“Why God Is the Only Judge”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – November 26, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 32:1-8; Luke 15:11-24

    Throughout our lives, we have been exposed to the judgments of other people.  Unless we have lived in the solitude of a cave, it is safe to say that all of us have been the subject to people's observations.   

    Why is it that people feel the need to comment on our talents, looks, hair style, what we are wearing, habits, or our achievements unless their comments are affirming, positive and supportive? 

    One time at a parent/teacher conference, my fourth grade teacher said to my mother, "Dick is struggling, but he is doing the best that he can." Sometimes we wonder how we ever survived with our self-esteem in tact. 

    In the world of Facebook-users, among the aspects of this platform for socializing is the ability to register likes and dislikes for what a friend has posted.  Many teens have their feelings crushed when their postings rate a thumb's down.

    Judging others has been part of the human condition since the earliest recorded stories of human interaction.  It was a natural-extension that Biblical writers adopted the same ritual of judging when it came to describing the nature of God. 

    The Jews attributed everything that happened in their history as an act of God because they believed that they were God's Chosen People.  When Jews went through several rough patches of a military defeat or being carried off into captivity, Jewish authors recorded the prophets as saying, "God is punishing you because you had turned away from the Lord."  (Malachi 3:7)

    Right out of the starting gate of God's created order, the editor of Genesis characterized God as condemning the snake for tempting Eve, punishing Eve for eating the fruit and cursing Adam for listening to his wife when he knew the rules.  (Genesis 3:14f).

    Eve eventually bore two sons, Cain and Abel.  When the boys offered thanksgiving sacrifices to God, God was pleased with Abel's offering of a lamb, but God rejected Cain's offering of his crops. (Genesis 4:3f) No explanation is provided why God rejected Cain's offering other than he had done the wrong thing without ever defining what that was. 

    Cain became so angry with God that he killed his brother.  God cursed Cain for doing so, causing him to wander the earth homeless.   God removed from him his skill as a farmer. Nothing Cain planted would ever grow again. (Genesis 4:12)

    It is not surprising that these and countless other episodes in the Scriptures clearly demonstrate why Biblical writers became accustomed to interpreting the nature of God in this fashion.  We were created in the image of God.  What was assumed by writers was that God had human emotions accompanied by vast power.  This allowed authors to create God in their own image. 

    Under normal circumstances, readers would assume that these writers completely misunderstood the actual nature of God, particularly in light of what Jesus began teaching.  After all, they were primitive in their thinking.

    However, normal thinking was not possible. A group of Christian leaders in the early Roman Church, for political purposes, declared the Bible to be the Word of God. After that declaration, no one to the present time dared to challenge what now has become a cherished belief among most Christians. By this pronouncement, the Bible achieved divine status.  

    Christian leaders from the earliest days followed the same belief-structure as their counterparts in Judaism.  Fear has always been at the heart of the salvation message by Evangelicals. For many Christians, certain beliefs are absolutely necessary for a person to be saved from the allure of the material world.

    Jonathan Edwards was one of the prominent preachers of the 18th Century during the period of history known as The Great Awakening.  He threatened his New England congregation with these words while preaching on the necessity of repentance:

The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and an arrow has been made ready on the string.  Justice bends the bow, straining the string with an arrow that is pointed at your heart. It is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, without any promise or obligation at all, which keeps the arrow one moment away from being made drunk with your blood. 

    Such imagery can cause people to make a hasty dash to the altar begging God to be merciful to them. However, in the centuries that followed, men and women began to awaken to the realization that they were far more tolerant, forgiving and patient with others than was God. 

    Since living was already filled with many challenges, people did not come to their churches to be lectured by a pastor's thundering words about a judgmental and intolerant God.  Church attendance began to dwindle throughout Europe as people filled their lives with what was far more satisfying.  

    What happened to change this unloving, intolerant characterization of God?  We are about to enter a season that describes what caused God's nature to radically change. Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent.  With the arrival of Jesus, the nature and character of God changed dramatically. Jesus literally abandoned the war-god of Yahweh.  However, even Jesus struggled in his attempts to change centuries of teaching that God was tyrannical, moody and judgmental. 

    It has been clearly demonstrated by today's scholars that the Scribes of the New Testament scrolls changed the words of the Biblical writers to conform with the fear-based thinking of Rome. Thus, in spite of the many teachings of Jesus to the contrary, much of the New Testament was flavored with the Old Testament's understanding of God. 

    Jesus taught, "As misguided as you are, you know how to give good things to your children.  How much more will God give good gifts to his children?" (Matthew 7:11) 

    Jesus repeatedly warned people not to make judgments about anyone, "First, take the log out of your own eye," Jesus said, "and then you will see clearly how to remove the speck from the eyes of others."  (Matthew 7:5) 

    In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus taught his followers to practice the Golden Rule when it comes to forgiving others. (Matthew 6:12) He also taught his followers never to be offended by the attitudes and behavior of others.  This is who they are and the present stage of their spiritual evolution.  Who are we to judge anyone without ever experiencing what formed their responses? 

    Jesus taught that there is no limit to the forgiveness of God because no one is powerful enough to offend God. God does not personalize how we behave so there is nothing for God to forgive. (Matthew 18:22) Individuals are simply people who live on different levels of awareness.

    The crown jewel of Jesus' teaching, however, came in his story of the Prodigal Son.  With this parable, Jesus attempted to liberate believers from ever being afraid of God. 

    The farmer's son was so attracted to what the outside world offered that he left the farm and lived his life having fun spending his inheritance.  Life's built-in consequences eventually began to interrupt his happy days. In time, his wealth was gone, friends were gone, popularity was gone, and he found himself eating the food that was being fed to the pigs. 

    He came home and was greeted by a very judgmental father.  In this case, however, his father's judgments were filled with patience, forgiveness and joy.  "My son who was lost has gained understanding and has come home."  (Matthew 15:24) A robe and sandals were brought and a ring was placed on his finger.  The family and staff of the farm celebrated with a feast.

    The people, who have withstood the onslaught of the witness of fear-based preaching and have survived, know God as their most valued, trusted and intimate friend.  We learn from Jesus that the Creator of the universe has not lost our file.  We learn from the Apostle Paul that God's love is beyond our understanding regardless of what we have created throughout lives by our thoughts, feelings and our drama. (Ephesians 3:19)

    Last Tuesday, I told the Bible Study class about my continued love-affair with one of our feral cats.  She comes running toward me everyday and affectionately winds herself around my feet. She communicates, "I love you. I love you. I love you." I am never fooled by what I want to believe about her. She comes running because I have her food. My presence while she eats prevents the Kiskadees from dive bombing her, hoping to chase her away so they can eat her dry food.

    However, after she is finished eating, she walks away from me and goes out into the garden, sits with her back toward me as she cleans up after her feast. Finally, she walks back into the thicket surrounding the garden, never looking back. My existence in her life ceases to be relevant once her appetite is satisfied.  

    A similar episode occurred while on vacation one year.  Lois, our children and I pulled into a McDonald's for lunch. As I was backing out of my parking space to continue our journey, I stopped the car. Everyone asked, "Why are you stopping?" 

    My eyes had spotted a large night-crawler worm heading in the wrong direction on the scorching asphalt parking lot. The worm would have died a painful death. I got out of the car, picked up the worm and tossed it into the moist grass that had just been watered by a sprinkler system. 

    Think about this.  If I can respond this way to being ignored by a cat and by a clueless, blind worm heading in the wrong direction, how much more loving is God toward each of us?  

    This is why God is the only judge that matters.  God's love is not being tested; we are!  God has allowed us to live in this material venue to see how we do with the limited power we have been granted during our brief lifespan. God does not need to judge us.  We are the ones who judge how we did once we graduate from living here.

    God's arms are always wide open in the same spirit that the farmer welcomed his son.  This is the message that Jesus came to share with humanity. God's spirit has not matured.  What has matured is how some followers of Jesus have chosen to understand God's universal, uncompromising love. 

    What we see, however, always depends on what is happening inside of us.  We need to be patient with ourselves.  We need to remember that we are a work in progress.  We are creatures that are constantly evolving.  We never see things as they are, we see things as we are.

    What very few human beings understand is how intense God's loving energy actually is.  God would never allow us to be born into an environment where our eternal destiny would be up to us.  We can't even find our way around Bermuda even though some of us have been born here. 

    Why would God expect us to navigate in life flawlessly when the purpose is to see how we do with our decision-making when faced with alternatives that are equally seductive. What we should never doubt is God's faithfulness to us.



Merciful God, we thank you for loving us while also being flexible in allowing us to mature in spirit when we are ready to do so.  In your wisdom you allow us to struggle so we learn to prize growth. You gave us the ability to question everything so that we might develop an informed faith.  You gave us the church so that we might support each other’s spiritual journey. So often our community of faith helps us to remember who we are by remaining focused on our purpose and meaning for being alive.  Help us to carry ourselves as people of hope. Help us to be people whose trust in you enables us to share our vision of the world that you designed for all people to enjoy.  Amen.                           



Thank you, God, for a new day and for our desire to draw apart from the world for just a little while.  Often during our experiences here, we become committed to a path that will continue to refine our spirits, attitudes and desires.  Feeling close to you, O God, can help us let go of a preoccupation that we have carried for a long time.

There are times when we discover that many of the habits we have learned over time no longer serve the way we have chosen to communicate.  What a joy it is to realize that we can become a new person without looking back to moments in our past that once defined us.  We have learned that regrets serve no purpose other than to support our resolve to grow beyond them.  Thank you for helping us to realize that no time spent on changing how we think has been wasted.  Every experience that has brought us to this point has been a valuable rung on our ladder as we climb toward our destiny. 

    As our inner world grows beyond our neediness and material desires, guide our spirits to love without counting the cost. Allow us to understand the tension when our understanding of generosity confronts the needs of self, when our understanding of serving others is challenged by our busy schedule and when our understanding of wholesome living is met by our perception that we are never good enough.  Teach us to understand that being your son or daughter is a fact and not a status that we can earn.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .