Cheers! We need not judge.
by Jacob Juncker
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, February 3, 2013.
Over the last two weeks we’ve been singing the theme song to the popular television sitcom, Cheers. By now you are, I’m quite sure, familiar with the song, but did you know that it has more than one verse? In fact, there are three. Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo wrote three verses to the song:
“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.” And, sometimes you just “wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same…” What if the church were that place? Let’s pray…
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
“You know what really bothered me?” the young woman, Lisa, confessed during a recent interview [with the Barna Group]…
“Well, you’re asking how Christians come across to me. [she continued] I’ll tell you. A few weeks ago I visited a Christian Bible study at a church. Every once in a while I go because I know a few of the women. You know, I am still trying to figure out this Jesus thing. After the speaker talked for a while, we started a conversation at our table—about eight or nine of us women just chatting away. I was probably the youngest one there, but some of them were about my age. We got along pretty well…
“We were talking about sex, intimacy, and pregnancy, stuff like that. I told them about a friend of mine who was considering an abortion. I told them her entire situation, a twenty-year-old, boyfriend left her. She’s feeling really alone. I made some comment about really empathizing with my friend, that I could understand that abortion might make sense. I guess that shocked them. I know the women there are pro-life and all—I don’t know what I am, pro-life or pro-choice or just myself. But the conversation shifted at that point in a really weird way. Instead of having a dialogue, I was put on the defensive. They were nice enough about it, but the ladies just kept talking at me, trying to fix my attitude about abortion.”
Lisa paused and softened her tone. “And here is the part that bothered me, something I never told them. What they didn’t know is that I had an abortion—a long time ago. It was not an experience I would wish on anyone. But I can feel my friends dilemma because I lived it. I am not sure the Christians I hung out with that morning get that.
“I guess the truth is I was hoping for some empathy myself.”
This interview, found in the book– UNchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters—illustrates well one of the most prevalent criticisms of the modern-day church. “Nearly nine out of ten young outsiders (87 percent) said that the term judgmental accurately describes present-day Christianity. This was one of the big three—the three most widely held negative perceptions of Christians (along with being antihomosexual and hypocritical). Just to put this in practical terms, when you introduce yourself to a [teenager or] twentysomething neighbor, and you mention your faith, chances are he or she will think of you as judgmental.” It doesn’t matter how kind you are, your motives will be questioned and their words will be guarded. And, you know, the sad thing is……it’s not just people outside the church. Over half of the churchgoing young persons (15-29 year olds) that the Barna Group interviewed said that they believe the label judgmental accurately described the modern-Church too.
Oh how far we’ve strayed from being a place where people come to see that their troubles are all the same…and…
Our troubles really are all the same.
My father used to say it this way (cleaned up, mind you, for Sunday morning): “everybody’s ‘poo’ stinks.” We all have those parts of our lives that stink, that we’d rather not talk about. We all struggle with the same temptations: lust, over-indulgence (gluttony), greed, indifference (sloth), unbridled anger (wrath), jealousy (envy), and pride.
Our troubles really are all the same.
It doesn’t matter your age, your title, your political or religious affiliation… It doesn’t matter if you attend church, are a Muslim, a Jew or an Atheist… …we all struggle with the same things because it doesn’t matter who you are “making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got;” and we all falter. We all make mistakes.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said it this way, we “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23, New Revised Standard Version). We’re all broken no matter how good we might be at making people think otherwise. All of us struggle. We all fail. We all have our moments that we’d rather forget. We all sin: we all do things that draw people further and further away from each other and God. We all, writes Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, have our troubles.
Jesus was trying to make that very point in our Gospel lesson for today “don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matthew 7:1, NRSV). I really like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message. He paraphrases Jesus, saying:
7 1-5 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.
Jesus reminds us in this passage that my troubles are not any more significant or trivial than your troubles. Your temptations, failures, struggles are no more or less significant than my temptations, failures and struggles. Our troubles really are the same, therefore we should not, says Jesus, judge one another.
He’s offering us a lesson in perspective. If we’d simply examine ourselves, the speck in our own eye would look like a log compared to the splinter in our neighbor’s eye.
It’s unfortunate really that we—the people who seek to follow Jesus Christ—are known by that which Jesus commanded us not to do. Jesus very plainly tells us not to judge. Yet, judgemental is a word that, according to most in- and outside the church, describes us well. So, how do we overcome this perception?
First, we must admit that we are, at times, judgmental. It doesn’t do any good for us to deny it. The truth will surely set us free. We must be honest with ourselves and others that there are times when we are way more eager to point out other people’s problems, rather than deal with our own. We’ve got to admit that oftentimes we’re more critical than gracious in our interactions with each other.
We can’t continue to pretend like the church is a place [marked by love–remember, that’s how Jesus wanted us to be known, look it up in John 13:34-35–] if fundamentally we kick to the curb [or discount] those within our very own community who screw up. If we can’t forgive pastors, leaders, and friends, then how could we possibly begin to forgive others? [… If we’re going to be a place known for our love and acceptance of each other, instead of a place of judgment, then] We must begin by loving each other, forgiving each other, and carrying each other’s burdens, especially when we fail. When a brother or sister is steamrolled by life, we don’t run from them, we rally around them.
Secondly, we must engage with the people whom we have been taught to stay away from for too long. We must boldly enter into the environments where [God’s love] flourishes and does its best work. Christian insulation and a safe life are not what you and I signed up for when we said we would follow Jesus. He was never insulated from people’s pain, and he sure didn’t keep to safe places. He engaged with those who were being crushed by their mistakes and bad choices. Jesus wiped away the tears of the prostitutes, held the hands of the outcasts, and touched the wounds of the sick and the crazy. He hung with the not-so-perfect people of the world and showed them what Christianity was all about [forgiveness, love, and support]. He was never concerned about a person’s title, society’s name tag, or the sign on their place of work. [Prostitutes] or preachers, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t mean a rip to God.
Our troubles really are all the same. God doesn’t look at me any differently than he looks at you or any other person. God knows we’ve all made our fair share of mistakes. And, God offers God’s love anyway. That’s good news. Now let’s try to live it.
May we be a place where each and every one of us realize that our troubles aren’t all that different; in fact, they really are the same. May we be a place where we search for the potential instead of problems. May we be a place where we take Jesus’ words seriously and do more self-evaluation instead of criticizing others. May we be a place marked by love instead of judgment.
May we be more like Cheers. Cheers!
 David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, UNchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2007), p181-182.
 UNchristian, p182-183.
 UNchristian, p183.
 Matthew 7:1-5, The Message. Emphasis added.
 UNchristian, 201-203.