I hate labels, not on food, but on people. Liberal or conservative, progressive or pragmatic, left leaning or right leaning, evangelical Christian or mainline Christian, these labels tell us some things, but not really who we are as a person. Yet the rush to judge people by a label, not necessarily one they gave themselves is all too easy and prejudicial.
The labels we give to groups, organizations or churches are just as judgmental. Are you an ELCA Lutheran or a Missouri Synod Lutheran, are you a Bible believing church or do you just interpret it? Can’t tell you how many times I have heard that one. In Roman 2:1-4, Paul is pretty harsh on those who run to judge, whether a person or group.
As pastor I am held to be accountable to God, the Lutheran Faith Tradition, the ELCA and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. I am called to choose my words wisely, about what I preach and teach as an ordained clergyperson. This is no easy task and, in fact, I find myself using the law instead of preaching the Gospel.
You see the law can lend itself to judgement and condemnation. The Gospel on the other hand speaks of God’s Grace and Forgiveness. Actually the two are supposed to go hand in hand, Martin Luther would say that the law is a mirror for us, to see our imperfections and grace tells us that that is not how God sees us. Because it is through the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of love, that we are seen and loved unconditionally.
Our tendency to judge others by so many imperfect standards is destructive to relationships and community. Sometimes we sneak in our judgement through backhanded compliments; “nice outfit, for last year”. Sometimes we get right in people’s faces telling them that they are inferior to us because of their appearance, their politics or their religious beliefs. We are right and they are wrong, we are good and they are (……..). Is this how Jesus operated? Jesus confronted the wrongdoer when they were wrong, but offered forgiveness, not condemnation. The only folks he called wrongheaded in their roles were those who judged others (Sadducees, Pharisees and Scribes).
I believe we are entering into a time culturally, politically and religiously, when many of us will be asked to take sides against others. Followers of Christ are not called to be neutral. We also are asked to take a side. Who are we to side with? Jesus speaks about being with those who society and religion deem less. Whether he is preaching in the Beatitudes or hanging out with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus takes the side of those who most in need of love, grace and mercy. I want to be on that side as well.