Teach Me, Challenge Me, but Don’t Judge Me!By imironchuk • Nov 14th, 2010 • Category: Pastor's Message
by Rev. Scott Summerville
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
“I do not even judge myself….. It is the Lord who judges me.”
I Corinthians 4:3-4
For the past two years I have served on the board of ordained ministry of the United Methodist Church in our area. Twice a year we go off for three days of interviewing and evaluation of candidates for ministry. It is an intense, high pressure environment. The candidates are nervous, sometimes very nervous. They have been preparing for this interview in most cases for 10 years or so, some longer. In order to be ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church, they must satisfy two thirds of the members of the board that they have the gifts, the temperament, the knowledge, the desire, and the calling to serve as ordained clergy persons.
After two days of interviews the candidates go home and the sixty members of the board look around at one another, and say to one another, “I am glad that I am not being interviewed by the board of ordained ministry, because I don’t think I could pass.”
Some of you remember Rev. Clayton Miller, who was pastor of Asbury Church for sixteen years, from 1977 until 1993. Clayton told me that when he was just out of seminary and wanted to be ordained, more than in fifty years ago, he went to the annual conference session in Indiana, where he grew up; one of the district superintendents took him aside, asked him a couple questions, and told him to bring his robe the following night for the ordination service!
When I was ordained thrity-four years ago, the process was a bit more involved, but they still basically wanted to make sure that you were alive and breathing and knew which and of the Bible was the Old Testament and which was the New Testament. Now it is much more rigorous. Not only is the interviewing tougher; the work that most of these new pastors are asked to do is much tougher, too. Most of them will be sent to very challenging assignments with meager resources.
The candidates we saw came in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and nationalities. They were born in Arkansas, Georgia, Long Island, Jamaica, Ghana, South Korea, Taiwan, and a half dozen other places. Some of them grew up in stable middle class families with strong church and family support; all that positive experience led them into ministry. Others came into ministry by the rough road: hardship, drug addiction; one is a wounded veteran; one of them had recently experienced the death of a child.
We dug deep into their lives; we probed their hearts and their minds. As we did we kept asking ourselves, “Who are we to judge these people? Can we measure up to the standards we are setting for them?” We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were NOT judging these people. We were not judging them. We were doing our humble best to evaluate their readiness for ordained ministry. It is natural for a candidate to feel that she or he is being judged; of course they would.
If the board decides to deny or postpone a candidate’s ordination, the candidate will receive the news by phone call. That phone call is typically a very painful thing, a very hard thing, for a candidate to receive, without feeling wounded and judged, even though wounding and judging is not at all the intention of the board.
As we were finishing our work and headed home, I said to one of the other members of the board, “This is so difficult. It is the hardest thing and the most exhausting thing I do in the whole year.” She agreed.
We have to evaluate other people all the time. We need to figure out who we can rely on, who we can trust, who has the knowledge to help us in various issues of life. We need to evaluate how our children are doing in school and how well the teacher is teaching. We need to evaluate those who lead us. Are they honest and fair and wise or are they something else entirely?
Evaluating other people and judging other people are two completely different things.
Imagine that you are standing beside a great river, the waters flowing by, slowly, powerfully. Imagine that this river is the message of the gospel – the message of Christ. Flowing in the deepest channel of that river, is this message:
“Judge not… Judge not one another… do not even judge yourself…”
This message is so far from our usual patterns of thought that we generally ignore it. We go right on judging others and judging ourselves, and assuming that there is no other way. If you have struggled in marriage, if you have been in a relationship where harsh judgments fly through the air like poison darts, can you imagine what it would be like, what it might feel like to be in an intimate relationship where you do not feel judged?
We live in a society that is supercharged with judging and condemning. We have people who make entire careers out of condemnation, scorn attack. The voices of condemnation are heard, and very often the voices of conversation and reconciliation are drowned out. What would it be like to be part of a society in which people were not constantly judging and condemning one another?
A phone call came to me yesterday from a woman who was seeking a home, not a home to live in, but a place of meeting, a room for a weekly Narcotics Anonymous chapter for women. The woman who called explained that there is a special need for women who are struggling with substance abuse to meet with other women who are also struggling, and that currently there is no such meeting available to women in Westchester County. I told her that I would meet with her next week and that I was quite sure that we would be able to find a place in our big old church where they could come together. She thanked me and told me she had to run; she needed to watch her grandchildren.
Maybe you didn’t know there are grannies out there who are substance abusers or recovered addicts. People with troubles come in all sizes and shapes and income levels and shoe sizes; some of them are teenagers – and some of them are grandparents. One of the reasons people are flocking to 12 step meetings and self-help groups is that they believe that when they go to those groups, they will be among people who will not judge them. They will be able to release the pent-up brokenness of their spirits; others will hear them and care for them. Others will challenge them, but will not judge them.
Most people do not assume that about churches. People who are struggling are often afraid that Christians will judge them; pastors and preachers and priests will judge them. People have good reason to be concerned; often Christians forget what is out there in that deep river, we forget the words that run through deepest channels of Jesus’ message – judge not and you will not be judged, condemn not and you will not be condemned, forgive and you will be forgiven.
Judging others is so natural that most of us can barely wrap our heads around what it would mean to stop doing it. .Even if we could wrap our heads around the words Jesus spoke, “do not judge,” most of us still would not realize that it applies to us too, that is, it applies to us judging ourselves.
There are those who are merciful without measure to everyone in the world except themselves. They are understanding and forgiving of others; but they are brutal to themselves. The message of Christ is that, “It is not for you to judge your neighbor, and it is not even for you to judge yourself”
Let the word of God and the spirit of Christ challenge you and strengthen you to grow, to learn, to change. Let the word of God and the spirit of Christ challenge you where you need to be challenged. Challenge yourself, yes; improve yourself, yes, but you have no right to judge even yourself.
Let God challenge you and strengthen you to use your life and your gifts in new ways, and leave all judgment to the one who is merciful.
Grace and peace to you.