Sermon given at Evensong on the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity 2018

How we judge others says far more about us, than how we are judged by others.

The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 16th September 2018 at 3.00 PM

Just a few moments ago, Jonty and Alex, William and Charles, Edward and Louis, James and Freddie received their surplices, and following their probationary period, Michael and Freddie, James, Edward and Sam have been installed today as Choristers.

Musical evidence has been evaluated, and considered decisions have been made. Most crucially judgement has taken place regarding their ability and potential and we wish them every happiness and success in music making at this wonderful Abbey.

On this subject of judgement, you will recall exactly ten years ago, poor financial judgement led to an unsafe financial system that caused financial crisis and economic disaster.

Global production plummeted, the number of people who lost their jobs soared, and governments around the world used taxpayers’ money to save banks from failure in order to prevent a global depression.

Since the crisis, the Bank of England, the Treasury and others, through good financial judgement, have been building a safer system.

In the most part, we have all found that it has been notoriously difficult to judge others. We have all learnt that when judgment is applied the courts rightly demand a rigorous process of evaluating evidence, to ensure that deceptive appearances and biases do not distort the truth.

Out of the financial crisis came two important institutional innovations: Firstly, the Bank of England is now supervising individual banks and building societies. Secondly the Financial Policy Committee and is actively monitoring risks in the system that could cause future problems.

As with financial systems, so many things in life rely on good judgement, and we often find ourselves in situations where there are no clear right or wrong answers. Our final decisions invariably come down to a matter of informed judgement.

There are lots of examples of good judgement, and bad judgement, in current affairs right now, and like financial instability, it’s more complicated than just asking if someone has broken a law.

When we come to the decision making process, some tend to be more cerebral and go through a thorough critical thinking process, whereas others just follow their gut feeling. However we handle it, our past experiences inevitably impact upon our decision-making process.

Keeping a rigorous and informed ethical compass, definitely helps us see things in a more objective way, and helps us reach sound decisions. The more we know ourselves before God, the better we are able to understand why at times we are objective and why at times we are biased.

You will recall Jesus’ warning: ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get’.

I am afraid this teaching of Jesus is often widely misunderstood. A common, and very contemporary, interpretation is just do not judge me. What is interesting is that this way of seeing things is the inverse application of Jesus’s lesson.

Jesus is not telling others not to judge us; he is telling us not to judge others. What others do is not our primary concern; what we do is our primary concern. So in other words, watch out: judge at your own risk.

We know this because he goes on to talk about the speck that is in your brother’s eye, and the log that is in your own eye. How we judge others says far more about us, than how we are judged by others.

This is intended to give us serious pause for thought, to first examine ourselves before saying anything. Remember, God had two measures by which he assesses us, the measure of justice and the measure of mercy.

It may be that Jesus is using this understanding to drive home his point that the measure we use, of these two, will be applied to us. For example, take the investment banker who knowingly past on dodgy financial instruments. How do we react?

If we measure him by justice alone, we will be very critical and condemning. But that measure will then be turned on us: How truthful are we? How often do we slant reports and stories to make a point or earn favour?

Ever since the time of Christ, humanity has looked up to and revered Christian values. These virtues have shaped our culture, and characterised society.

Of course, we all want to be treated justly, we all want our friends to judge us as being loyal, we want to be treated kindly and honestly, we want others to judge us as considerate and compassionate.

Above all, we want to be seen to act with integrity. ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets’. (Matthew 7.12). And yet, what better way to tell people to mind their own business than to quote Jesus?

People who hardly ever read the Bible are quick to quote from this afternoon’s reading when they want to silence someone whose opinion they do not like. ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged’, seems like the perfect response.

Yet, in context, the passage indicates that we are indeed to judge; we are to confront the greedy financier, or as the Archbishop recently said, be sceptical of those who accumulate power.

The thing is, we are just supposed to avoid faulty judgments. But most importantly, our judgments are to begin with ourselves: ‘First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye,’ Jesus said.

He then said, ‘Beware of false prophets’. This too requires judging, we need to be able to discern truth from falsehood. Jesus later used the metaphor of fruit to give us the proper criteria for judging. ‘Thus you will know them by their fruits’.

We are to judge people, including ourselves, by the quality of the fruit they produce. This fruit cannot be judged by earthly values, such as how good we look or how financially successful we are.

It must be judged by heavenly values, the fruit of the Spirit produced within us, love, joy, peace. Our tendency is to judge by appearance; but God judges by what we produce, and so should we.