Last Sunday we started a new message series titled “Judgmental Jesus Jerks or How to Find Fault with Others.” Odd – yes. Necessary – absolutely.
There are a several books on the market designed to make us (Christians) aware of how we are viewed by the world beyond the walls of our churches. Frankly, it isn’t a very pretty picture. If you would like to research this for yourself I would recommend reading Dan Kimball’s “They Like Jesus But Not the Church” and Dave Kinnamon’s “Unchristian.” Both of them have conducted extensive interviews with people and the feedback is brutally honest. For the sermon’s purpose, here are the things that I used to set the stage.
First – people who encounter us find us to be hypocritical, homophobic, and judgmental. This is the big three! Second they know exactly what we are against, but not much about what we stand for. Thus the coined phrase from a friend – we are a group of judgmental Jesus jerks!
Rather than talk about topics (i.e. homosexuality, science vs. creation, etc.) I am taking the route of talking about the ways that we show people that we are judgmental. I began with contempt.
I described contempt this way – it is a better than thou attitude; it is uncaring for someone else’s circumstances or story; it is presumptuous in its assessment; and it comes across as a disdain for the other.
I told a story about some friends from way back in my early military days. Back then we were really great friends. I went through training with the husband, we went to our first duty station together (Crete, Greece), we lived in the same apartment building, and we worked in the same business unit. Another tidbit – we came from the same religious tradition and actually attended the same small Baptist college in Springfield, MO. We had a lot in common and we became friends. But after Crete we lost touch with each other – cellphones, email, and Facebook weren’t in play yet so it was easy to lose contact. A couple of years ago I decided to look on Facebook to see if either of them had a page and the husband did – we reconnected and I found out they lived in Texas. While on a business trip with my wife we took time to dinner together and one of the first questions they asked was “why Methodism?” Honestly the question was fine – I have my reasons both theologically and communally for the switch. It was the tone of voice and the contemptuous look that hurt. The impression I was left with was that they weren’t a bit interested in my answer – they wanted me to know that I had made a choice and they believed it was the wrong one – I was judged with contempt and it hurt.
You might know the sting of contempt yourself but the question I want to ask you is have you ever shown contempt for another person, especially regarding your religious views and beliefs?
Jesus tells a story of an uncaring judge – he did not respect God and he did not respect the people he was appointed to serve. One of commentaries said that he was the worst kind of judge to have – a person with power and responsibility but who feels no accountability to execute it. A widow was in need of justice but the judge refused to act – not once, but time and time again. Finally the judge decides that he has to do something before she tarnishes his reputation and puts his position at risk. That was his only motivation – self. Jesus’ point was that God does not delay in hearing our case and dispensing His grace – so keep on praying in faith.
The challenge I presented Sunday and repeat today – do we treat people with contempt delaying justice in our world or are we quick to speak the life-giving message of the gospel?
We live in an imbalanced world – all of us know that injustice is the norm. If you don’t believe me look up the story of a Chinese widow named Meng Zhaoping reported by the AP in April of 2007. She was a widow looking for justice for her son and was treated with contempt by her government. She has yet to receive the justice she was seeking.
Or simply take a look around – there is ample need to be addressed by loving and caring people. One of our ministries that has even greater potential is Baby Grace. We are limited in how we can serve young mothers and grandmothers who are caring for small children at or below poverty level means. If only we could catch a hold of a holy vision from God and let it ignite our souls, we would find it within us to do even more than we ever dreamed possible – especially for these women and their children.
Here is what contempt keeps us from doing – it keeps us from listening to others. Because we feel superior or better than others, we see no need to listen to their story. It is time for us to cast aside contempt – it is time for us to listen to the cry for justice.
Stephen Covey says that we need to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” One of our friends recently quipped that “we should never pass up the opportunity to be silent.” We have to be a people who take time to listen to others, hear their story, and let the grace of God flow from our listening ears, instead of our quick tongues.
So don’t be uncaring and dismissive of others. Listen for the cry and seek justice. Stop and listen so that the caring message of the Gospel might flow to the world.
Have you ever been a recipient of contempt? How did it make you feel?
Have you ever treated someone with indifference or a dismissive attitude?
What do you plan to do to participate in God’s justice for all people?
How can you model this for someone who you influence?
The only way that we will break the cycle of contempt is for us to be silent, take time to listen, and come to know the never-ending search for justice.
I really hope that we start to be known for something other than being judgmental Jesus jerks!
Blessings for the journey!