“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, there are many phrases and verses from Scripture that you hear on the lips of people who have never cracked a Bible. There are many quotations of Jesus that are ripped completely out of their context and then used to support any and every cause. But there is perhaps no single part of Scripture that you will hear more often in our culture than the one that we find in our text today: “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” Usually, this is simply shortened, in a music video, a magazine interview, at a family reunion, or in your living room, to, ‘Don’t judge me!’ Don’t judge me when I wear or say or do what I want. Don’t judge me when I choose a lifestyle for myself and my children. Don’t judge me when I choose to love someone of the same sex, or chose to become a different sex. Don’t judge me when I neglect or destroy my family through gambling, alcoholism or affairs. Essentially, it all comes down to, ‘Don’t judge me in anything I do.’ These words of Jesus have become very popular indeed, and if someone doesn’t know anything else about our Lord, they know that He was against judging, and therefore was a really good guy.
At least He was better than His followers. The accusation flies against the Church, especially a congregation, like ours, that actually believes in something. It’s said so often that we almost don’t hear it anymore, its become an axiom that no one questions: ‘The Church—or your church—is judgmental.’ Maybe you haven’t heard this personally, though I suspect many of you have, we hear this as a congregation, we hear this as the Christian Church. Someone encounters the Church in some way, and perhaps before anyone has a chance to say anything at all about their lifestyle, it is said, ‘Don’t judge me!’ Especially today, ‘Don’t judge me’ is an essential part of the relativistic spirit of the age. ‘Don’t judge me!’ means, ‘You can’t tell me whether what I am doing is right or wrong.’ ‘Don’t judge me!’ means, ‘There is not an objective standard which you can hold me or anyone else to.’ ‘Don’t judge me!’ means, ‘Don’t call my actions sin!’ ‘Don’t judge me!’ is a trump card, that anyone can play to shut off all conversation, to put an end to any discussion of morality or virtue. Jesus says, “Judge not,” and that’s that.
You should know all about this, because you do it all the time. ‘Don’t judge me!’ isn’t just the cry of a transgender activist, it is your cry whenever you are trying to justify yourself and your sinful actions. You may not be so blatant as to say it in the same way, but you have the same arrogance, the same desire to keep on doing what you are doing, no matter what anyone says. ‘Don’t judge me!’ you arrogantly say as you approach God’s holy altar while living in open sin. ‘Don’t judge me!’ you boldly declare when your pastor calls on you to repent. ‘Don’t judge me!’ you say as you cherish and indulge your secret, hidden sin. It’s your trump card; Jesus says, “Judge not,” and that’s that.
Quite often, when you hear (or use) the phrase ‘Don’t judge me!’ it comes from a spirit of arrogance; someone is doing what they know is wrong, but they have found in Jesus a word that excuses everything: “Judge not.” But we would be making a terrible mistake if we assumed that in every case ‘Don’t judge me!’ was a cry of arrogance. Even many of those who cry ‘Don’t judge me!’ in a bold, seemingly confident way, are in reality souls desperate for a word of grace. ‘Don’t judge me!’ then means ‘Don’t reject me because of my sin!’ Quite often, these are words of humility. When a person says, ‘that church is so judgmental,’ it could mean that a congregation spoke the truth about God’s Law and man’s sin, and that person in arrogance refused to repent. On the other hand, it could mean that a humble sinner, broken by their transgressions, facing the deep consequences of their sins, not knowing how to escape, came to a church desperate for a word of grace, a word of hope, and were only given the Law’s threats and condemnations. By word or by deed, directly or indirectly, they were told ‘You aren’t welcome here.’ This is tragic, heartbreaking; for many a broken sinner, ‘Don’t judge me!’ is a cry for help.
You should know all about this, because you do it all the time. Every Sunday, in fact, you gather before God and cry out to Him, ‘Don’t judge me!’ We call it Confession and Absolution. First we admit our sinfulness, we declare openly who we are: “I, a poor miserable sinner…” Then we plead for grace. “Be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.” ‘Don’t judge me!’ we plead. Our sins are great, our sins are many, our sins fill us every day, every moment, and we are desperate for a Word of grace, a Word of mercy, a Word of forgiveness.
And Christ has come to give us that Word. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” Jesus commands us, and the Father’s mercy is shown forth in the sending of His Son. Jesus didn’t come to judge or condemn, He didn’t come to reject those who have been humbled by their sins, driven to repentance by the preaching of the Law. Yes, Jesus certainly preached the Law, more severely than any who came before him, as there were many arrogant sinners who needed to see their sins, but when the Law did its work, when it drove sinners to repentance, Jesus spoke words of hope, of comfort, of forgiveness. And these were not empty, idle words. Jesus Himself paid the price to make these words reality, to remove judgment and condemnation from a world that deserved it.
The One who said, “Be merciful,” was shown no mercy by this world. The One who said, “Judge not” was judged by Caiaphas and the blood-thirsty mob. The One who said, “Condemn not,” was condemned to death by Pilate. He was shown no mercy by men so that you would be shown mercy by God. He was judged guilty not just by the rulers of this world, but by God Himself, so that you would not be judged. He was condemned to death so that you will live, even though you die. Your sins, which are many, are put away, paid for by the shed blood of Jesus. Jesus died in your place, He died your death, He died bearing your sin. He, who saw more clearly than anyone else, allowed the blind to lead Him into the pit of Hell, and there He suffered your punishment so that you never will. He preaches the Law to humble you when you arrogantly say ‘Don’t judge me!’ clinging to your sin, and He preaches the Gospel to forgive you when in humility you cry ‘Don’t judge me!’ despairing of your sin. He shows you mercy.
It is this mercy that we then, as individual Christians and as the Church, take into the world. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” We are not the blind, our eyes have been opened by the healing hand of Jesus, sight has been restored in the washing of Holy Baptism; we do not follow our teacher into the pit, but we follow Jesus in the way of mercy. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Our teacher did not condemn us, He did not hand us over to the judgment of God, our teacher showed us mercy. That is the mercy that we show to others, those who desperately cry out ‘Don’t judge me!’ Our interactions with our fellow sinners is to be characterized by mercy. “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.”
The one who has been forgiven and then refuses to forgive will find the same standard applied to him. The one who has been spared condemnation, and then condemns his fellow sinners will discover that the same standard has been applied to him. The one who has been forgiven and then goes out to forgive, to show mercy, will revel in the grace that he has been given. “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” The measure you received was mercy, mercy given to you who didn’t deserve it; you were spared the judgment of God because Jesus endured it in your place. This is the mercy that Jesus extends into the world, and He does so through His instruments, His Christians, His Church. A disciple is like his teacher when a disciple shows mercy.
Our teacher didn’t condemn us, He didn’t judge us, but He forgives us. He didn’t ignore sin, He didn’t leave us in our arrogance, but in mercy He preached the Law to call out our sin, and then preached the Gospel to forgive it. When we encounter sinners who in an arrogant refusal to repent say, ‘Don’t judge me!’ we do not leave them in their sin. That is the most unmerciful thing we could do. We preach the Law, but not because we want to condemn them to hell, but because we have the joy of the angels over every sinner who repents. We preach the Law for the same reason Jesus preaches the Law: so that sinners would repent, so that they would turn and be saved. And when we encounter sinners who desperately, humbly cry ‘Don’t judge me!’ we in mercy extend Christ’s forgiveness and do all that we can to welcome them into a congregation of sinners and help them leave their life of sin.
We can only forgive when we have received forgiveness; we can only call to repentance when we have first repented. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Specks need removing, but only by those who have their logs removed, their eyes opened, by daily contrition and repentance. Repent. Repent of all your sins. Repent of those sins you try to justify, repent of your refusal to act in mercy toward those who simply need a word of grace, repent of judging and condemning. Admit your hypocrisy, that you have desired mercy while giving none. Repent, for your Father is merciful. Repent, for Jesus died for your every sin. You are forgiven, you have been shown mercy; Jesus bled, Jesus died for you. Good measure has been given to you, it is overflowing, enough for you, enough for your neighbor. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.