Posted by: Philip Rushton | April 20, 2015

Inside Out

(Below are the the notes from yesterday’s sermon on Luke 6:41-42.  At the end of the text you will find the steps for practicing the Daily Examen)

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Luke 41-42

When I saw this text on the schedule my first reaction was that it might be a bit out of place for our mission sunday. The focus today has been on the importance of reaching out in mission; yet, our text focuses on looking inward.

Upon further reflection, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a very appropriate missional text.  It is appropriate because Jesus reminds us that our ability to change the world begins by experiencing change ourselves.  We can’t attend to the speck in our brothers eyes without first removing the log in our own eye.  Jesus turns our understanding of mission inside out.

If you are like me, though, this is not the default position. We often spend more of our energy on trying to change other people instead of changing ourselves.  I’ve been learning a lot about this as a parent lately. James became a three-nager last week. As a result, I have been trying to learn the fine art of trying to get a child to behave. And I haven’t had a lot of luck at it.

So Julie and I decided we should read some books.  We went to the library and picked up a few books on toddler development and parenting techniques. We set out on a quest to figure out how to get our son to change his behavior; however, one of the books caught me off guard. The title of the book is, “How to behave so your kids will too.”

This isn’t really what I was looking for. I was looking for something like, “Five quick steps to getting your kids to behave.” Instead the author has turned my perspective of parenting inside out. The author suggests that if we really want our kids to behave we need to work on changing ourselves first.  It isn’t very effective, for example, if I yell at my son, “you need to stop yelling!”  So I have been challenged to work on cultivating patience and modeling healthy communication.

We all have things we would like to change about this society, or change about other people.  We want to end poverty, we want society to move in a healthy direction, we want to raise kids with strong moral values. Yet, in our text today, Jesus challenges us to approach these concerns from the inside out. Jesus calls us to begin by attending to the log in our own eye.

Commenting on this text Dale Bruner writes, “it is a law of life that we consistently undervalue the size of our own faults and overvalue the size of others.” Jesus speaks to a very common human experience. We tend to focus on the problems of others while ignoring or deflecting the issues in our own life.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is specifically confronting how this is playing out in the lives of the religious insiders of his day. The Pharisees are constantly illustrating this irony. They want to control and change people by micromanaging their behavior. They have imposed almost unbearable regulations and laws regarding purity and holiness. Yet, they are overlooking their own self-righteous behavior.

Listen to how Eugene Peterson paraphrases this text:

“It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”

Peterson rightly points out that the “log in our eye” that we often fail to notice is often self-righteousness or contempt.The context suggests that this is the issue Jesus is confronting. In vs 37-38 Jesus names these issues. He calls his disciples to avoid judgment and condemnation. Instead he urges them to be forgiving and generous.

I think we sometimes wrestle with this text. Jesus tells us to not judge; yet, at other points in scripture he calls us to discern between what is good and bad. We are told to make judgments about what we should and shouldn’t do. You could see how the Pharisees might get defensive here. “What do you mean we aren’t to judge?” “Should we approve of immoral behavior?” “Won’t society go downhill if we don’t confront the moral crisis of our day?”

I would suggest to you that by saying, “don’t judge,” Jesus is not saying that anything goes. We still need to be discerning, but we are not to be damning (Bruner, The Christbook). Do you see the difference? While we are certainly called to discern what is right and wrong, we ought not to condemn people, pass the final judgment, or write people off as hopeless causes.

Throughout the gospels Jesus is hospitable towards “sinners.” He eats with them, listens to them, and speaks a message of hope to them.   Jesus doesn’t say “anything goes,” but he is merciful, hospitable, and generous to people who are struggling.

By saying “do not judge,” Jesus is calling us follow his example. We are called to approach people in humility, recognizing that we too make mistakes and fall short of the glory of God. We are also called to approach people with generosity instead of writing them off as hopeless.

I think this is an important word for us today. A recent study by the Barna group revealed that 87% of 19-29 year olds would describe Christians as judgmental, and 85% describe Christians as hypocritical (Kinnaman, Unchristian). Those are some troubling numbers. Many people outside the church perceive a sneer on the face of religious insiders.

So as we figure out how to bear witness to God in an increasingly secular world, perhaps we ought to take stock in what Jesus is saying. As we stand up for important moral and social issues, perhaps a degree of humility and generosity is due. For as N.T. Wright articulates, “the line between good and evil does not run between us and them. The line between good and evil runs right through every human heart.” A deep and troubling irony takes place if in our fight against moral decline we forget to include ourselves among the immoral.

Thankfully, Jesus shows us another way to bring about the change we long for in our world. He turns our perspective on mission inside out. It is important to note that the parable ends with the person removing the speck in the eye of the other. Once we humble ourselves and remove the log in our own eye we are then able to be helpful to others.Then we can address the deep problems of our world.

Dale Bruner puts it this way:

“sawdust in the eye hurts, and it impairs vision. It is legitimate and even urgent, after all is said and done, to help others remove specks from their eyes – but this assistance will be especially appreciated where it is accompanied by the assistants’ sense of their own log.”

This text still calls us to be agents of change in our world. We are still called to the ministry of service and healing. The point is that we are only able to do this from a place of humility.

Donald Miller tells a beautiful story that illustrates how this works. While attending a very liberal college in Portland he encountered this 87% crowd of millenials – a group of young people who has a pretty negative view of religion in the church.

During the huge year end party he had an idea for how he might reach out to this very secular crowd. He decided to set up a confessional booth. He knew it would be viewed as somewhat of a joke to the crowd. It was a marketed as a place where people could come and confess their sins during this very rowdy party; yet, he put a major twist on it.

When people came into the confessional booth Miller spent time confessing his sins and the sins of the church instead of having the students confess their sins.  He apologized for how the church had often acted with hypocrisy and judgment. He recounts a number of beautiful stories of how people broke down and wept. As he humbled himself people began to open up about their hurts and their doubts. As the sneer was wiped away from the face of religion, Miller was given the opportunity to help wipe away the tears from the eyes of these secular college students.

Our pastoral care team is studying a book right now by Henri Nouwen titled, “The Spirituality Of Caregiving.” One of the concepts Nouwen talks about is being a “wounded healer.” He believes that we can become agents of healing and hope only after we come to terms with our own wounds. When we remove the log in our own eye we start to see people as our equals. When we approach people as wounded healers, healing can start to take place.

The question this leaves us with is this: How do we go about the log removal process? If our default position is to undervalue the size of our own issues and overvalue the size of others peoples issues, how can we reverse that.

I think Donald Miller is on to something. I believe that one of the practices that helps us develop humility is the practice of regular confession.   And I say regular, because I believe the log removal process is an ongoing thing.

One form of confessional prayer that I find particularly helpful is called the Daily Examen. This spiritual practice was developed by Ignatius of Loyola. Perhaps you might try it out this week. It is essentially a time where you review the day in prayer.  The steps are as follows.

  1. Start by taking time to be grateful for the blessings of the day.
  2. Ask god for the grace to see the things you need to confess.
  3. Review the day hour by hour and confess the sins of the day.
  4. Conclude by asking for God’s forgiveness and for his help.

The good news in this text is that we have a God who is patient and gracious toward us.  I believe that it is only as we get in touch with this grace that we will be able to extend grace toward others.  The practice of confession is a powerful way for us to be reminded of God’s patience and grace in our lives.  As we cultivate this spirit of humility we will be equipped to go out into our world as “wounded healers.”

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