For Church Officers

This sermon written for Third Presbyterian Church on February 20, 2023 for the installation of church officers

Matthew 7:1-7 NRSV Updated Edition

Judging Others

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Profaning the Holy

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

Ask, Search, Knock

“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

We’ve all been told that judging others is not a good thing and yet we are all prone to do just that.  In fact, if we pay attention and are honest with ourselves, we notice specific flaws in people.  And it’s those flaws, the flaws we notice repeatedly, we should pay close attention to.  Because if it bothers you in someone else, it’s because you are seeing something in them that you don’t like about you.  The flaws I see in others are the ones that I hate the most within myself.  Sometimes these are called shadows.  

At CREDO, a conference for new pastors, I learned that shadows show up with things that we aspire to be or that are positive attributes about ourselves.  For example, when I’m striving to make my work beautiful, good, and true, I can get too caught up in it and end up in my shadow side which is perfectionism.  For me, the shadow shows up when I go too far.  You may have heard the clique ‘perfect is the enemy of good’ and that is true in my life.  The strive for perfection can really ruin a project or a relationship or a situation that was already good.  And the way I know that I am in the shadow of perfection, is that I hear my inner thoughts saying, ‘this isn’t good enough’ or ‘didn’t try hard enough’ or something along the lines of ‘not enough’.  “Not enough” is the judgment I pronounce on myself and others.  When I hear myself judging others, I know it’s because my ego is trying to hide that I am feeling like I’m performing inadequately and that I am the one who is not enough.  I am afraid that other people will see me as ‘not enough’.  Now that I have done some work with my shadows, I know that when this happens, I need to be gentler with myself and others, and keep my wounded ego in check.  And what I know from my shadow work, is that “not enough” is a common feeling and judgement.  So, maybe this is a shadow that haunts you too.  

I get a daily devotional email from the Center for Action and Contemplation.  Recently, I read a meditation on today’s passage written by Richard Rohr.  If you don’t know him, this is the brief bio on his website “Franciscan friar and ecumenical teacher, Father Richard Rohr bears witness to the deep wisdom of Christian mysticism and traditions of action and contemplation. Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Father Richard teaches how God’s grace guides us to our birthright as beings made of Divine Love.”

I want to share with you an expert of the devotion about Jesus exposing shadows.  

“The shadow is that part of the self that we don’t want to see, we don’t want others to see, and of which we’re always afraid. Our tendency is to try to hide it or deny it, even and most especially from ourselves. 

Archaic religion and most of the history of religion has seen the shadow as the problem. Such religion is about getting rid of the shadow. This is the classic example of dealing with the symptom instead of the cause. We cannot really get rid of the shadow. We can only expose its game—which is, in great part, to get rid of its effects.

Jesus and the prophets deal with the cause, which is the ego. Our problem is not our shadow self as much as our over-defended ego, which always sees and hates its own faults in other people, and thus avoids its own conversion.

Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye,” which you invariably see as the “splinter in your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:3–5). Jesus’ advice is absolutely perfect: “Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye.” He does not deny that we should deal with evil, but we had better do our own inner housecleaning first—in a most radical way, which he will later even hyperbolically describe as plucking out our eye (Matthew 18:9). If we do not see our own “plank,” it is inevitable that we will hate it elsewhere.

The genius of Jesus is that he wastes no time on repressing or denying the shadow. In that, he is a classic prophet, one of those who does not merely expose the denied shadow of Israel, but instead attacks the real problem, which is the ego and arrogance of Israel and people misusing power. Once we expose the shadow for what it is, its game is over. Its effectiveness entirely depends on disguise (see 2 Corinthians 11:14) and not seeing the plank in our own eye. Once we see our own plank, the “speck” in our neighbor’s eye becomes inconsequential.

Jesus is not too interested in moral purity because he knows that any preoccupation with repressing the shadow does not lead us into personal transformation, empathy, compassion, or patience, but invariably into denial or disguise, repression or hypocrisy. Isn’t that rather evident? Immature religion creates a high degree of cognitively rigid people or very hateful and attacking people—and often both. It is almost the public image of Christianity today, yet God’s goal is exactly the opposite.”

After Jesus tells us to do our shadow work, he says this:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

I think Jesus adds this phrase for those of us who are always tempted to do too much (because we’re so afraid of not doing enough).  We are supposed to be critical thinkers too.  We shouldn’t meekly give and give and be so non-judgmental that others can take advantage of us or hurt us.

Do not continue to be generous to those who hurt you or are hostile to your message.  Know the difference between being extravagantly compassionate and being a doormat for others to walk all over.  Or if the person is constantly ignoring your efforts to befriend them or share good news with them, find another door to knock on. 

In the next section of today’s text, Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

This is traditionally interpreted as a command to be persistent in prayer.  And considering the texts that come before that, I want to say yes, be persistent and keep your eyes open.  When you pray for God to reveal how you are to serve, keep your eyes open for opportunities and pay attention.  Is God asking you to be nonjudgmental and compassionate or is God showing you that your pearls, your gifts, your hard work is being wasted and that you should part ways and look for a new door to knock on.  The place that is meant for you will be open to you.  Ask and receive it, search for it, and find it, and don’t be afraid to knock on the door of opportunity.  

Since we are ordaining and installing church officers today, here is my unsolicited advice for church leaders:

Serve in the way Jesus instructs his disciples.  Do your shadow work.  Don’t judge harshly.  Be gentle with others.  And have good boundaries so you can be gentle with yourself too. 

When you are pursuing what God has called you to do or proclaiming the message God has laid in your heart and someone attacks you for it, move on.  Be kind to them, but don’t continue to give them the best of you.  Or if they ignore your efforts or fail to see the value of your work, find another door to knock on.  Your God given gifts are valuable, there is a place for you in God’s mission in this world.  

Ask, search, knock.  Pray continually.  If the answer is no, move on.  If the door is locked move on.  Keep looking.  Keep praying.  Keep following the call of God.  Keep communicating with God and each other.  Eventually, the right door will open.  Do not be afraid to knock.  

Serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.  And take care of yourself, find rest, and rely on those who are serving with you for support and love.  The beauty of the work of the church is that we are not alone.  We will do this work together.  

I thank God for each of our officers and their individual gifts and for the collective gifts of this community.  May this new class of officers invigorate us for the mission to which God is calling us.  Amen.

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