or the Bible on your mobile device or the one in the pew, take a look. Luke 6:37-42; it’s on page 65 of the New Testament in the pew Bibles and page 1612 of the large print Bibles.
The first thing is I am making what we might call an educated guess at something. Look at verses 37 and 38. It seems obvious they are intended to go together. At verse 39 the guess needs to be made. It begins, He also told them a parable. I checked the original and that word “also” is there in the Greek, which leads me to think that Luke intended verses 39 to 42 to provide some clarity, a greater understanding of what was being said previously. I think it will help us then if we look at what is said in these verses and then go back to that business of judging others.
Have a look at verse 40. “A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.” I hear all sorts of teacher talk. My wife Chris is a retired teacher who is a volunteer in the Kindergarten classes of our local school in Markham. Both of our daughters are teachers as is our daughter-in-law. From what I hear Jesus would receive a failing grade on his pedagogical term paper—everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. But that’s exactly what a rabbi, a teacher intended to do in the first century. If the teaching was being done right, as students progressed they would look and sound and behave more and more like the teacher. To be fully educated is to be a re-creation of the teacher. Whatever else that means, it means this: Jesus is talking to the church. That is underlined starting with verse 41, but unfortunately, the NRSV makes it harder to notice.
I am fully in favour of inclusive language but the editors of the NRSV could and should have done better than this because they know most people don’t look at the footnotes. Verses 41 and 42 do not have the word neighbour in the original; the word is brother. “Why do you seek the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye.” When Jesus talks about brothers, he is talking about those of us who belong to the Christian family, the church. Jesus is talking here to the church.
Jesus is talking to the church about the creation of community. This is hard work. And I am certain Jesus wants us to laugh at ourselves when we consider the picture he paints with his parable. It reminds me of a scene in a favourite movie of ours, My Cousin Vinnie. In a case of mistaken identity, two young men from New York are arrested for murder in the fictional Beechum County, Alabama. One of the eyewitnesses is an older woman with those lenses in her spectacles that we used to refer to as “coke-bottle bottoms.” In his cross-examination, Vinnie proves that she is a less than a reliable eyewitness.
If you have a plank or a log sticking out of your eye you are less than reliable in helping a sister or brother in the Christian community deal with a speck in their eye. As I said, we are meant to at least smile, if not laugh. “Let me twist my head around so that I don’t poke you in the face with the plank in my eye as I look for the speck in yours.” But a joke, a laugh can be disarming, it sometimes helps us to take down our guard just a little. And I think Jesus had that in mind when he gave us this little bit of a laugh. “...everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.” It seems to me then the question that is begging to be asked by all of us in the church is this: how am I doing in the journey to be more like Jesus? Let me focus on the character qualities, the attitudes and actions that my life is lacking, in other words, the log in my eye, before I worry about the speck in the eye of a brother or sister. Hold on to that thought; we’re going to come back to it.
I think now we have what we need to deal with the first two verses of our text, 37 and 38. Remember, I think all of these verses are meant to be considered together, so this word that begins Do not judge is intended for the church, it’s for us. Some of you will remember the days of making sure you were not being, well, perhaps not cheated, but at least taken not taken advantage of at the fruit market or the butcher shop. I don’t know how old I was but I visiting my Nanny for the day, my mom’s mom, who lived here in the city on Carlaw Avenue just north of the Danforth. Sunkist Fruit Market was on, I think, the south-east corner of that
intersection. Nanny wanted some peaches or tomatoes, I’m not sure which, but she asked me to pick out a quart basket. I began by taking the good-looking fruit off the top to see what had been concealed below. I thought the clerk was going to snap off one of my fingers. My Nanny laughed and said Sunkist wasn’t like the Dominion Store where I would need to worry about such things. I’m not so sure.
But some of you will remember that. You looked to see what might be hidden; you made sure that when the butcher put a pound of ground beef on the scale both his thumbs were clearly in view. Jesus reminds us we are looking for a good measure, an abundant measure, a bountiful measure not only when we are getting our groceries but also when it comes to love and acceptance and forgiveness. Jesus says there is something that connects the measure you give with the measure you receive. I am not sure how far we are intended to go in analyzing
that Jesus tells us here. I tend to think that the simpler the interpretation the better: what I mean by that is Jesus is making the observation that there is something about normal human psychology that pushes us in the direction of being open to receiving all the emotional and spiritual goodness of life only to the extent that we have been willing ourselves to offer an abundant measure of acceptance, forgiveness, and love. In other words, if I have not given a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, then why would I expect to receive that?
Once again, let me underline, let me highlight, that I am as certain as I can be that this is a word for the church. Now I don’t mean to say that Jesus is telling us to let our most judgemental, condemnatory attitudes run rampant outside the church; rather, I think what our Lord is telling us is that if there is to be a community in which judgement and condemnation take a back seat to forgiveness,
acceptance, and love, it will happen first in the church where the goal is to have every sister and brother fully qualified like the teacher.
This brings me back to where we were a few minutes ago focusing on the character qualities, the attitudes and actions that my life is lacking, in other words, the log in my eye, before I worry about the speck in the eye of a brother or sister. I want to suggest something to you that I hope doesn’t sound overly self-absorbed. You’ll remember that I began by saying that judging was going to happen and that we needed to figure out what Jesus was saying to us here or we would be in danger of ignoring his words.
Those of you who have been part of this church for a few years will remember that I spent the final 13 years of my pastoral career here before retiring at the end of August 2015. Since that time I have had some interesting days and some disappointing days trying to adjust to being retired. The most disappointing days are related to folks that I encounter who it would appear basically look upon me as a has-been who more than likely never-was. I don’t suppose they would be so crass as to say that I am merely taking up space and oxygen that could be more profitably released for someone more up to date and therefore more insightful, ...but it feels to me as if that’s the judgement being made.
On the other hand, I have discovered there are some in the church who find me to be an encouraging soul. Let me explain in the light of our text for today: it appears to me that God has blessed me by taking from my eye the log of self-satisfaction that gets translated in relationships within the church into that insufferable “this is the way you ought to do it” attitude. Now I don’t mean to say that I have given up all of my theological convictions; I have not. And, of course, I still think a faith experience that is untouched by the hymns of the Wesley brothers is missing out on something wonderful. But I have continued to read and stay enough in touch with the life of the church in Canada to know that it is not easy being a pastor or church leader in these days. How can it be? The United Church of Canada may be shrinking but it’s still large enough that the Globe and Mail gives first section coverage to the pastor who is an avowed atheist who gets to keep her job. Admittedly I am making the judgement that this must cause at least a little confusion in the mind of any Canadian who might be seeking to know the truth about our faith.
I have been blessed and amazed then by a few younger pastoral colleagues who have sought out this encouragement that God has given me. Here’s what I am suggesting to all of us. Despite what I said about a failing grade in his pedagogical term paper, I think verse 40 is the key to our text. “A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.” Jesus is telling us that in whatever way we can be like the teacher, in whatever way we can move in the direction of being fully qualified, that’s where we can make a contribution to the building up of true community in the church. Do you see how this works? Again I take myself as an example. I have got logs the size of Douglas Firs sticking out from both eyes. But I thank God that somehow that log of insufferable self-satisfaction has gone missing. The result of that is I can be an honest encouragement to some, not everyone by any means, but to some and that’s enough, or at least it’s a start.
What about you? In what way has the teaching of Jesus and the grace of God moved you in the direction of being fully qualified? What log is missing from your eye? Focus your service to Jesus right there. I admit, friends, this is a strategy for me. I don’t think I will ever be free of that tendency to judge. But there are good things that can happen if I look at others through that spot that is missing the log: judgement is tempered with encouragement. That’s the least that can happen. The best that can happen is this, that I am so busy with serving through encouragement that I simply leave all the judgement to Jesus. Where and how is Jesus moving you? That’s the best place, the best attitude, the most faithful spot from where you should serve. And the church you are building will be all the better for it!