I’m not sure I can prove it, but Matthew 7:1 might be one of the most quoted verses in America. It’s certainly one of America’s most favorite verses. There are few passages that have had more error in thinking come out of them, I would be willing to put this one in the top ten. We live in a post-modern and post-Christian culture that says in order to be politically correct (PC) and socially acceptable we must be tolerant of all the ideas, words and actions of others. Abortion is a personal choice, homosexuality is a viable alternative lifestyle, the lottery is government approved entertainment, and what people do in private should have no bearing on their public lives and professional positions. To pass judgment on the lifestyles, choices and actions of others is considered the height of arrogance and certainly intolerant and even un-Christian. Who are we to say and by what standard can we say it? The word for the day is tolerance and this is the text. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” The world wants the church to be quiet, to stay out of the public arena, to not make pronouncements. So, they say to us, judge not, don’t judge, never express an opinion about the words or actions of others. We are to be tolerant and quiet. This is a challenging text to understand well and get right. But we have to get this right or we are going to continue to be just as muddled and confused as the world. So, what are we to do with Matthew 7:1? Jesus says do not judge, right? Does it stand by itself as an absolute? Well by itself, we can’t understand it rightly. And the problem with America is it doesn’t know Scripture.
Have any of you ever forgotten anything? Dumb question, right? Of course, we have, we all do. Forgetting is easy and it gets easier as you grow older. Some of us have to go to extra effort not to forget things. We write notes, make lists, write on our hand, tie a string around our finger, put keys in exactly the same place every time so we can find them next time. Certain things in our personal lives are considered so important that we have days to remember them, birthdays, anniversaries, special events. It’s important, we want to remember. This same thing is true in our national life, in our life as a country, there are days too important to forget. Tomorrow is MLK Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day. As Christians we remember Christmas and Easter. We can’t imagine ever forgetting those days. But some important things are being forgotten. There are now generations of Americans who have no clue about the Holocaust, and some deny it even happened. Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, marking the 46th anniversary of the infamous Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion. In some ways abortion has become so commonplace in our culture that it is becoming forgotten, considered old news.
Each generation has its favorite TV shows, for some it was Cheers or Friends or The Office or Parks and Rec or some Netflix series. This will date me but back in my day it was MASH. I saw every episode many times. The setting was an army hospital in South Korea during the Korean war. One of the characters was a Catholic priest, Father Mulcahy. He wasn’t a surgeon or a nurse, so whenever he would ask if there was anything he could do to help they would tell him just to pray and he would respond, “Darn, that’s all they ever let me do.” That line betrays an attitude that many people have about prayer. It reminds me again of the quote of Winston Churchill that I have paraphrased. Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.” We could also say, “You can always count on Christians to pray – after they’ve tried everything else.” The truth of the matter is, in the spiritual realm prayer is actually the greatest and most powerful thing anyone can ever do. As someone has said, when we work, we work. When we pray, God works and there is no greater power than that. But too often it is thought of the way the MASH script writers thought of it. Where is the power in our world? Where does our help come from? Where do we turn, where do we look? Now days Google is god, the all wise dispenser of wisdom and help. I went to Google on Friday and typed in the healing power of …, and got an astonishing list of places to turn for power for healing and help. The healing powers of tea, herbs, ginger, vinegar, honey, lavender, crystals, essential oils, aroma therapy, feng shui, music, laughter, yoga, nature, the sun, the waters of the Ganges River, baking soda, drums, sand, mushrooms, sugar, cats purrs, and the positive thinking. I scrolled through a dozen pages of the 300 million search results and prayer was mentioned exactly once. Today when we hear the words of Psalm 121:1 “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” the answer is not “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We seek wisdom and power and help and healing in knowledge, technology, fashions and fads, in everything in creation, but not from the Creator. What God has created is good and useful, but it was never meant to be primary and replace God and prayer. “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Who is from everlasting to everlasting the same.
The religious leaders hired a lawyer, an expert in the Jewish law to ask Jesus a question that seems relatively simple to us but in those days, it was a matter of huge controversy. Sort of like the immigration debate today. They didn’t ask Jesus this question to find out the answer. They didn’t ask this because they were interested in spiritual things or because they wanted to learn and grow and be better people. This was a question designed to trap Jesus no matter what He said. But they had no idea who they are up against. Instead of exposing Jesus as a fraud, they gave Him the opportunity to give one of the most profound summaries of religion ever given. This is Jesus’ definition of true religion. This is Christianity. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of your life, if you figure this out, you will have figured out life. If you do this, everything else will take care of itself. True religion consists of two things, two sides of the same coin, two inseparable things.