LUKE 6:37-42

1 Sep 2013


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          Nine days ago I had my sixth month check-up with my ophthalmologist.  Apparently, I'm a candidate for glaucoma so she makes sure I come in every six months to check eye pressures and the like.  I also got to take that wonderful visual fields test.  Have any of you had to do it?  They give you this clicker, and they get you all adjusted with your chin and forehead perfectly positioned on this apparatus, and there is this screen with little lights that blink, some bright, some faint, and each time a light flashes you are to push the clicker.  I think it checks your peripheral vision, I'm not sure.  Anyway, I pretend it's a video game where I am blasting space ships out of they sky.  It helps get me through that claustrophobic exam, and I passed with flying colors.  No glaucoma and at the age of 65 I still have 20/20 vision!

            I wish that were true of our vision when it comes to others.  You see, when it comes to others, we can be acutely farsighted.  That is to say, we easily see the shortcomings in others, but be rather oblivious when it comes to our own shortcomings.  We are nearly legally blind when it comes to those.  As Jesus states, we can be quite adept at seeing the speck in our neighbor's eye, but do not always notice the two-by-four in our own eye!  

            As we unpack Jesus' words this morning I want to summarize what I consider to be his major points.  Here's what I see as being particularly important.  Point one:  we will be of little help to God or others until we regularly shine a spotlight on our own shortcomings.  Note the end of verse 42: You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.

            Maybe you heard about the man who was asked to speak to a junior high Sunday school class.  The teacher wanted him to talk about the positive aspects of being a Christian, such as how his faith determined his business decisions and his family priorities.  As he spoke, however, some of the students began to lose attention.

            In an effort to keep their attention, he suddenly stopped, pointed at one boy, and said, "Do you know why people call me a Christian?"

            The startled teenager sat up and replied, "Is it because they don't know you?"

            Often we don't have clear picture of ourselves, and according to Jesus some of us have a tendency to think too highly of ourselves and too lowly of others.  It reminds me of the day Snoopy was sitting on the roof of his doghouse typing away.  Charlie Brown came up and said, "I hear you're writing a book on theology.  I hope you have a good title."

            Snoopy replied, "I have the perfect title."  Then he leaned over his typewriter and read it:  "Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?"

            Has it ever occurred to us that we have enough to change about ourselves without having to focus so much on improving others?      

            Note how Jesus addressed his audience in verse 42.  He said, "You, hypocrite."  Maxie Dunham, the former editor of "The Upper Room" devotional series, believes Jesus screamed this accusation, and if he did not screamed it, Dunham said then at least he said it in a loud voice.  "You hypocrite." 

            This is one of the nineteen times in the Gospels that Jesus takes on hypocrites.  He really had an issue with hypocrisy.  As you probably know, the root word for "hypocrite," is the Greek word "hupocrites."  It's a stage term.   It's the word for actor or actress.  Actors and actresses put on a show for the benefit of others.  They wear masks and costumes and appear as someone they are not. 

            When we put on a mask of superiority, judging others without taking stock of ourselves, we put on a good show, but it's not much help to God and certainly not a big help to others.  We may think we are helping by pointing out the speck in someone's else's life, but we are not.  We would be of greater help if we focused more of our energy on fixing ourselves rather than fixing others.

             A number of years ago, novelist Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian himself, dared to be honest about himself.  He made this confession:


            I am a part-time novelist who happens also to be a part-time Christian because part of the time seems to be the most I can manage to live out my faith ... From time to time I find a kind of heroism momentarily possible - a seeing, doing, telling of Christly truth - but most of the time I am indistinguishable from the rest of the herd that jostles and snuffles at the great trough of life. 


            I find his honesty, and his knowledge of himself, refreshing.  Part-time novelist.  Part-time Christian.  Majority-time snuffling at the great trough of life.  I think that's why Buechner has been such a popular author in Christian circles.  People like him because he spends most of his time on his flaws and not the flaws in others. 

            So, point number one:  we will be of little help to God or others until we regularly shine a spotlight on our own shortcomings.  Second major point I want to highlight:  we need to be careful how we judge because we cannot see what God sees.  Verse 39.  Jesus asks a pointed question.  "Can a blind person guide a blind person?"  The obvious answer is no.  Jesus says that they both will fall in a pit.  Only God has 20/20 vision when it comes to looking inside a person, their thoughts, their motivations, their intentions.  We are blind to that.  In fact, we are so blind to that Jesus recommends we refrain from judging as much a possible. 

            Somewhere along the way I read a piece entitled "What is a Person" written by a little boy in West Virginia.  This is what he wrote.


            When you are a person...your head is kind of round and hard and your brains are in it and your hair is on it. Your face is in the front of your head where you eat and make faces. Your neck is what keeps your head out of your collar, and it's hard to keep clean. Your shoulders are sort of shelves where you hook on your suspenders and your stomach is something that if you don't eat often enough it hurts, and spinach don't help none. Your spine is a long bone in your back that is always behind you no matter how quick you turn around. Your arms you've got to have to pitch with and so you can reach the butter. Your fingers stick out of your hands so you can throw a curve and add up arithmetic. Your legs are what you run on and your toes are what always get stubbed. And that's all there is of you except what's on the inside, and I ain't never seen that yet!


            Well, there is a lot on the inside we don't see.  Not even the surgeon who slices through our skin sees it.  But God sees it.  God sees our motives, our desires, our intentions. 

            It is so easy to criticize, so easy to judge, but more often than not we don't know the other person's circumstances.  We don't know the burdens they carry.  But God knows.  God knows the road that each one of us has traveled.  Given that, be very careful how we judge because we cannot see all that God sees. 

            And that leads us to the third major point in this passage, and it scares the bejeebers out of me:  Our horizontal judgments of one another impacts God's vertical judgment of us.  Verse 37.  "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you.  A 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."     Be gracious to others and God will be even more gracious to us.  Be highly critical of others, and well, it wont be pretty for us.  The ball is in our court.  The way we treat others will impact how God will treat us.

            A woman who was dying of AIDS summoned a minister to comfort her.  Her emotional pain was as real as her physical pain.  Everything seemed hopeless. "I'm lost," she said, "I've ruined my life and every life around me.  I'm headed for hell. There's no hope for me."

            The minister saw a framed picture of a pretty girl on the dresser.  "Who is that?" he asked.

            The woman brightened, "She's my daughter, the one beautiful thing in my life." "Would you help her if she was in trouble," asked the minister, "no matter how many mistakes she'd made?  Would you forgive her if she asked you to?  Would you still love her, no matter what?"

            "Of course I would," the woman exclaimed. "Why would you even ask a question like that?"

            "Because I want you to understand," explained the minister, "That God has a picture of you on His dresser too."

            God loves us like that mother loves her daughter.  Thats a given, but the ball is in our court.  When we disciplined our children we liked to use logical consequences, a punishment linked to the transgression.  Something similar is at play here.  We may not like that, that our forgiveness relates to how well we forgive others, but that's how it works.  Jesus reminds us us of that.  He even included it in the prayer he gave his disciples.  Remember the line?  "Father, forgive us our debts, sins, trespasses, as we forgive the debts, the sins, the trespasses of others."  Thats the rule. 

            Let me close with this.  A man's mother, a poor widow, wrote a letter to a judge, asking the judge to overturn his judgment against her son and forget the fine.  She explained that her son was broke and unemployed; it would fall on her shoulders to pay his fine.  The financial burden was more than she could bear.

            To do what the woman requested, overturn the judgment and forget the fine, would violate the judge's oath to uphold the law, and justice would suffer for the sake of mercy.  But when the judge wrote back to the widow, he enclosed with his letter a personal check to cover both the fine and court costs.   Concluding his letter, he said, "I send this check with joy because it gives me the opportunity to be both merciful and just."

            That is the kind of judge God is:  both merciful and just.  Until we can love as God loves, we cannot judge as God judges, so let us strive every day toward greater holiness and greater love, so that our own thoughts and actions will be acceptable in God's sight.   Amen.