The texts for this sermon (I Kings 21:1-21 and Luke 7:36-8:3) are found at the end of the sermon.
One thing I have always wanted to do, but have never done is to serve on a jury. I have been called for jury duty, but for various reasons I was never selected to actually sit on a jury. I wonder, sometimes, if I was always rejected for jury duty because I was a pastor. Did the defense attorney think that I would be too judgmental? Did the prosecuting attorney think I would not be judgmental enough?
The idea of judging whether someone is guilty or innocent of a crime is a daunting task, and honestly I wonder how I do at it.
No one wants to be thought of as judgmental. If you were to ask me about a person, and I said, “Oh, they are very judgmental” you’re not going to take that as a compliment. If someone described First Presbyterian as very judgmental church, I would not be happy to hear it.
On the other hand…
On the other hand, I hear the story of Ahab and Naboth and I have to admit, I feel a bit judgmental there. I want to be able to say that Ahab has done a terrible thing. He had Naboth killed so he could take over his vineyard. And when the prophet says, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood,” I kind of like hearing that. I don’t want to think that Ahab will get away with it. Imagine if the story ended like this: Elijah confronts Ahab by saying, “Ahab, you have done a horrible thing. But, who am I to judge? God be with you!” I, for one, would find that to be a very unsatisfactory ending! I want Ahab to get his just desserts.
Angelee and I recently watched a wonderful TV series produced by the same fellow who did Downton Abbey. It is based on an Anthony Trollope novel, Dr. Thorne. The plot is pretty simple. Frank loves Mary. Mary loves Frank. But Frank comes from an aristocratic family that is going broke, and they need Frank to marry money. And Mary, who Frank loves, is just a poor girl, with no resources.
So Frank’s Mother and Aunt proceed to make sure that Frank does not wed Mary. They ban Frank from seeing Mary, they do everything they can to make sure that Frank meets a rich girl, and falls in love with her. But Frank refuses, and proposes to Mary. Aunt and mother go to Mary and convince her to break off the engagement. Frank will never be happy if he loses the estate and ends up a poor man. Mary breaks off the engagement.
And right after she does, she learns she is the heiress of a great fortune. One of the most satisfying moments of the novel and the movie is when Franks’ mother brags that she has convinced Mary to break off the engagement, and then immediately learns that Mary is the heir to this great fortune. It is a satisfying moment because the mother gets her just desserts. She is a money seeking snob, and ends up hoisted on her own petard.
It is satisfying because we like to see people reap the consequences of the evil they sow.
So I have to admit that when I say that people should not be judgmental, I have more than a few exemptions. I am in fact very judgmental over Ahab, and over Frank’s mother in Dr. Thorne, and in fact if I am honest I believe there is a special place in hell for people who are racists, bigots, evil, unfeeling, greedy, snobbish, for people who take advantage over the less fortunate, for people who parade their ignorance as a badge of pride, for people who think disco is an acceptable musical form, and for people who think the designated hitter rule and lights at Wrigley Field were a good idea.
Now I say this tongue in cheek, but in fact as much as I don’t want to think of myself as judgmental, in many ways I am.
In the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera The Mikado, Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner sings about a list he has. It is a list of people he thinks are worthy of execution. Every since this opera has been performed, these lyrics change to reflect the fashions and prejudices of the day.
The original lyrics go something like this:
There’s the banjo serenader, and the others of his race,
And the piano-organist — I’ve got him on the list!
And the people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face,
They never would be missed — they never would be missed!
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
That’s the original, but there are plenty of updated versions:
There’s the driver with the Happy Meal who’s talking on the phone,
The careless motorist, I’ve got him on the list!
The telephone solicitors who won’t leave you alone,
They never would be missed, they never would be missed!
There’s the waiter with the piercings, who can put you off the food,
Debaters on the radio who specialize in rude,
The patriot who waves the flag, then flies it in the rain,
American’s who never vote but know how to complain,
The fact is, we all have our lists. Yours is probably different from mine, but we all have lists. Some of the things on the list are pretty legitimate, and others are just based on personal prejudices.
But just because everyone has one does not make it right. Let’s look at the Gospel story to help us get a better handle on this topic. Jesus is at a dinner party at a Pharisee’s house. The party was probably thrown for Jesus, and the finest of people are there to meet this bright, up and coming preacher. But before the party even starts, this woman comes barging in, uninvited. She takes an expensive bottle of perfume, and pours it on Jesus’ feet, then washes his feet with the perfume and her tears, and she starts to dry his feet with her hair.
Now if just anyone did that, it would be slightly embarrassing, but to make matters worse, this woman appears to be a prostitute. By everyone’s judgment, this woman has no right to be at this party, and certainly should not be monopolizing the time of the guest of honor. This is positively a scandal to everyone there—everyone but Jesus.
He’s not embarrassed at all. He does not judge her; in fact, he judges Simon, his host. To Simon Jesus is an interesting dinner guest, maybe even someone he can show off to his friends—“Guess who I have over to dinner at my house this week?” Simon feels no debt to Jesus; he has no real connection to Jesus and he treats him accordingly. But this woman…Jesus has saved her soul, perhaps saved her life. He has rescued her from a life as a pariah and unlike all the other men in her life, he does not seek to use and abuse her, but to show her the value of her own life. Is it any wonder then that she reacts with such passion?
Simon sees her and judges her as a prostitute. His main concern is for Jesus’ dignity. “If he knew what kind of woman this was, he would not let her even come close to him.” In fact she is exactly the type of person Jesus wants close to him. She, and other lost souls, she and other damaged people, she and other sinners are the type of people Jesus came to save.
Now the irony here is that Simon does not see himself as a sinner. He thinks he is justified in judging this woman. He thinks he is above her, and this is exactly what puts him in the need of forgiveness.
It is easy, it is too easy to judge other people. When I moved into a house in Durham, North Carolina, I had two next door neighbors. On the south side was an African-American family and on the north side there was an older, single woman. I met the family first, and they were very nice and ended up being very good neighbors. About a week after than I met my other neighbor. We talked for a bit, and then she said, “You know what lives next to you, don’t you.” Not who, mind you, but what. I said I had met them, and they seemed very nice. But I was very put off by the racist remark she made. To me she was just an old, racist, southern white bigot.
And I wrote her off. I basically ignored her. That went on for a few years. Until one day I came home, and heard a strange noise at the back of her house. I almost ignored it, like I ignored everything else that went on over there, but this time I overcame my feelings and went over to check on what was going on.
She had fallen walking up the step of on her back stoop, and had hurt herself pretty badly. Nothing was broken, but she needed some medical attention so I spend the next few hours helping her. I got her inside, offered to call her son. “He won’t come,” she said. “He only comes when he needs money.” I got to know her, and her life a little more. I got to see her as a human being—hurt, bitter, rejected by her children, angry, and yes, racist. But a human being. Was I any better than she was, all those years I ignored her? She was a person, and I lost sight of that.
This is not to say I should just blindly accept her racism. But it means I see that she was more than just a racist. She was a lonely woman, ignored by her children, and left to fend for herself in a world that was not always very kind to her. She was every bit as complex a human being as I am.
The judgment of God…that is the topic of this sermon. What is the judgment of God? The judgment of God is love.
Jesus said, in Matthew 7 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”
The judgment you make will be the judgment with which you will be judged. If I am going to be judged, I want to be judged by someone who loves me. Which means when it comes to me judging, I need to judge with love.
Every week, when we say the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” In other words we ask to be forgiven to the extent we are able to forgive.
I want Ahab to get his just desserts, but is that my responsibility? I like to see it when the right people get their comeuppance, but the fact is there are times when I probably deserve a comeuppance. If I want to be judged by love, then I must act with love.
1 Kings 21:1-21a
1Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” 3But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” 4Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.
5His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” 6He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.'” 7His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
8So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. 9She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; 10seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” 11The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. 13The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. 14Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”
15As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
17Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: 18Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”
20Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, 21I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel;
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” 41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
1Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.