“You and I are not in the Judgment Business”
A sermon by parishioner Patrick Foster ~
I want to say how grateful I am to be allowed to speak to you this morning. It’s good to be among friends.
If no one has told you today that they love you, I love you. You’re like family to me. This church has been a big part of my life for over 40 years. You are all precious to me.
Let me ask you all a question- has anyone here knowingly passed counterfeit money? Raise your hand if you have. Hmm- I thought so – no one wants to admit it! Now let me ask you a slightly different question – has anyone here unknowingly passed counterfeit money? Well, of course if someone has passed you a fake $20 bill and you passed it on to someone else, you wouldn’t know, would you? Counterfeit money can be hard to spot. So, if you did pass it unknowingly, would it still be a crime? I’d say no.
Do you know what happens when you bring a counterfeit $20 bill to the bank? They confiscate it. They take it away from you. You don’t get a free replacement. You just lost $20.
Now, if your name is Bill Gates you’re probably not going to lose any sleep over that $20 loss. But if you’re poor, you might. Problems usually fall heavier on the poor than the rich.
I’m going to make a confession here in church. Years ago I did pass some counterfeit money, a fake $50 bill to be specific. And I did it knowingly. I knew I was breaking the law. It was many years ago when I was younger and poorer, and my moral compass was not quite as centered as it is now.
The way it happened is this: somehow, someone had passed on to me a counterfeit $50 bill and when I realized it I was angry. Times were very hard. I was barely getting by and $50 was a lot of money to me. So, I decided to pass it on to someone else by buying a $5 item from a merchant, using the fake fifty to pay for it. I got the purchased item plus $45 change in real money. I justified this illegal action in my mind by thinking that the merchant would later spot the counterfeit bill and pass it along the same way I had – you know, sort of like musical chairs. In reality, he probably brought it to the bank with the rest of his deposit and the bank confiscated it and he lost $50. This is something I’m ashamed of having done, but I need to own up to it. I did it. And the truth is, I broke the law on many other occasions both before this and after that. Back then I was what newspapers would call a petty criminal. I worked in a shop that repainted stolen cars to disguise them, we fenced stolen goods, and other minor crimes as well.
Over the decades since then I think I’ve become a better, more honest person, the sort of man who wouldn’t do something like that. I’ve donated money to charities in the hope that that will somehow even out the score in God’s eyes. I don’t know if it will or not, but I pray it does. I’ve also become more prosperous, so today losing $50 would not be a hardship.
You know me as I am now- and I don’t think you’d wish me ill for what I did 50 years ago. But suppose back then the merchant had spotted the fake money and called the police? You might say that was only right and proper and you’d be correct. You wouldn’t necessarily wish me ill, but you’d want to see justice done, right? Whatever would happen, you’d probably think I had it coming. After all, I was a crook.
Suppose when the police came I put up a little resistance, a struggle. Believe me, the Patrick Foster of that time would have. I was young and angry, and I probably would have struggled. The police would have handcuffed me- and I know what I’m talking about here. But again, that would have only been right, wouldn’t it? People would say I was a bad person.
Now, suppose one of the policemen decided to teach me a lesson by sitting on me. Would you think that was fair to your friend Patrick? Remember, I’m handcuffed and almost helpless. And suppose he decided to put his knee on my neck. And I began to choke and cry out that I couldn’t breathe? Would that be fair? And suppose they killed me, either by accident or on purpose – would you still think that was fair to your friend Patrick? Should any person be put to death by civil authorities over a $50 crime?
My being killed would mean that I never got the chance to amend my life, to change my ways, to find God and to join a church. It would mean you and I never got to know one another, never got to be friends, never got to share in all the fun we’ve had together. It would mean that I never got the chance to do all the good things I’ve been able to do since then.
The point I’m trying to make out of all of this is that not all bad people are bad people. Some- probably most- are just lost people, as I was. As Christians we are not supposed to judge other people. We are not supposed to hate other people. We are only called upon to love other people, in spite of their failings. I had many failings back then and as a matter of fact, I still do now. But I’m a better person than I was.
You and I are not in the judgment business. We’re not supposed to be in the judgement business. God is in the judgement business and he’s supposed to have a monopoly on it. We’re not supposed to hone in on his territory. Judging people is strictly God’s business – not ours. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Thankfully, God only judges people at the end of their life – not in the beginning or in the middle – but at the end, because in His Almighty wisdom he knows that people can change, as I changed. I’m no longer a petty criminal; I’ve become a man of honor and dignity.
The words spoken thousands of years ago ring as true today as they did then: Judge not, that ye not be judged.
So, my friends, go forth; and love all mankind, even people you don’t particularly like. Cry out for justice when justice is wanting. And again, if no one has told you today that they love you, let me say it – I love you.