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Third Quarter
2019

 

J Nichols Adams et al

June 23, 2019, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 12, Proper 7

 

 

LectionAid 3rd Quarter 2019

June 23, 2019, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 12, Proper 7

Falling Into the Hands of God

Psalm 42-43 or Psalm 22:19-28, 1Kings 19:1-15a or Isaiah 65:1-9, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

Theme: Freedom to Carry the Cross

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

In two weeks’, time, we will celebrate our freedom as Americans, when we became our own sovereign nation, free to set up our own laws vs. following laws and rules that someone else prescribed. Just a little over two months ago, we celebrated a more eternal kind of freedom. In churches all over the world, one could hear shouts of “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” As Christians, we rejoice that Christ overcame sin and death once and for all through his death and resurrection. We no longer will be judged for our own sins, because Christ became the sinless sacrifice for us. We are free from the bondage of sin. We are free from God’s judgement. It is interesting to note that as the world drifts away from the central tenets of Christ we find more and more judgement. Social Media has become a gigantic engine of judgement and nay saying about anything and everything. We fasten on the few negative aspects of historical figures or public figures or even our neighbors and we automatically begin to judge. We seem to be a very “judgy” society. We seem to be less free than before.
But freedom as a Christian doesn’t mean that we simply do whatever we please. If we profess Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are saying that we no longer live for ourselves but for him. We still technically have the freedom to do whatever we want, but we willingly put that aside and say, “not what I want, but what you want” and discern God’s will for us vs. following our own wants and desires.
In preaching this text, we can concentrate on any of several issues that connect the first century Galatians and twenty-first century Americans:
First of all, do we realize what it means to be obedient to Christ? We often say that we’re “Christians” in the same way we say that we’re an Aquarius, or that we’re black or white, or that we’re right or left-handed. But though we didn’t choose when we were born, our race, or our handedness, we choose whom we serve. Being a Christian isn’t a label; it’s a way of life. And in order to serve Christ, to be clothed with Christ, to be obedient to Christ, we make deliberate choices about how we will live our lives. Everyone is welcome on this journey, but it is an intentional journey that takes daily commitment.
Second, do we realize that everyone is equal in God’s Kingdom? My guess is that this issue is preached most often in relation to this text. We still have many walls between the races—do we honestly see everyone as equal, or do we profile, in our minds, and assign value based on the color of one’s skin? We have divided into socioeconomic classes and often those at the bottom of the ladder who really do need help are treated with disdain or at least with suspicion. In many professions that used to be predominately “male,” women continue to have to prove themselves or find themselves bumping their heads on a glass ceiling. Any group that is dominant in any part of society because of race, color or creed or socioeconomic advantage is ultimately the source of holding down others. There is plenty to be learned from this text about equality. Our modern society sees freedom and equality in terms of groups. However, that is not how Jesus saw things. Everyone is included. After all, to use Paul’s words we are all wearing the same new clothes.
Third, what “laws” do we impose upon ourselves or others that keep us from Christ? Sometimes our best intentions to grow closer to Christ can end up becoming barriers, and our judgments of others certainly are barricades. When we decide we or others must do certain things to be a good Christian—read a certain amount of scripture each day, pray a certain length of time, attend church every single week, or any spiritual discipline—then we run into the danger of becoming captives of laws and rituals. While we certainly will grow if we read scripture, pray daily, and attend church regularly, it has to be a discipline and not one more thing to check off of our “to-do” list. Then it becomes an empty ritual and not a way to connect with Christ. Or perhaps, it is more comfortable to be under the law or some law we make up because then things can become predictable again. We can assign an answer to every question, and everything can be done decently and in order. The writer of Hebrews says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31). If we stay under the law, we never have to find out just how fearful it is!!! But we also will never know what it means to truly be free to be obedient to Jesus Christ.

Exegetical Comments

Our Galatians passage for this week takes up the issue of freedom in Christ vs. captivity under the law. In 3:23, we are actually dropped into the middle of the conversation about whether or not one must first become a Jew in order to be a Christian. As we understand from the beginning of the letters, missionaries had evidently come by proclaiming an altered version of the gospel that Paul had preached to them. The crux: Gentile men had to be circumcised and Gentile men and women had to obey the Torah as a prerequisite to Christianity. Paul’s response was clear in 1:9—“As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!” Clearly angry with the Galatians and their lack of understanding, he takes up the question of law vs. faith for the remainder of the letter.
The law did have its place at one time, according to Paul in our passage for this week. It was, according to verse 24, “our disciplinarian until Christ came.” The Greek word for disciplinarian – paidagogas—refers to a specific kind of slave in a household, one charged with looking after a male child. This slave protected the boy from harm and made sure that he behaved properly, even punishing him if necessary, to be sure he was raised correctly. But the role of this slave was temporary, and once the boy reached maturity, the slave was no longer needed (Charles B. Cousar et al, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year C [Louisville: WJK, 1994], p 396).
But now that Christ had come, the law wasn’t needed. To keep the law now that Christ had come would be like hiring a baby-sitter for a grown man—the disciplinarian’s job was over. The law simply was no longer relevant to the situation. It is now faith that makes us children of God, not whether or not we had the proper training, the proper religion, and dotted the right i’s and crossed the right t’s. Simply following the proper rules at the proper times, which often is what the law had become, was not the way to God. God didn’t want to know how proper we could look on the outside and how many good deeds we could do but wanted our whole selves. As Paul states in 2:16b—“and we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
Paul states that further, we all are invited into this life with Christ. The most well-known phrase of this text is perhaps “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). Heritage doesn’t matter, economic status doesn’t matter, and gender doesn’t matter. It used to be that only Jews could go past the outer courts into the temple and non-Jews were kept outside. That no longer matters—Jews and Greeks and any other race or color were accepted. Slaves had few if any rights and obviously were at the bottom of the economic ladder. But again—slave and free, those of any economic status are welcome. Women could not own property and were actually considered property and could be used as bartering chips. But both men and women were invited to be baptized and clothed with Christ. Everyone is welcome into the Kingdom. And in this Kingdom, everyone is equal before God.

Preaching Possibilities

We are a very judgy society. We are in the era of Twitter Storms that argue about the morality of people 200 years ago. We have huge Facebook posts about supposed moral outrage. We need to find freedom in Christ to be with one another and love one another. In these moments of moral outrage it is good to remember that God loves us all.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

I have a sock monkey named Pal. Pal is unique in that I can’t remember life without him. He was my older brother’s first, and then when I was two—in my words, I adopted him; in my brother’s words, I simply took him—but I acquired Pal in some way. And for the next few years, we were practically inseparable. When I had to go into the hospital, Pal went to be x-rayed as well. Under the covers during a thunderstorm, I clutched Pal tightly to me. We had juice and cookie parties. We went camping. He’s even in some holiday pictures. During my younger years, he was a constant comforter and companion. Predictable. Steady and sturdy enough to endure the love of two children, though he has undergone surgery several times over the years for ear repairs and tail reattachments.
Decades later, Pal is an occasional guest during children’s sermons but generally sits on my dresser untouched and ignored. In fact, at this point I’m afraid that touching him might cause his undoing…literally. My need for Pal has transformed from confidant to cherished stuffed animal. Now that I am more mature, I didn’t need to hang onto this former way of life. In fact, walking around with Pal now as I had when I was younger probably earn me a visit with our General Presbyter at my earliest convenience. The comforter, the confidant, the companion I need is Jesus Christ. He wants us not to look to earthly things for our ultimate comfort, but to him. Now Jesus is not that predictable—he’s asking us to do tough things like love our enemies and pray for one another, I can’t literally hug him or hold onto him when I am afraid, but by faith I know that he is there and that he knows what’s best for my life. It may be a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” but it is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Even when it looks like the world is stacked against us, our response makes the difference between serving God and getting caught up in rituals. Last year, someone or a group of someone’s broke into our church. Among the few things they stole was the brass cross that sits on our communion table. A few of us discovered this Sunday morning, about two hours before our service and our first reaction was sheer puzzlement. Eventually reality set in and we went about the process of calling the police and taking inventory of what else could have been stolen. We even tried to be light-hearted about it, and joked that people starting a new church had probably taken it, and they hadn’t gotten to the part of the Bible where it said, “thou shalt not steal.”
A half hour before our service, the police had come and gone, we’d straightened up the sanctuary the best we could for worship, and then panic set in with some of our members. That cross had been donated as a memorial gift twenty years ago. Never once since that time has it been absent from a service. What would we do? How would we go on? Things were resolved quickly and totally when another member looked up at the table with where the cross had once gleamed, looked at everyone standing there, and said, “well, I reckon we all have seen that cross enough that we can remember in our minds what it looks like. I guess we’ll just do that until we get it replaced.” No violation of tradition or custom was going to stop this man from worshipping God that day. The cross was such a part of his life that he didn’t need it in front of him in order to see it. And when we thought about it, we realized that neither did we.

Are we more concerned about being clothed with Christ or wearing the right clothes and adorning ourselves with the right accessories? The Christian school where my cousin teaches decided to put an end to the fights over whose clothing labels were superior and enacted a strict dress code. The goal of the school administration was to get the students as “equal” as possible in dress in hopes that they would begin to treat each other as equals rather than constantly comparing themselves to one another. Students were allowed to wear specific colors of shirts of a specific non-descript brand. But when it came to pants and skirts, they put parameters on colors and told the students that they could not wear anything that had a brand name on the article of clothing.
My cousin reports that the first day of school, several of the middle-school girls were given the choice of going into the bathroom with a seam ripper to take the names Gap and Abercrombie and Fitch and Guess off of their pants and skirts, or to call their parents to come and pick them up from school and take them home to change. Despite the numerous letters home, most of them quoting somewhere the concept of being “clothed with Christ” and the school’s desire to make everyone feel as equal as possible, several of them just didn’t get it. It was more important to them to wear the label and stand out than it was to willingly give up some of their freedom in order to join a community.

Often it is fear of the unknown—or an inability to trust what we know to be true—that holds us back from the good life. Apparently, this is true in animals as well as humans. Two of my good friends have a beautiful five-year-old dog named Jade. They have raised her from ten-week-old puppy and have always been very kind and tender toward her. But there is something wired in that specific breed of dog that makes them instinctively cautious and wary, no matter what their upbringing. Jade adores her female owner, who is home a good part of the day, and tolerates her male owner, each day greeting him with renewed suspicion when he comes home from work.
But the most interesting thing to watch is the complexity of this bond Jade has with her female owner. If she leaves the room, Jade follows her. She won’t even take a dog treat from someone else without looking back several times for approval. In one sense, this is endearing. This dog places absolute trust in her owner. Unfortunately, Jade spends a great deal of her life guarded and anxious, always a little wary of the world around her and never trusting anyone else, even when time after time others prove to be just as trustworthy and kind and nurturing.
We may chuckle at her primitive behavior, but don’t we sometimes place our trust in and idolize other human beings or philosophies or objects to the point that we look for their approval before doing anything? Jade is biologically wired to be a little fearful, but we as human beings have the ability to reason and make a choice to trust despite our fear. Are we willing to place our trust in Someone whom we can’t see but has proven time after time to be trustworthy, showing his love for us even to the point of death on the cross? Are we willing to step away from the predictable and fall into the arms of a loving God?

One of my friends became a Christian while in college. He had not ever entered a church before he went with us one Sunday morning. He went with us for several weeks until suddenly he quite abruptly stopped. When one of our friends asked why, he replied that in order to be a Christian, he would have to change almost everything he was doing. It would change his life too much. He was in a sexual relationship with his girlfriend and said that if he were a Christian it would be considered a sin. He occasionally smoked pot, and said that if he were a Christian he would probably have to stop that as well. He had thought that being a Christian just meant going to church on Sunday morning for an hour and then it was over for the week. What he hadn’t been prepared for was that the deliberate commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior would transform his life. But he also hadn’t understood that there was a community ready and waiting to accept him the way he was and walk the journey with him.

“Only he who obeys a rhythm superior to his own is free.” (Nikos Kazantzakis)

“I am in a state of dis-appointment with God. I am missing the life that I was appointed by God to live–missing my calling. And I have dis-appointed God. I have removed him from the central role he longs to play in my life.” (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997], p 14)

“If we are to live lives that enable us to hear more clearly who we really are, then we will have to learn to move to a rhythm that is superior to the ones we have fashioned for ourselves, or the ones a consumer society has foisted upon us.” (Robert Benson, Living Prayer [New York: Penguin Putnam, 1998], p. 15)

“The truth is that the term spiritual life is simply a way of referring to one’s life—every moment and facet of it—from God’s perspective. Another way of saying it is this: God is not interested in your ‘spiritual life.’ God is just interested in your life. He intends to redeem it.” (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997], p 15)

“Discipline…exists for the sake of what seems its very opposite—for freedom. The pattern deep hidden in the dance, hidden so deep that shallow spectators cannot see it, alone gives beauty to the wild…” (C.S. Lewis) (Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, The Quotable Lewis [Wheaton: Tyndale, 1989], p 162).

“What a folly to think that our good deeds may one day outweigh our bad deeds. Even our good deeds are defective because we don’t honor God in the way we do them. It is folly to hope in good deeds because this is not the way God saves.” (John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004], p. 33)

”He cannot bless us unless he has us. When we try to keep within an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.” (C.S. Lewis) (Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, The Quotable Lewis [Wheaton: Tyndale, 1989], p 172).

Earth’s crammed with Heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes—
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

“The purpose of the Disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear. When the inner spirit is liberated from all that weighs it down, it can hardly be described as dull drudgery. Singing, dancing, even shouting characterize the Disciplines of the spiritual life.” (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline [New York: Harper Collins, 1978 first publishing], p. 2)

“The life that is pleasing to God is not a series of religious duties. We have only one thing to do, namely, to experience a life of relationship and intimacy with God.” (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline [New York: HarperCollings, 1978 first publishing], p. 4)

“The ordinary way to be justified in human courts is to keep the law…but in the courtroom of God, we have not kept the law…Christ shed his blood to cancel the guilt of our crime…and the obedience of Christ provided the righteousness we needed to be justified in God’s court.” (John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004], p. 39, 41)

“Can I trust that voice and follow it? It is not a very loud voice, and often it is drowned out by the clamor of the inner city. Still, when I listen attentively, I will…come to recognize it as the voice speaking to the deepest places of my heart.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now [New York: Crossroads, 1994], p. 88)

What is this unity like? It is mystical before it is practical. It is what William James describes as the great “muchness” of it all that comes to those who experience God. It is a profound sense that we are connected to God and each other. It is not political – as the text is so often used—so much as it is mystical.

It is also a sense of being linked to larger realities, not just to Greeks or Jews, slaves or frees. The message is about something beyond our normal categories.

It is, to me, most like morning. It is the inevitability of morning. When we think in mystical union terms, light follows dark inevitably. Dark is not final. Nor is light. But they circle around and after each other. We reach for knowledge beyond what we know or experience – and God touches us with that great unity. This is the sense in which unity is good.

Unity can also be difficult! It can be a forced consensus or a forced harmony or even a forced homogeneity. Paul is not describing anything that is forced. He is talking about the enormous grace of being able to be yourself while being a part of a group. That is a spiritual and mystical reality.

I think of unity as the light that follows dark. It is the deep realization that we are one even though we may be in a conflict with someone. I think of unity as morning. Morning is the time that comes after evening, when our hopes sometimes slip away into fear.

In my neighborhood, mornings are actually quite hilarious. One of my neighbors, an octogenarian at least, walks his big black, mean dog with a stick he carries as opposed to a leash. He always says about the dog, “HE DON’T MIND.” I keep wanting to suggest a leash instead of a stick but just bike on by, hoping the dog won’t chase me. This gentleman is followed by a man who doesn’t really smoke his cigarette. He just keeps it in his mouth….and walks by my hedge at such a height and in such a way that only the smoke is visible and the top part of his head. Every morning. Just the cigarette stuck in his mouth. Why do these two people remind me of human unity? Because they are the habit of morning, the great waking up. I see these people as part of the people to which I belong. We all do life in our own way. The third neighborhood character is the man with the parrot. He puts on a business suit, usually by 8:15, puts his parrot on his shoulder and his little dog on a leash and briskly, almost Britishly, parades up and down the street.

Or unity might mean as little (or as much) as what an old man on his deathbed said to me. He was very sick. He wanted to die. His crucifixion was his suffering. He had lived too long. As he got closer, he dreamed about gates. They kept opening. He would wake up and wonder if those gates were opened for him. Of course they were. The unity Paul describes is also something that doesn’t stop at death. We are unified, mystically, in the life after death as well. Paul is making a large claim, not a small claim, for unity.

Maurice Sendak, the great children’s author, tells of a time when he was very sick as a child. He spent long hours in his bed. His father tells him that angels will come to visit him when his father can’t be at his side. He believes his father but doesn’t see the angels.
Then he asks his father how come he can’t see the angels – I love this because he thinks it is his fault not his father’s that he can’t see the angels. His father has a wonderful answer: if you blink, you miss them. So, the poor child spends a lot of time in the bed learning how not to blink. Sure enough, he thinks he masters the art of not blinking – and he sees the angels.

The great St. Augustine said, “Faith is believing what you don’t see the reward of faith is to see what you believe.”

We can’t always see unity. Very often we blink. But with the eyes of the Spirit, not the eyes of the flesh, we become able to see.

“We have never stopped sin by passing laws; and in the same way, we are not going to take a great moral ideal and achieve it merely by law” (Dwight D. Eisenhower).

“What our country deserves from everyone who enjoys its fruits and freedoms is a little more gratitude — and a lot less greed” (Michelle Malkin).

” Because just as good morals, if they are to be maintained, have need of the laws, so the laws, if they are to be observed, have need of good morals” (Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince).

“The laws of man may bind him in chains or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy” (John Quincy Adams).

“There is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” One of the things I appreciated about the film Godspell is that the cast consists of women and men portraying the disciples. Without any fanfare, this bears out both Paul’s great statement to the Galatians and Christ’s ignoring of the social conventions of his day—such as his preferring Mary’s sitting at his feet and listening to his teaching instead of busying herself in the kitchen with Martha. A neat touch in the wonderful Claymation life of Christ film The Miracle Maker is the addition of Jesus saying to Martha that she should come on and sit down and join them.

My husband and I are of European heritage and our children are Korean. For several years we have been searching for a crèche whose figures have Asian faces. When I told a colleague of our fruitless search, he asked me why it was so important. I replied that the children wanted to see themselves reflected in Jesus. His reply continues to make me think. He said, “Isn’t it more important that others see Jesus reflected in them?”

In The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, Fareed Zakaria explores how difficult it can be for a pure democracy to function in lands where it has not been tried before. In particular, Zakaria observes that when people are called upon to vote, if there is no previous history of racial integration or ethnic assimilation in the society, people will tend to cast ballots along racial, ethnic, or religious lines. In the absence of a sense of national unity, the winning majority groups will often tend to solidify their grip on power by harassing and oppressing the losing minority groups. Therefore, while Americans often call for democracy in lands such as Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations, the result of democracy in those places, Zakaria suggests, would not necessarily be a good thing. In the absence of a belief that there is “no longer Jew or Greek,” the majority populations in those lands might very well use democracy to brutalize those who are different from them.

In most areas of employment in the United States, you find “male and female.” Yet, according to Time (5/12/03), there are some lines of work where stereotypes persist, and few men pursue those occupations. For instance, 98% of all preschool and kindergarten teachers are women. Likewise, 98% of all dental hygienists and 98% of all secretaries are female. Only 5% of stenographers and typists are men, and only 7% of all registered nurses are male. Other occupations where men make up less than 30% of the workforces are: cleaners and servants
; bank tellers
; librarians
; cashiers
; waiters
; and hotel clerks.

During the Vietnam War, Robert McAfee Brown commented, “The minute we Christians begin to sound just like everyone else, we’ve lost the ball game.” Those words could equally be applied today. At times news about the church is so dominated by accounts of dissension and strife, those reports are hardly any different from the reports about any other sector of society.

Ferdinand and Isabella may have been two of the first monarchs genuinely to reign without regard to “male or female.” In Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, David Starkey emphasizes the unity in the way that they chose to rule their realm, for they were most definitely co-sovereigns. Generally, a queen was expected to be subservient to the king. But that was not the case with Ferdinand and Isabella. Their agreement was that they would rule jointly when they were together and independently when they were apart from each other. In other words, when they were together, they would consult with each other and arrive at a decision that satisfied both of them. And when they were separated because of their travels, they trusted each other to make decisions in their absence. A further symbol of the equality between the two monarchs is found in the fact that both of their heads appeared on the coinage, and both of their signatures appeared on royal charters.

One of the reasons we continue to have tensions between different groups is because of a lack of trust. In The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, Francis Fukuyama mentions a survey where people were asked, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” In the early 1960s, there were 10% more Americans who said they trusted other people than there were Americans who said they were distrusting. More recently the results of that survey have dramatically shifted. Now there are at least 20% more people who are distrusting of other people than there are people who trust those around them.

Unfortunately, unity has not always been a strong suit among Christians. In Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them, John Ortberg recalls how a group broke off the Church of God, calling itself the True Church of God. Eventually a group then broke off from that body, calling itself the Only True Church of God.

Instead of seeing all people as equals, we often tend to hold a lofty opinion of some and a low opinion of others. Today, for example, we tend to elevate the English-speaking world over the rest of the world. But in In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture, Alister McGrath reminds us that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, English was considered to be the language of despised peasants. Even among the English monarchs, their languages of choice during that period were French and Latin, since they considered English to be a crude language that was only capable of expressing the most basic matters. That was one of the obstacles that had to be overcome when the Bible was first translated into English. Many were of the opinion that to take the elegant, sophisticated Greek and Hebrew languages and to reduce them to English would be to debase the Scriptures.

In What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey cites the verse in the Gospel of John that declares, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Yancey goes on to point out that many Christians tend to focus only on part of that verse. He suggests that while many churches embroil themselves in heated controversies about what the truth is, relatively few churches try to “out-grace” their rivals.

Mark Twain once said that as an experiment, he put a dog and a cat in cage together to see if they could get along. To his surprise, they did. So he added a bird, a pig, and a goat. Soon, after making a few adjustments among themselves, they all got along just fine. But then, Twain said, he put in a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Catholic. Soon there was not a living thing left in the cage.

One of the most significant ways that there has been a lack of oneness in American society has been when it comes to race. According to Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace? many historians believe that the turning point in American race relations took place on a bridge outside of Selma, Alabama. It was there in 1965 that Sheriff Jim Clark turned his officers loose on a throng of unarmed black demonstrators. The troopers, riding atop their horses, charged at the crowd of black people, swinging their nightsticks at them and causing many of the blacks to crumple to the ground in pools of their own blood. While that was going on, crowds of white people stood on the side and cheered as the officers fired tear gas at the wounded and terrified blacks. Most Americans became aware of what was happening there in Selma when ABC interrupted their Sunday night movie to show footage of the attack. The film the network interrupted, though, was Judgment at Nuremberg, a movie about how the Nazis had committed such horrible atrocities against those whom they considered to be less than human. At that moment, many Americans came to realize that their treatment of black people had been substantially the same as the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews. Eight days after that incident President Lyndon Johnson submitted to Congress the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Part of the reason there is such a lack of unity in many American churches is because we value so highly our freedom of choice. When we shop for blue jeans, for example, we assume that the choices that will be set before us will be almost endless. We have the opportunity to choose the size. We get to decide whether we want regular, slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy. Likewise, we get to choose from stonewashed, acid-washed, or distressed. There are also options about whether we want button-fly or zipper-fly. When it comes to our religion, we expect the same kind of smorgasbord variety so that we can select a church that meets our own particular taste. In The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz remarks that while most of us “inherit the religious affiliations of our parents, we are remarkably free to choose exactly the ‘flavor’ of that affiliation that suits us. We are unwilling to regard religious teaching as commandments, about which we have no choice, rather than suggestions, about which we are the ultimate arbiters.”

One factor that works against oneness is our tendency to locate ourselves in groups where we feel we have a certain uniqueness or superiority. In Choosing the Right Pond, Robert Frank explains how much of our lives are determined by our desire to be the big fish in our own ponds. According to his analysis, if there were only one pond to which to belong, most of us would end up feeling like losers. Therefore, instead of trying to set ourselves in comparison to all other people, we attempt to mark off certain kinds of groupings to be our pond, in which we deem ourselves to be successful when compared to the other members of that pond. Frank found, for instance, that most people would prefer to be the third highest-paid lawyer in a small firm and make $120,000 a year than to be in the middle of the pack in a large firm and make $150,000. Based on his theory, the reason why we often do not pursue a broad oneness with all people is because we fear the loss of status or power.

While letter writing is becoming a lost art in American society with the advent of e-mail and cell phones, letter writing was a central practice among the first Christians. After all, most of the “books” in the New Testament were originally letters. In The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries, Wayne Meeks observes that most of the early Christian letters that were written were hortatory in function. Whereas much of our correspondence today might focus on communicating information, the first Christians used letters, such as Galatians, to urge their fellow Christians onward in the pursuit of the Christian way of life.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul calls upon us to set aside our natural biases in order to view all people fairly. In reality, though, that is often easier said than done. According to the Los Angeles Times (2/16/04), frequently we are not even consciously aware of the biases we have. For example, on surveys, most people rate themselves as significantly more decent, responsible, and kind than their peers. Likewise, most people consider themselves to be much better drivers, harder workers, and less biased than other people. In one study conducted at Stanford University, college students were asked to rate personal qualities, such as friendliness and selfishness. After the students completed the survey, the researchers then explained to the students the tendency for people to express self-favoring bias in such surveys. Afterwards, when they were given an opportunity to adjust their survey responses so that they would be more accurate, only 24% of those who had rated themselves as being significantly better than others changed their evaluation. The other 76% said that their initial ratings were correct, or perhaps they had even been too modest.

Benjamin Franklin realized that our sense of oneness often declines when we diminish our view of a whole group of people based on the behavior of one member of that group. In Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson refers to Franklin’s opinion that it was wrong to punish a whole race, tribe, or group because of what one person has done. For instance, he said, if a man with red hair and freckles were to kill your wife, would it be right for you to get revenge by going out and killing every freckled, red-haired person you ever encountered in the future? Obviously not.

Of all the wondrous array of thoughts that are possible, negative judgments about ourselves and others are one of the mind’s compulsive obsessions. It’s as if the human brain has a hyperactive gland that secretes judgments, just like the adrenal gland secretes adrenaline. Negative and reactive judgments can arise instantaneously and in regard to almost anything. Sometimes they focus almost exclusively on you, and sometimes almost exclusively on others.
If you allow critical judgments to remain unexamined, they can come to occupy many of your thoughts and emotions, and even your dreams. But if you examine them, you’ll find repetitive themes that are connected to earlier life events and discover that even your judgments regarding others are often rooted in self-judgment or events that happened earlier in your life—sometimes when you were very young. It’s a good practice to investigate all of your judgments, and this practice will help you do exactly that. Give yourself about thirty minutes for this inquiry.
Try this exercise the next time you find you’re having a strong critical reaction toward someone. See if you can notice what happens in your body, how your body feels. Then imagine that you’re leaning toward the other person with your index finger pointing at the person and a tense, mean look on your face (sometimes you might even actually catch yourself in this posture). Appreciate that when you point at others, you have three other fingers pointed back at yourself. Follow them back to yourself and investigate how this judgment toward someone else has something to do with you. Many judgmental thoughts about others have their origins in painful events earlier in life. These kinds of judgments call for deep personal non-judgmental inquiry.
Judgments are like bombs that can be triggered by life events. Imagine that you’re in the grocery store and see a mother angrily slap her daughter’s leg, and the child looks humiliated when she sees you watching. Or imagine that someone cuts in front of you near an intersection, so that you get stuck at the stoplight while he drives on. Picture a scenario in which your spouse criticizes your house cleaning. These types of events can trigger strong judgments and anger.
Negative judgments can explode in our minds at any moment and overwhelm us with immediate and emotionally overwhelming condemnations of others or ourselves. The body contracts, blood pressure rises, and the breath moves up into the chest and becomes shallow and rapid. The fight-or-flight response has been triggered, and an urge to say or do something floods you. In these moments, regrettable words can leap out of your mouth and injure others, and even yourself. Many of us have extremely short fuses when similar triggering events occur again and again, and our reactions can be like bombs that go off almost instantaneously.
The bombs with the shortest fuses are often found in our relationships with other people. Politicians and strangers in traffic are a common source of small, frequent reactions that come and go like firecrackers. But our love relationships can set off huge explosive reactions that can create enormous suffering for years. Careless words can cut deeply and leave scars that never go away. Because love relationships are so intimate, they have the capacity to call forth emotional reactions that are tied to earlier traumatic interpersonal events. This is one reason why these relationships are so rife with projections. Projections are ego defense mechanisms that operate mostly unconsciously and impose on current relationships the emotional injuries from earlier close relationships, such as with your mother, your father, or your first love. Although we’re usually unaware of our projections, we can learn a great deal about them if we’re willing to investigate our reactive judgments with an intention to defuse them. (https://www.mindful.org/are-you-addicted-to-being-judgy/)

I might be one of the least-judgmental people on Earth. That’s because I see humanity as a bunch of moist robots bumping around according to the laws of physics. My worldview doesn’t include free will as anything but a necessary illusion to keep people sane. I never believe people “choose” to be evil or socially unacceptable.
I say this sort of thing often, and that means people quickly identify me as someone who can hear their deepest secrets without judging. And so I do. And that means my view of the world is far different than your view because I have access to what might be called the “judgy” layer of life. I hear the stuff that judgy people don’t hear. And as a result, I see people as equally “flawed” in terms of how society judges such things. Normal? It isn’t even a thing in my experience.
Now let’s say you are a judgy person. Let’s say you hold the view that there is something called “normal” behavior. Your observations support your world view because people act normally around you. People who know how judgy you are hide their freak flags. And that would form a bubble of misinformation for you to live within. Judgy people experience life as a play that is staffed by actors, not real people. Even your friends and family might be trying to avoid your judgy ways by presenting themselves as phony normals.
When a judgy person asks what you did over the weekend, you probably stick to the basics and say you mowed your lawn and had a barbecue. But if I ask the same question about your weekend, I might hear exciting stories of drug deals, orgies, and crimes against nature.
I was thinking about this because I know a couple who are the most judgmental people I have ever known. I can’t imagine sharing an honest opinion with them, and I’m sure no one else does either. As a result, the two of them have created a weird bubble of misinformation from which to view the world. For all practical purposes, they exist in a parallel universe where they are “normal” and the rest of the world continues to worsen.
Do people consider you judgy? If so, everything you know about people is probably wrong because people don’t trust you with the truth. (https://blog.dilbert.com/2015/07/15/the-judgy-bubble/)

In society, we have judgment. Women and men are praised for looking a certain way, but women and men are put down for not meeting a certain standard. A woman for instance, can’t be skinny, or she will be labeled as anorexic. A woman can’t be curvy, or she’ll be labeled as fat. Society expects generations of people to look and act a certain way.
If a girl wants to play a sport, she’s automatically labeled as a tomboy. If a boy wants to do ballet, he’s labeled as homosexual. Girls and boys should be able to do what they are comfortable doing even though they are stereotyped. As humans, we shouldn’t judge each other; instead we should support each other. People go to school each day and are judged for what they love to do. Women get judged for wearing makeup and dressing a certain way because society labels them as not perfect or self-absorbed. Men get labeled every day for not having a certain facial structure or facial features because society points out their flaws. Judgment can become bullying, which could lead to the person being bullied becoming depressed or hurting themselves.
Society controls our minds to believe we need to look a certain way to be something in life, or to be someone. People want to feel like they belong, so they change themselves to fit a completely different human beings standard. Young people, like teenagers, often believe they are nothing if they are not what our society wants them to be. This shouldn’t be a right thing to do because they only need to please themselves with they way they look. Lowering yourselves to meet society’s standards is something no one should do, whether they feel the need to be something they are not because we don’t. Cleary, the media is an influence to this. Regardless of age, or gender, young people want to look like the images they see in magazines. These young people starve themselves to reach the body images they see in the media.
Together as a generation, we can change that. There is no need for judgment in society because looking a certain way to impress people is not what life is about. Life is about living and being okay with looking the way we do, but society says differently. In society, we have to look and act a certain way to impress people, or to get satisfaction. The society for years has controlled us to believe we need to look like models in magazines, and if we don’t, we are not relevant. Our flaws make us who we are, and we shouldn’t hide our true self. Who cares what society says? Who cares what other people look like? We should not lower ourselves to their level to be something we’re not. Just because they label us as something, does not mean we have to be what we’re expected to be. (http://www.teenink.com/opinion/pop_culture_trends/article/839961/Judgment-In-Society/) Finding freedom from society and finding it instead in Christ is often the answer.

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship (Based on Psalm 43:3-4)

Leader: Oh, send out your light and thy truth, O Lord.
People: Let them lead us, let them bring us to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
Leader: Then we will go to the altar of God, to God our exceeding joy;
People: And we will praise you with our songs, O God, my God.

Prayer of Confession

Lord, we confess that we are subject to our own demons, the demons of racism and sexism, of nationalism and avarice, of the worship of success and beauty, and others too numerous to count. As your Son drove out Legion from the Gerasene, so may you rescue us from that which possesses us, separating us from one another and leading us into behavior unworthy of those who seek to follow your Son. Help us in the silence of this moment to still the voices of anything which is contrary to your will as we seek your forgiveness. (Silent confession)
All this we ask in the name of your Son, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Lord, we are here not because we are good, but because only you are. We bring these gifts not to make ourselves feel good, but in order that they might do good through the ministry of your church. Bless this offering and the work, in this community and throughout the world, which it makes possible. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

God, by the power of your word you created the heavens and the earth. We praise your name for all that we see and hear that is good and beautiful in your creation. We thank you, too, that when we turn away from you and besmirch your creation, you continue to seek us and call us back to your side. It was by your power that your Son drove out demons, and by the power of your Spirit that you continue to rescue us when we are overtaken by our sin. Help us to see that your power is different from what the world worships—the power of money and fame, of guns and missiles—that your power comes in the form of weakness, the weakness of a heart that wishes only the best for enemies, the weakness of a cross that demonstrates the height and the depth of divine love. Help us to live in this love, to share it with, and demonstrate it, to others. We pray for the leaders of our nation that they might be drawn to your ways of love and justice, that our national priorities and goals will be brought closer to yours. We pray for other nations, including our enemies, that we might be able to see where we stand in need of correction, and that our judgments and pronouncements on them, when we are right, might be charitable. Be with those who are hungry and neglected, with those who are grieving and ailing—with all those who need your compassionate aid. Actually, Lord, because your Son has declared that he is with “the least of these,” may we be with those in need, and thus found to be faithful to your Son’s call to follow him. We ask this in his name. Amen