Judging Ourselves, Judging Others

by Sep 17, 2019

Exodus 32:7-14

The People of God worship a Molten Cow

I wonder, how harshly do you judge yourself when you realise you have made a mistake? I am always my own worst critic. But then I think we all have that inner monologue, questioning ourselves, rerunning conversations – thinking of what we should have said, what we should have done.

During our summer holiday, driving over a pass in the lakes I clipped a large rock on the edge of the road. The tyre tore and immediately deflated. We got the car to the side of the road and because there was no jack, so proceeded several hours of having walk up and down the valley, getting help from kind motorists driving past.
Evening plans and plans for the following days had to be changed so we could get the tyre replaced.

I know when I do make mistakes I find it really hard to stop thinking about what I’ve done. It makes me feel all at sea. Of course I am going to make mistakes. We all do – it’s inevitable. But it’s easy to forget that when you are feeling guilty. It’s easy to forget that we are not perfect.

Of course, the only person easier to judge than ourselves is somebody else. How easy it is to see somebody else driving and judge them to be dangerous, or to see somebody being rude and to judge them, without any thought to why they might be behaving like that. What might be going on for them. How they might be experiencing their day, week, or month

We can easily read today’s story from Exodus, of the Israelites raising up a golden cow as if it were the thing that brought them out of Egypt, and see that the Israelites are being pretty foolish, because we have this overall picture, we are with God and Moses in their conversation, looking down on them. But the Israelites are in a dessert, seemingly alone and lost. Desperate to find something which they can lift up as their hope for the future. And a sacred cow has the benefit that it won’t go leading you somewhere you don’t really want to go. But that is the meaning of the sin of idolatry. Lifting up something or someone as God, perhaps yourself, or your abilities.
Forgetting the true place of God in all of this.

We are, it could be said, as a nation, in something of a dessert at the moment. We have reached this apparent impasse, one which has claimed two, perhaps three Prime Ministers as we fight over two sacred cows. The ideal of a flawless, Europe which will save us from Economic destruction. And the ideal of a sovereignty where we can make every decision for ourselves without any concern for others. Both are false idols – neither is quite what any of us imagine it to be. Neither will bring prosperity to all, and whatever does happen at this point, it will require some kind of reconciliation, some kind of repentance. We must be careful what we see as being our ultimate salvation, as individuals or as a nation. And that we aren’t too quick to judge one another, as we might be to judge the Israelites in Exodus.

To Timonthy, Paul writes of his dependence on Jesus’ grace which overflows with faith and love. Paul knows we are all sinners, just like him. There is no space for us to deny our frailty, our idolatry. Paul feels that sin most chiefly. But Paul also knows that in acknowledging it, in turning to face Christ and pray for ourselves and those who we desperately want to Judge, that Jesus will show compassion and mercy.
That Jesus will judge us in a way which truly seeks to restore us to a state of grace,
so that we can be known among the saints, and in the knowledge of the love of God,
Jesus will help us to act with the overflowing love and as we see in Moses’ prayers, if we pray we will find a way to grace & love & patience.

In those times of excessive self-judgement or those moments when I am being least charitable and most judgmental of others, it is prayer which lifts me out in those times when I am struggling most with guilt and self-blame, or with feeling judgement for others. Prayer helps us to remember our dependence on God. It also helps us to sympathise, to hear others and to remember what is happening for them. That is why prayer and listening are perhaps the two very important things we can offer this country.

In the Gospel Jesus tells these parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin because he knows we all feel a bit lost. The distance which sin puts between us and God is like the wilderness that the sheep is lost in, or the dusty corner in which the coin is hidden. Jesus knows that for us, like for the sheep and the coin, it can feel hopeless as we think we need to find ourselves. But it is Christ alone who finds us, if we listen.

Like the Israelites lifting up their cow, like us when we forget the place of God in our lives, when we forget the love God has for us. So Christ values each one of us, and each of the people out there. Christ values each one of us so much that he will put aside all the rest to seek us out, even if we don’t think we are worth it, even when we think it is up to us to be found. So perhaps what we need to do is find a way of trusting God, of praying, for God’s kingdom, and that Christ would pour out his grace and mercy upon us.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

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