February 10, 2019 Sermon

“Judge Less, Grow More”                                                                                  Matthew 7:1-14, 24-29
Rev. Sean Weston                                                                                                                           
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
February 10, 2019

A few months ago, I left my glasses in my office before coming out to lead worship. I realized pretty early on, but decided to muddle through. I’m near-sighted, so I was able to see everything I needed to see okay. But there was a pretty big challenge: when I looked out at you, your faces were just blurry blobs. I could guess who was who, but I couldn’t see your faces! This was quite disturbing to me for many reasons, not just because I like looking at you. Leading worship and preaching was completely different! After all, in worship your facial expressions and body language provide me almost all of the feedback I get to make some guesses about how things are going for you. Is the service meaningful? Is my sermon connecting? I had no idea. All I could see was blurry blobs, and I’ll never forget my glasses again.

As I studied and prayed about Jesus’ sayings we heard today, I was reminded of this experience. This is because Jesus uses the example of the human eye to make a point – something he does a lot in the sermon on the mount:

“Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but  don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or    sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your  eye?

The human eye is a fascinating thing. To start, it’s an organ which isn’t something I often think about. It captures light and through a whole complicated process converts that light to an electronic signal that gets sent to our brains. It is our brains that take the signal and show us what is around us. It’s really quite amazing. But the eye has a lot of limits too. Without very much light, we won’t see very well. Everything seems different at night, but nothing has actually changed. We just can’t see it the same way. And then if you’re like me, your eyes get weaker over time and you need glasses or contacts to help the eye focus. As it was that day I was leading worship without my glasses, if I take them off my surroundings don’t change. But what I see and perceive does change. And of course people who are blind experience life quite differently than sighted people, for we sighted people tend to rely so heavily on our eyes that our other sense are underdeveloped. For sighted people, our eyesight is the sense we rely on most heavily to make sense of the world around us and figure out the best way to live in that world.

So Jesus invited his listeners to consider that maybe they weren’t seeing everything and everybody as clearly as they thought they were.

“Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but        don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or    sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your         eye?

Jesus is clearly not speaking literally here, none of us have logs in our eye. But he paints an amazing and clear picture for us. After all, if we have logs in our eyes we aren’t going to see anything around us correctly. We’ll make do and assume things and get a lot of stuff wrong. We’ll stumble around and hurt others and hurt ourselves. There’s a lot we won’t see.

We might not have logs in our eyes, and Jesus knows this, but he’s telling us: “there’s a lot you don’t see.” Even with these glasses and a relatively new prescription I can look out and see your faces, but there’s so much I still don’t see. I don’t see how your morning has been so far, or the struggles and questions you bring today. I don’t see your triumphs or sorrow. If your eyes are shut I don’t know why – is it because you’re bored or listening intently or praying or just so very exhausted. If you’re crying, are you sorrowful or joyful or both, or do you just have a cold? Are you wiggling and making noise to bother others or because you’re brimming with the energy God gave you? I could go on and on and on. Glasses or not, there is so much I don’t see. There is a log in my eye.

Have you ever thought or said something judgmental about someone else, only to learn the reasons they acted how they acted? It’s a sinking feeling. So Jesus tells us about the logs in our eyes to help us grow. So that we realize that what we see in a person or a situation isn’t all there is to see. There are always things we don’t know – logs blocking a full picture. But it is far too easy to be incredibly focused on others’ flaws while being oblivious to our own.

Jesus reminds us that doing this doesn’t only harm others – though that should be reason enough to learn how to stop. It harms ourselves: “You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you.” If you are harsh and judgmental towards others, they will be harsh and judgmental towards you. As older translations say, “the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

These words play out on the individual level but on the social level as well. After all, Jesus was talking to people who were dominated by the Roman Empire. And powerful people always justify their domination of others by judging them: “they’re weaker, they’re stupid, they’re barbarians.” This is part of our heritage in the United States from the genocide of Native Americans to slavery to dominating nations around the world. It forms the core logic for forms of oppression like racism and sexism: “they’re weak, they’re stupid, they’re just bad people, we have to be in charge.” Jesus and his people would have felt the sting of this judgment time and time again, under the weight of Rome’s oppression. Even so, Rome eventually fell under the weight of its own arrogance, hated and despised by many. The measure you give is the measure you get. And certainly we need something better than that in the world, something better than getting ahead on the backs of others and saying they deserved it, something better than the harsh judgments that tear people down and even destroy lives.

So how do we grow? How do we see things more clearly and become more compassionate? How do we gain the ability to truly help others, not just snipe at them? “First take the log out of your eye,” Jesus says, “and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say we shouldn’t point out splinters in others’ eyes. He doesn’t say we should never say when we see something wrong happening, or call people to better choices and help them get there. He seems to be assuming that people will do that sort of thing and should do that sort of thing (we’ll explore some of that in the first Sunday of Lent). Sin and evil in others and in the world can and must be taken seriously. But we need to learn how to see clearly first.

To do that, we need to take the log out of our own eye, which if you think about it requires major surgery. It’s a lifelong effort, I think. “The road is hard that leads to life.” But it’s worth it. The more we grow in compassion and understanding, the less we walk around with constant frustrations or grievances, the more we become a gift to ourselves and those around us. So I’d like to offer an action step that I call “PIRL” –P  I  R  L

[Show on powerpoint]

Let’s say you’re faced with a person or situation and you feel that harsh judgment creeping in. Maybe you even want to say something. Remember PIRL.

  1. Ask God to help you see clearly, to show you what you might not understand, and help you act faithfully.
  2. Use your imagination to dig a bit deeper. What might be going on in this person’s life that they act this way? What sorrows are they carrying? What anxieties might distract them? Are there explanations you haven’t considered that could explain their behavior? This is imagination because you don’t have to know that you’re right. In fact, you should remember that you might not be. But when you use your imagination you realize that there is much more than you can see. You can feel the harshness begin to quiet.
  3. Think back to a time that you felt the sting of judgment from someone else who didn’t really know you or your life. Remember times you’ve acted in ways you aren’t proud of. Remind yourself that you are flawed, too, and would not wish to be judged harshly.
  4. By now you’ve worked the log out of your eye a bit and are better prepared to love. Sometimes love means letting others do their thing without interference. Other times it means getting to know someone a bit, being curious about their life. If you are in a loving relationship with someone, sometimes love means telling them how their actions have affected you and asking them to make a change. But only after you’ve prayed, used your imagination, and remembered your own experiences and flaws.


Pray, Imagine, Remember, Love. PIRL.


I know it’s kind of hokey, but that’s the point. It helps us remember better. I hope this is a tool that helps us all to grow in compassion not only for others but also for ourselves. I hope this helps us all see more clearly.

Because just like that day I preached without my glasses and didn’t see you clearly, none of us see every person or situation clearly. There are always things too blurred for us to understand. There’s always a bit of a log in our eyes. But we can learn and grow. We can find the road that leads to life for us and our neighbors and the world. We can judge less, and grow more. Amen.