These days it seems that the church as well as the nation (and world) are caught up in never-ending spirals of condemnations. All we seem to hear is “Condemn them! Condemn that! If it’s not perfect, we must condemn!” Even the calls for church leaders to condemn an action, group or individual have grown more vocal as we demand our judgmental viewpoints be echoed from someone who (supposedly) represents God.
What is this need to condemn and where does it come from? Why do we think judgment and condemnation against others is the answer to so many of our problems? And why do we feel the need to demand that our leaders condemn those we want judged on our behalf?
The word “condemn” comes from the Latin word con-damnare. Damnare, the second half of that word, means to harm or damage; the con is there for emphasis. So to con-damnare someone means to really, really harm or damage them. (https://www.etymonline.com/ )
Of course, we can all see the word “damn” in this Latin word which invokes images of God (or us) sending people to the horrible suffering of hell. And while sometimes we may have a lighter meaning in mind when we “condemn,” such as to disapprove or judge against, the weight of the word tends to imply the harsh desire to hurt or rip apart those we’re condemning.
This I think is one of the reasons behind our need to condemn: to lash out and harm others after being wounded. When we experience this hurt or remember past hurts while failing to remember the many hurts we’ve caused, we often are left with a strong craving to retaliate. We want to damage others the way we’ve been hurt through assaulting, dehumanizing, demonizing, and damning them, their identity group, their character, their actions and their personhood. And we especially like to do it on social media where we think there are no consequences to our actions.
We also seem to do this out of our own sense powerlessness and feeling out of control of our situation. We condemn in order to lift ourselves out of insecurity and a sense of weakness; in order to bully ourselves out of anxiety and fear; in order to tear others down and rip them apart so we can feel more self-righteous and more like god and thus all-mighty and power-full so that at least in the condemning moment that sense of human weakness and helplessness disappears…until it returns when those we’ve condemned attack us back.
And this steers us toward demanding that our leaders condemn others so that we can hear our own condemnations through their voices. We get stuck in echo chambers where we choose to hear only what we want to hear, and what we want to hear is our leaders confirm our opinions and echo back to us what we believe so that we can feel righteous in our own right-ness.
The fact is that all this condemning actually just perpetuates the cycle of destruction as the condemned get defensive and retaliate with more condemning words or actions. Then we retaliate with our own condemnations and so on, until we descend into violent, hate-filled damning of one another in a horror-show like the spectacle on January 6 or other violence, riots and wars seen throughout human history.
Here’s reality folks: condemning one another does not work! It doesn’t fix any of the problems we want to fix. It doesn’t allow us to be the solution we claim to want to be. It doesn’t cure the evils of the world. It doesn’t heal the wounds we want to heal or help those we are called to serve. Condemning only harms, destroys and damages, perpetuating the cycle of bitterness, cynicism and fear into on-going hate and finally eternal damnation.
So what do we as followers of Christ do? Do we stay silent in the face of the evil and suffering so obviously happening in the world around us? Do we ignore the pain and oppression, hate and violence against ourselves or the neighbors we are called to love and just suck it up as our “cross to bear”? Do we hide inside a comfy, nice-but-not-kind church in a false sense of safety until we get to escape to heaven?
No, of course not! But we don’t turn to condemning, which is God’s work and God’s alone -- IF God chooses to do so. God is God; we are not, and we are commanded to be on God’s side, rather than forcing God to be on our side, including the side of us that wants to condemn. (Cf. First and Second Commandment & Bp Elizabeth Eaton)
Instead, we exhort and challenge the “what is” by speaking and living God’s eternal Law of “what God wants,” namely Love, by being and doing Christ’s love in everything we do and say into the world through kindness, compassion, peace, reconciliation, generosity, justice and self-control.
Instead, we admonish through the words of God’s Law but always in humility, seeing and renouncing our own sin and complicity in the larger evils first by checking in the mirror and asking how our own words, actions, and ways of life may already be breaking God’s Law, harming our neighbors and preventing Christ’s kingdom from coming near. “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” (Mt 7:1-5. See also Lk 6: 37-38 and Rm 2:1ff)
Instead, we proclaim through our actions and words the gospel of God’s grace, forgiveness, welcome, and equal acceptance and love of all people of all identities, standing with the wounded in solidarity and lifting them up through the Spirit’s encouragement, empowerment, and enlivening words, thoughts and actions.
And we proclaim this Gospel and Law not by tearing some people down to lift ourselves or others up, but by preaching over and over again the affirmative, positive gospel that we know through teachings and ministry of the Jesus of Nazareth in the Bible. (Thanks to Bishop Michael Curry for reminding us of this on the webinar that was recorded today entitled “Democracy and Faith Under Siege: Responding to Christian Nationalism” and can be found here soon.
So no, I will not condemn. Nobody but God has the power or right to condemn, including me. But I will speak and affirm God’s Law AND Gospel loud and clear ad nauseum to those who would listen. For that is my call as a pastor. And I do this knowing that I too am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself, knowing that through faith that I too am a beloved child of God and created in God’s image, knowing that I too am welcomed, loved and accepted through my baptism.
And SO ARE YOU a beloved child of God, created in God’s image, welcomed, loved and accepted into Christ’s kingdom! What amazing, grace-filled good news this is that we all get to share with the world! So let’s stop condemning and instead lift up God’s love for our neighbors in all we do and say.
In Christ’s Love,
What is God doing in the world? As we go through these days of division that have reached the point of violence or threatened violence against the foundations of our society, we may be wondering “Where is God in this?” and “What is God calling us do and be right now?”
This is a paralyzing question in the midst of the anxiety and fear and anger we may feeling. But perhaps some guidance directly from God Word (Law and Gospel) may be helpful in naming one of the most important ways God is showing up right now as you wrestle with how God is calling you to live into this time and place.
So I offer you this reminder in less than 2+ pages of what God’s Law states to us. Note that this comes from Scripture, Luther’s Small and Large Catechism, some familiar words from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and bit of my own work in Christian Ethics. It’s longer than usual so you may want to read on a computer or print it out rather than trying to read on your phone.
God’s Law - The Great Commandments – the two commandments upon which ALL of God’s Law is based. (Mt 22:40)
God’s Law - The Golden Rule – the governing rule that can be found in every major world religion and philosophy, including that of democracy.
God’s Law - The Ten Commandments – the laws that so many people want front and center in their communities yet refuse to follow as God wills. These emerge from the Great Commandments.
God’s Law – “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
If you’re hearing God’s Law as presented as a tool that you can use to bash other people over the head to justify yourself, then you’re doing it wrong. If God’s Law too easily becomes a weapon in your hands to shoot, maim or shatter other lives, then you’ve missed the point. For God’s Law was and still is intended as an earthly gift and blessing so as to order and guide our lives in the way of Christ as we relate to each other and God under the power of sin. If we all followed this law to the best of our ability even in the midst of our sin, the world would be a better place.
But the world would not be saved, for in the end the law, not even God’s Law can save. In the end, it accuses, convicts and kills anything that would destroy, hate, and tear down God’s creation. It is as a mirror that we first hear God’s Law. “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged…You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Mt 7:1-5)
Only when we’ve applied God’s Law to ourselves, been humbled and convicted that we can use the Law of God to direct others. Only then will we hear, receive, and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the world. For only in Christ are you forgiven, saved, healed, and made whole. That’s the Gospel message: that Christ loves you, welcomes you, accepts you, blesses you and fills your whole self with faith, hope, and joy no matter who you are, which political party you support, or in which identity group you place yourself. Through Jesus’ life, Jesus’ teachings and ministry, Jesus’ suffering and death on a cross and Jesus’ resurrection you receive new life, shalom life, blessed life, the truly great life. Never, in any political ideology will you receive these things.
So live out your salvation in Christ, empowered by the Spirit to love God and neighbor and encouraged to fulfill God’s Law the best that you can. “Blessed are those…who walk in the law of the Lord.” (Ps 119:1)
I still reach for my eyeglasses every morning as I get out of bed even though I don’t need them anymore. I still prepare myself to take out my contact lenses before I go to sleep despite the fact that I’ve thrown them all away.
Over the Christmas season, I had cataract surgery on both eyes and now I can see in new ways. Though there is still some healing and adjustment to take place, I am no longer reliant on contacts or glasses (except possibly readers) to experience the world around me. Life has become manifest to me in clearer ways than when I was in the second grade. I can see!
The season of/after Epiphany that we enter into today is all about seeing in new ways and thus living in new ways. It’s about manifestation and revelation. Epiphany is when we in the western church recognize and honor the Christ-ness, the Messiah-ship of Jesus of Nazareth as he becomes manifest in his fuller glory for all to see.
During Epiphany we celebrate events like the Magi following the star from the East as well as Jesus’ baptism and God’s voice revealing the beloved anointed one through a booming from the clouds. We also see Christ manifest to us in the miracle at the Cana wedding, his first proclamations that “the Kingdom of God is near,” his first healings, and his shining transfiguration on the mountain.
In these manifestations of Christ, we who are willing to see are given new eyes so as to recognize who Jesus really is: God’s divine presence dwelling with us and humanity’s savior working among us for love and life.
Jesus the Christ is not just a cute baby who comes to be our best friend. Nor is he just the good guy on the sidelines, supporting our platforms and cheering us on while we fix the world according to our dysfunctional human tools and violent rage.
Jesus the Christ is the life-giving, world-transforming, love-filled presence of God come to our homes, families, communities, social systems, and nations to change everything. Everything! Jesus the Christ is God’s love made flesh who calls us again and again to follow him in a radical way of love and complete trust in God.
During this time of epiphany revelation, I encourage you to let the Holy Spirit give you some new eyes to see Jesus the Christ manifest in the world around you. No need to go as far as cataract surgery. Just clear your eyes of the messiness of the news and the anxieties of the pandemic, perhaps through prayer and contemplation. Open yourselves up to the Spirit’s work in your mind and heart.
And then look around through Spirit-lenses to see how God’s love is manifesting itself to you and your fellow followers of Christ. Ask yourself again and again, what is Jesus the Christ doing in my life, my congregation’s life, my community today? Where is Jesus the Christ calling you to go, what is Christ calling you to do, and how is Christ calling you to live? And finally ask, how can I be better equipped to see what Jesus so badly wants me to see so that I can follow him?
But beware! There are wolves in sheep’s clothing trying to trick our eyes into seeing Jesus Christ in places and actions in which he would never reveal himself. Jesus the Christ does not manifest God’s Kingdom in lies and falsehoods for he is the Truth of God’s love. Jesus does not manifest God’s Kingdom in fear-filled hatred and demonizing of other people for he is the Courage and Spirit of God’s love. Jesus does not manifest God’s Kingdom in violent actions or words demanding harm against anybody for he is the Prince of Peace.
To put it bluntly, we who would follow Jesus the Christ cannot follow those angry, self-centered cries to take out our rage on one another because we disagree about social actions or political outcomes. Violence is not and never will be the answer for God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To follow those voices of hate is to leave the Way of Christ behind.
Christ’s Way is always the Way of Love, God’s selfless love for the whole world!
So let us open our eyes to a new way of seeing and being love this Epiphany season, let us open our hearts to the Spirit’s power, and let us follow Christ’s vision of life in God’s Kingdom. For God has come to dwell with us. See?! Jesus is right there!
In Christ’s Love,
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod