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The Absurdity of Judgment

• Dan Kent

We live in a system in which everyone judges themselves and each other and creates a hierarchy of those above and below them. Jesus came to confront and blow this system apart.

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When we address the topic of judgement, one of the issues at play is shame, the feeling of being less than others, which is related to the social structures of our culture. Cultures are built on hierarchies, with those at the top having privileges that those at the bottom do not possess. These hierarchies are rooted in the belief that those on top have more value than others, while those on the bottom are deemed to have little to no worth.

Since the patterns of this world are structured around social hierarchies, judgment is woven into the way that we think about ourselves and others. Everyone is evaluating themselves and everyone else to determine where they fall in the social hierarchy. We all want others to know where we line up and that we are above others, or at least we think we are above them.

This pattern is illustrated by Jesus’ disciples. In Luke 9:44, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to be killed. In response to Jesus’ words, the disciples begin to argue about who will be greater in the Kingdom of heaven. The same argument occurs in Luke 20:22, again after Jesus talks about his coming death. The disciples assumed that the hierarchical view of the world is the way that things should operate. Jesus responds in both situations by blowing up their assumptions, by telling them that the greatest in the Kingdom are those who serve.

Shame and its counterpart, arrogance, have no place in the Kingdom. In Matthew 23:12, Jesus confronts the status systems of our world where a few rule over others, while most people cower to those in power. We are to no longer judge ourselves against others in a way that sets us up over or under others. We are called to live in a distinctively different way.

To move in this direction, Dan reviewed the acronym GAP, which Greg introduced last week. G stands for “Get all life from Christ.” We must stop evaluating ourselves based on a false hierarchy. We are invited to understand ourselves based on the truth of our value in the light of the cross. If we are getting our value from our standing in the hierarchy, we are no longer living in the love that we have already received from Christ.

The A represents “Agree with God about everyone’s unsurpassable worth.” All are worth God dying for. Because God went to the extreme to demonstrate his love for us, he could not have gone any further for anyone, no matter how bad they are according to someone’s evaluation. By becoming sin, God traveled the greatest distance possible to save all because all are loved.

The third letter in GAP is P, which stands for “Pray for our enemies.” The hierarchy tries to divide and conquer, to put people in their place because they are enemies. In the Kingdom, no one is a threat, and therefore, we can bless others, even our enemies.

In God’s Kingdom, we can let go of the hierarchy and rest in the truth that we are loved by God, and nothing can happen that can help us climb to some higher point to get more love. We already live in it.

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Topics: Conflict, Judgment, Love

Sermon Series: Sermon on the Mount, Cross Examination


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The MuseCast: May 31


Focus Scripture:

  • Matthew 7:1-2

    Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

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8 thoughts on “The Absurdity of Judgment

  1. Jan says:

    Starting with ourselves (as in love your neighbor as yourself), yes it’s hugely important to get all our life from Christ and not routinely judge one another in hierarchical (including race and sex class) terms. But taking this too far beyond the teaching of Jesus can too easily lead to implicit victim-shaming, lack of healing among those marginalized, and lack of honesty about very real individual and systemic harm caused by oppressors who are powerful societally in this world (disproportionately men in our culture).

    Not all men, certainly, not even close to the majority of men, and more likely to be white men than other men in U.S. culture. (We might laugh but even Bill Burr suggested in a standup bit that there’s a racial ceiling on the evil of U.S. men. And yes, women can be violent, just statistically to a far lesser degree, as in not usually rapist or murderous.)

    Systemically, overall, if you look at every mass shooter of over ten people in the U.S., if you look at every top leader in the two largest and scandal-ridden denominations in the U.S. (Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist) as well as the LDS church and virtually every evangelical non-denominational church using the ESV and similar male-skewed translations of the bible, there’s one thing in common. Only males.

    Do we believe Jesus approves and does not judge with righteous judgment the socially abusive sinful currents of the centuries still flooding us in the U.S. today with: The mass murders of children by male shooters at schoolhouses; the male-only pedophile priests (preying mainly on boys) and coverups in the Catholic church; the covered-up sexual abuse (mainly of girls and women) by SBC churches and their exclusively male pastors; the routine sexism escalating to murder of mother and daughter (Brenda and Erica Lafferty) by fundamentalist blood-atonement male LDS priest-holders (as cataloged in Under the Banner of Heaven by book and Hulu mini-series); and the twelve years of unchecked and covered up sexual harassment of women by powerful men at Christianity Today, the evangelical flagship magazine Billy Graham founded?

    Doesn’t all this coming out in the 21st century look like what’s been hidden being revealed, as Jesus prophesied?

    Did Jesus not threaten worse than millstone and depths the sea to anybody who harmed a child? Did Jesus not rant and direct “woe” against hypocrisy and harm caused to regular folks by male leaders granted social status higher up in the hierarchical world? Did Jesus not select a woman to leave the water well and go into town as his first evangelist? Did Jesus not ask that a woman anointing his head (priestly function) be memorialized, the story “in memory of her” told wherever the gospel is preached? Did Jesus not take up the cause of a woman being singled out for stoning without her male counterpart (or rapist, because claimed adultery with seductress labeling is even today an excuse used by male sexual abusers)? Did Jesus not detach with love and take care of himself when he needed to slip through demanding crowds?

    Why aren’t these the tough-love stories we hear most often when we learn about Jesus, if we want truly to love our sisters and brothers, and all the little children? Why is the self-sacrificial love of silence and forgiveness of the unrepentant too often trumpeted by “Christian” male abusers as the claimed biblical duty of those they abuse? We know that this happens. And because we know, to be truly loving we must tell the truth about the power dynamics among “Christians” in and out of churches and households which deserve to be called out, revealed and healed without covering up for the abusers.

    If we leave this piece out of our rhetoric about Christ-centered love, we are not following the teaching and action of Jesus overall, and we participate (inadvertently in caring church communities like Woodland Hills) once again in the age-old story of this fallen world where absolute unequal authoritarian power continues to corrupt.

    If we follow Jesus, the loving questions keep on coming.

    Do we believe Jesus was a Paulinist who intended for any church anywhere to be guided by the misogyny of men only in authority and women only in submission as complementarian evangelicals in the U.S. promote? Do we follow and befriend Jesus as the infinite living Word of God, or do we revere the idol of man-made words including those found in the bible that contradict other words in the bible on the matter of the unsurpassable and entirely equal worth of all people, female and male, that Jesus modeled by what we can know that’s not contradictory about his ministry? Do we acknowledge on our own in lamentation prayer and mystical medication the extent of harm that must be seen and admitted before application of the loving balm of Christ in the crucible of love? Do we stand lovingly as Jesus did for and with the marginalized, or do we paste a smile on oppression to people-please the organizational leadership of this world?

    We’re all called out (“ekklesia”), if willing to hear the call, to love ourselves, love our neighbors, love our enemies, love one another. We love our enemies when we tell the truth, when we admit who’s been hurt by unloving behavior, when we pray for our own and others’ healing, repentance, accountability and reformation without false equivalents about relative degrees of harm and who’s done what.

    This year I pray for God to heal all the misogyny (including “Christian” complementarianism because its male “headship” objectifies girls and women, which inherently leads to males abusing females emotionally, physically and/or spiritually), heal all the racism, heal all the greed-based economic hierarchy, and heal all other behavior contrary to the love of God in myself and everyone else. This is loving one another including ourselves and our enemies, not succumbing to lies.

    Since I’m perfectly imperfect it’s a work in progress, but at least I never pretend that powerfully deceptive religious, business and political leaders harming marginalized people is ever condoned by the compassion and justice of God, the Mother and Father of us all, infinitely beyond our wildest imagination of goodness, and inherently vaster than our naming of Abba, Lord, Shekinah or Ruach.

    If we live in denial and fail to discern harmful behavior to living beings, or worse, cover it up in the name of agape or the abstraction of church “mission,” then we fail to love those on the receiving end of abuse by the powerbrokers of this world that Jesus came to call out and move us past. Only after the truth that sets us free can we hope to achieve mutually respectful loving harmony.

    1. Dan Kent says:

      Really well said, and I agree with almost everything you say here, Jan. And you’re right, I didn’t address many of these things—there’s SO MUCH to address! But Greg will get to these types of issues soon, I am confident. We’re not there yet.

      Thanks for taking the time to reflect on my sermon and put your thoughts so thoroughly and elegantly into words. Feel free to email me if you would like to talk more about this.

  2. Jan says:

    Typos (mea culpa) corrected for comment above:
    … depths of the sea…
    … mystical meditation …

  3. Maggi says:

    Someone can have unsurpassable worth even though their behavior just sucks. Recognizing their worth does not mean that we won’t judge behavior or we won’t try to stop harmful behavior. Sitting in silence or denial while others are being harmed is not love.

    1. Dan Kent says:

      I agree 100% Maggi

      1. Jan says:

        Thanks so much, Dan and Maggi, for your words! Recent grievous well-publicized events, and some personal adverse childhood history that I had thought was fully resolved from Southern Baptist churches, served as catalyst for that loooong comment (words pouring onto the computer screen). After writing it I hoped and prayed all of you at Woodland Hills would know how much I and so many others value the ministry you provide online to people all over the world. Please keep it up! Gratitude and blessings!

        Also I’m going in the prayer and meditation closet to practice via positiva in deeper layers of healing about the SBC that so many affected girls and women like me need to find as well as the men running that hypocrisy-and-horror show that has turned too many souls born to it against wanting anything to do with Jesus or Christianity.

        Much love — to be fully and joyously free to love absolutely and equally as Jesus did — to all of you at Woodland Hills and, grrrrrr, to even the male-headship leadership of the SBC etc. and its ilk, and the world entire, because God so loved it.

  4. Jerry says:

    Dan just loved your sermon!

    What really added new insights for me was the two times you said; How might the disciples respond? How are they going to comfort Jesus in this tough time?

    I believe the 2nd time you added are you kidding me.

    I just wanted to add to your, let’s call it the ongoing (chip and hivish bee saga), something my friend and Greg’s, Al Larson, once said concerning, in Acts 1, the disciple’s last discourse: “They gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” AL does this facetious rendition of Jesus slapping his hand to his forehead saying GO TO YOUR ROOM and I’ll send the Holy Spirit.

  5. Dan says:

    Thanks Jerry. The fact that the gospels and Acts maintain those imperfections, immaturities, and foibles really blows me away and strengthens my conviction that these texts record accurate history. And, beyond that, what great comfort we have that even Jesus’s hand-picked ministry still demonstrated such shocking imperfection.

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