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Father, we give you thanks that you have shared your power with the church because your word teaches us that the gospel is the power of God. The good news of Jesus is the power of God. And so, we ask that your Spirit would bless the preaching of the gospel, the power of God, so that we might know something of your power to touch our lives, not in accusations, not in threats, but in good news, that we would experience progress and sanctification and growth here today–enlarging of the heart, enlarging of the mind–and we pray that those far off might be drawn near as Jesus is lifted up. We ask this in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.
I have a wife named Stephanie and two children. David is nine, Genevieve is six- they were here at an earlier service and aside from that, I think the only thing that you would need to know about me is I’m deeply devoted to the teachings of Mark Twain, and I think you ought to be, as well. Maybe you have aspirations for public speaking, I don’t know, or you just want to look witty at the next cocktail party. Either way, I think Mark Twain will serve you very well. Let me give you an example of his witty aphorisms: “Friends, consider a congressman and an idiot; but I repeat myself.” Or how about this, “He who carries a cat by the tail learns something in which he could learn no other way.” Or how about this, “Man is a religious animal.”
Religion: Incubator Of Division?
In an essay called “The Lowest Animal”, that’s what Mark Twain had to say about you and I. “Man is a religious animal. He is the only religious animal” he went on to say and it wasn’t by way of compliment. “He’s the only animal that has the true religion. Several of them. He’s the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He’s made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brothers’ path to happiness and heaven. He was at it in the time of the Caesars. He was at it in Mohammad’s time, he was at it at the time of the Inquisition. He was at it in France a couple of centuries, he was at it in England in Mary’s day, he has been at it ever since he first saw the light, he will be at it somewhere else tomorrow.”
Now, even though Twain wrote those observations well over a century ago, they remain a good fit for modern people who have grown cynical of religious claims to ultimate truth, which more often seem to divide us, rather than unite us. Twain’s words are a good fit for modern people who have gotten tired of religion’s insatiable appetite for conflict. And some of the elements of religion– it’s divisive claims, truths and its appetite for conflict–the Bible actually doesn’t hide these things from our view. One of the things that attracted me to Christianity in general, and the Bible in particular, was that the Bible is not naive about human nature. You would think that if religion really does divide, if it brings conflict into the world, that the writers of the Bible would be keen enough to understand it and they’d try to hide this from us. They would make it look more rosy than it actually is. But if you’ve read the Bible, you know that’s absolutely not the case.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Paul goes on to say, one person eats this kind of food, one person never eats that kind of food, one person bows when the other stands, one person bends the knee while the other merely sits in the pew.
It seems as if religion can be an incubator, if not a cause, of division. Even in the Bible, they’re honest about this. You might even be sympathetic with Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, and his buddies who say if we could only get rid of religion, maybe we could get rid of division. If we could get rid of religion, maybe we could get rid of sectarian violence. Now, I do find that easy to sympathize with, but I find it enormously naive. It’s naive because the assumption is that all the great problems that you and I are aware of in this world, the problems that divide and introduce conflict, they can all be reduced to one issue: religion.
The Human Problem
Mark Twain wasn’t that naive. Maybe you’ve read the essay–if you haven’t read it, go read it. Twain is going to argue in that essay that we don’t have a religious problem; we have a human problem. There is something gone wrong in the circuitry of the human heart, in its roadways, in its maps, and in its signs that misdirects us. The human problem–we smuggle it into everything we do. We smuggle our human problem into our politics, we smuggle our human problem into our civics, into our economics, into our friendships and our family, we smuggle that human problem into our religion. We don’t have a religion problem, we’ve got a human problem. And anytime you focus on some of the fruit and not the root, you’ll be missing the big picture. The big picture is we’ve got problems here, whether we’re in church on Sunday or not, we’ve got human problems, you see. And I want to talk with you today about resolving one aspect of that human problem, just one, and that one aspect is by nature, you and I, human beings, whether we’re religious or not, you and I are judgmental by nature.
We are judgmental creatures and that is actually a great cause of conflict and division in this world. I want to talk with you about how we all are judgmental creatures. I want to talk a little bit with you about the impact that has on our relationships, how we view ourselves, how we view other people. And last I want to talk with you about what I do believe is a uniquely Christian solution to this universal human problem. I want to do it through Romans 14:5-12. I like when you follow along. Following along is useful for at least two reasons: It gives you something to do that makes you look like you’re paying attention when you’re not, and it also helps you see with your own eyes that I’m not making it up as I go along.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Paul is writing these words because there is a problem in the church, the Christian Church in Rome. It’s a very young church. It’s amazing that he could have such a big problem on his hands, in this church; it might be 10 or 15 years old, but it’s already been smuggled in, this human problem, and this human problem is judgment.
There are some who are Jewish people who’ve come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the divine Son of God. They have begun to worship Him. They have a lifetime of observing certain days, abstaining from certain foods, participating in sacred rituals. And they are bringing this into a new community of Christian worshipers. We get the picture that maybe they had begun to look down on people who have not participated in these Holy Days, who have not abstained from these certain feasts and fasts. On the other side of the equation are Gentiles who have come to hear about Jesus, his resurrection his divinity. They too, have come to believe, and they’ve learned something about what Paul calls in this epistle (and others) the freedom we have in Jesus Christ, and they are looking at their Jewish brothers and sisters who are observing certain days, not eating certain foods, and they are judging their friends saying, they have not come to learn the freedom that we have in Jesus. And that’s why Paul says three times in this brief section of the epistle to the Romans, “Stop judging one another,” because they have a judgment problem in their church.
Now hearing this, you might be tempted to say, “Well, it sounds to me like Dawkins was right. If they weren’t Jewish believers observing these holy days, and holy foods, no problem. If they weren’t Gentiles who had learned of this thing called freedom in Christ, no problem. Religion is the problem in this community in Rome. If only they didn’t have religion, surely, they would have found a way to live together peacefully.” That assumption is based on the idea that we don’t have a human problem; but we have a very human problem, not a religious problem, and we smuggle it into the youngest churches in Christianity.
We know it’s a human problem, because people write about it in a human way. Brené Brown, who is a research professor in California, has been looking at North American concepts of shame and guilt and judgment for decades. She’s written about it through a variety of books. I want to read you a section of one of her books:
“Our need to judge others is deeply motivated by our need to evaluate our own abilities, beliefs, and values… [It] allows us to appraise and compare our abilities, beliefs, and values against the abilities, beliefs, and values of others. That explains why we most often judge others around the issues that are most important in our own lives. For example, in my interviews with women, I heard over and over how women constantly feel judged by other women when it comes to appearance and motherhood. On the other hand, every man I interviewed talked about how other men are constantly sizing up each other’s levels of financial success, intellect and physical strength as measures of power.”
Which means you can find a way to judge and be judged outside of this building. You can find a way to judge and be judged without ever cracking open this book. In split seconds, you can evaluate someone based off of the clothes they wear, the job they have, what zip code they live in, and you can fit them on a chart because we do not need religion to be judgmental. Human beings are judgmental by nature, and they smuggle it even into their religion.
Jesus Is Lord Over Every Aspect Of Human Existence
That’s the first thing–we are judgmental by nature. Now, here’s the next thing. It’s a concept of the early church called recapitulation.
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Irenaeus said that Jesus passed through every phase of human life: infancy, puberty, awkward teenage years, bumping into everything, young adulthood, professional life and death, so that he could be Lord over every aspect of human existence. We are, as followers of Jesus, meant to live to him, meant to live for him, meant to base our identity and our worth and our value on what he thinks of us, not on what other people think of us. We are meant to judge others based off of what he thinks of them, not what we think of them.
I’m sure you are all experts at that. I still struggle with it myself, because I know that within an hour of leaving here, if not much sooner, I will already be living for someone else’s judgment, someone else’s evaluation, someone else’s approval, I will already be judging and evaluating people for myself, with no consideration of what the Lord of all of human life might have to say about them. But maybe that’s just me.
Dostoevsky wrote a little book called “Notes from the Underground” where this is illustrated really well. In it, there’s this disgruntled government worker, and he’s bitter towards the world. But we learned that his bitterness has something of a root. He has, his whole life, wanted to be viewed as an equal to a certain class of society. And that’s personified by a police officer that he thinks has looked down on him his whole life. He is obsessed with this police officer’s judgment of him, evaluation of him. So, he spends what little money he has on a new coat that only the upper class would wear, and he puts it on and he stalks the police officer so that he can bump into him on purpose, the police officer will see the new coat, look at him and judge him as an equal.
You can imagine what happens. The scene is set up. Well, he sneaks up behind the police officer, he bumps into him, the police officer doesn’t even notice him and moves on. And he’s devastated because he has been living for the approval and evaluation of this man.
Some of you know what that is like to live for the approval of someone else, to yearn for a good judgment from a father or a mother, to yearn for a good judgment from your church, from your friends, or your family, or an employer. And if you’ve lived long enough, then you will know the disappointment that comes with living for the moment of that good judgement and never getting it. How destructive it can be. Some of you have learned that through experience, and it does something to you. In Dostoevsky’s novel, what he does in order to feel better about himself, he has to seek out someone he can judge and flunk. So, he finds a prostitute. She does the same thing he does; she produces something that shows her worth. It’s a letter that someone wrote to her once where the author clearly had respect for her, admired her beauty, called her ma’am. And she says, “Look, look, I have worth, too,” but because he has been denied that worth through the judgment, he denies her the same.
That’s what this human problem does to us when we live for the judgment and evaluation of others. When we permit ourselves to be in judgment over others, that’s what it does. That’s why it’s so insidious.
The Grace In God’s Judgment
Paul gives us a hint of the way out. That’s the last thing I want to speak with you about–living for Jesus–which he brings it together in a crescendo about final judgement.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?
They often go hand in hand, don’t they? Our judgment of others, and despising them go hand in hand. Why do you judge your brother? Why do you despise your brother?
For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
There is good news here, and it’s something that should take your breath away. The good news is that your mother and father, your sister-in-law, your boss; they are not your judge, and their evaluation will not stand.
There’s some more news that should take your breath away, though. You are not the judge either. We all must stand before the judge–the real judge–and render an account. If that doesn’t humble you and make you a little sober in your quick judgments, I can’t imagine what will. There is something hidden about this coming judgment, but it’s hidden in plain sight. It’s what I called earlier the unique contribution of Christianity to this human problem, and it is unique because there is no other religion in the world that has shown us this about God. It’s that God’s judgment has something of grace about it.
It’s a surprise because it’s very easy to heap the way that we judge onto God. Surely, he would behave as we would behave, at the end of all things. Looking out upon the globe, with all of its injustice, and poverty, and hardship, and betrayal, makes me sick. And when God comes back it will make him sick too. There’s a billboard up in Myrtle Beach that portrays something of this idea. I was always astonished when I drove by it. Jesus, he’s very muscular, he’s been hitting the gym and his protein shakes, he’s enormous; he’s on the cross and he’s breaking it in half, and on the billboard it says “you drew first blood, but I’ll be back.”
You know what it’s saying. It’s saying, “Yeah, you guys got the better of me 2000 years ago, but I’m going to come back and we’ll wipe the floor with you.” That’s what it’s saying. And you know what they’re doing? They say, “Well, he’s going to judge the exact same way we would. He’s going to judge us to despise us.”
But you know that’s not what happened the first time he came down, don’t you? No, that’s not what happened. The same Jesus who is coming is the same one who already came. The same one who died on the cross is the one coming in judgment. That’s the great surprise about Christianity–he has already shown us something of his judgment on this world. His judgment on this world is that it is worthy of love and worthy of salvation. “For God so loved the world, he sent His Son,” because he judged this world worthy of love and worthy of salvation. His Son came, and his Son said, I didn’t come for you to serve me. I came to serve you and give my life as a ransom for many.
Jesus deemed his life worth giving away for this world because he judged this world worthy of salvation. He judged it worthy of giving up his life and his final breath, he judged you worthy of living for and dying for, and now that he is raised, we’re told that he lives to make intercession because he judges us as worthy of his time and attention. That’s the judgment of God on this world. And it does some things for us:
- It lets us know that as much as we can be judged by others, there’s only one judgment that truly stands. It is communicated best from the cross as Jesus gives away his life for the sake of the world, that you are worthy of God’s attention, love, care and concern. So why would you care what anyone else thinks?
- But it also lets us know that those we would judge are worthy of God’s care, time, attention, and concern, and even his life. And so something Paul would say earlier in the epistle, “it is before his own master, that he stands or falls, and he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand (Romans 14:4).
Saved For Mission
You begin to drink from this story, and you will find that some of the circuits of your heart are rewired. You will find yourself incapable of doing some things you used to do, and capable of doing some things you were not able to do before, one of which is seeing the world as God sees it, judging the world as God has judged it, worthy of salvation. You might be able to engage in what the title of the sermon series was driving out when it said Saved for Mission. Saved for mission, because the world is worth saving. Let me just apply this in three ways and we’ll close.
Here’s way number one: I am the chaplain at the Citadel. I need your help, and I’ll tell you why I’m worth helping. Because I am speaking every day to this freshman class, the first freshman class that has never known a world without social media., You know that means they are experts in judging and being judged. Experts at it. And it’s made worse that they’ve chosen to go to a military college. I love the Citadel; I went there. But I also know that the entire apparatus is set up to evaluate you and base your identity in your PT test scores, and your rank in your class, and in your grades. Did you get through hell week? Do have a ring?
Some can’t cut it. Some of them can’t even get through that first weekend. I know stories, because we see them every year, they go home from hell week because they couldn’t finish and some other parents won’t even let them in the room. Not letting a quitter come home. And so I’m the guy on that campus that tells them all of that’s a lie. That’s my job. That’s what I do. That’s why it’s so important to me. I’m the guy that says the last word over your life, over your worth over your identity–it’s already been spoken from the cross.
We are there and we can be there and we can keep doing that because you pray for us, and because you serve with us, and because of your charity. That’s how we can stay. So I’m here to invite you to help us keep doing that on that campus.
That’s one; here’s two. If you are here and you are a follower of Jesus, I want to invite you to resolve to find one way you can extend some of these ideas into your community before next Sunday. What can I do with my lips or with my life to communicate to someone their worth and their value? You could share the gospel with them. That would be magnificent. But you might just begin serving some people as a prologue. It might be many months down the road before they say, “Why have you been doing this for me?” And you can say, because I know what God thinks of you. So if you’re a follower of Jesus, think of one way you can extend this out into your neighbor.
And then the last one, if you’re not a follower of Jesus, if you’re here seeking, searching and you’re curious about it, then I’m sure I speak for Patrick and Peet–you are an honored guest. And this is what I’d want you to think about. Do you know what it’s like to be constantly judged and evaluated? Do you know what it’s like to be on the hamster wheel of constant approval and never quite getting? Well, I’m here to tell you that the gospel of Jesus is the thing that jams up that hamster wheel, puts it to a dead stop because the gospel of Jesus is God’s final word over your life. If you think that might be true, I would encourage you to begin to act as if it were. Try it out for yourself. If you want some help doing that, I’m sure Patrick, Peet, or I, we would love to help you learn how to walk into God’s final word over your life. This is the gospel of Jesus.
Let’s pray. Father, we give you thanks for the gospel, the good news of Jesus over our life. And I pray that it might have its intended effect of rooting out our very human problems so that we could begin to flourish in this church and in this city. We ask this in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.