I do not snore.
I do NOT snore. Cassie says I snore, but I do not. Emma says I snore loud enough to wake the dead, but I do not. I’m just not the kind of person who snores. We all KNOW there’s a specific kind of person who snores. You know them when you seem them. And I am not one of them. Never have been, never will be. Until of course I found out that I DO snore. That I’m one of THOSE people. The horror and the shame of it all! For so long I was comfortable in the fact that I was not in that circle of people, kind of proud of it actually, only to find out that I am. Not that there’s anything wrong with those people. My dad’s a snorer and I like him a lot. Other people I know are like that too. I just never saw myself as one of THOSE kind of people. The first time I found out was at a clergy retreat and one of the guys I was bunking with said, “There’s a couple of open rooms down the hall so I thought it would be nice for us to have our own rooms.” That seemed a little odd, that he would even look into whether or not there were open rooms so I asked if anything was wrong and he said, “I just had a hard time sleeping last night. You were snoring pretty loud.” I was shocked. Me? Immediately I went into denial. He must be mistaken or maybe it was a one-time thing. I asked a couple of other clergy friends of mine that I had bunked with before and both of them said it was true. They were very nice about it, but confirmed that I did in fact snore. But that wasn’t enough. So I asked the one person who would know better than anyone. My wife. Who confirmed that in fact, there were times when I snored. But since she almost always fell asleep before me, she didn’t often notice. Except when we were at family get-togethers and I would fall asleep on the couch after a Thanksgiving food coma. She’d have to wake me up. It’s funny because I would first deny falling asleep, and then would deny snoring when I did. Do you ever do that? Deny falling asleep? I’ll ask again after some of you wake up.
We often think the best of ourselves.
And typically that’s a good thing. The hope, the optimism that comes in believing we are better than we are sometimes makes it come true. The human ability to stand against overwhelming odds and triumph is a result of this incessant belief in who we are. So it’s not a bad thing that we like to think the best of ourselves, but at times we can also sabotage ourselves the very same way. We can become too cocky and overconfident in our abilities and seek help too late. You ever ride in the car with someone who refuses to look at a map, but can’t admit when they are lost? Or we can become arrogant and filled with self-importance, ignoring those around us and their thoughts and opinions as if they couldn’t possibly have ideas as good as ours. Probably most of us have worked with someone like that at one time or another – a boss, a classmate, a spouse, a boyfriend or girlfriend – who just never seemed to like our ideas as much as their own. Worst of all, we can become self-deluded. Despite the reality of the situation we can hold on to outdated, outmoded ways of thinking and justify those beliefs without our own internal logic. We seek out people, articles, radio programs or anything else that confirms those beliefs. It’s called in psychology, confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the human tendency to seek out information that supports our way of thinking while denying or ignoring evidence to the contrary. And if we are not careful, our ability to think the best of ourselves will steer us down this path into self-delusion.
As always, the Bible has something important to say about self-delusion.
And it’s probably a story you’re already familiar with, but we’re going to read it together this morning and hopefully gain new insight into this old problem. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phones, please go to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, versus 1-5. Matthew 7:1-5. This is part of the famous Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is offering words of wisdom to the disciples and all of his followers and here he is talking about judging others. Even if you’ve never been in church, you’ve probably still heard this passage or at least something similar to it. It’s like the “eye for an eye” passage. It’s become part of our vernacular. But here it is as presented in the Bible for us to share this morning.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “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? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
I need Cassie in my life.
That probably doesn’t come as a shock to any of you, especially for any of you who are married or have been married. But for more than the obvious reasons of “I love her” and stuff like that. Sometimes I think one of the reasons I got married was so there would be someone to tell me the things I needed to hear because I was too dumb to just look in a mirror. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and got something stuck in your teeth without knowing it? And then you walked around all day with it stuck in your teeth until you got home and actually looked in a mirror? Then you’re wondering to yourself, “How long has THAT been there?” Or guys, have you ever been caught with your fly unzipped? In the category of “true but embarrassing stories,” that happened to me one incredibly classic time. I was in Hawaii with a group of fellow clergy and wore this pair of shorts that I found out later on had this bad habit of unzipping itself over the course of the day. I still don’t know how that happens, but I don’t have those shorts any more. We were walking around all day long, taking pictures, visiting churches, and meeting lots of new people. After we got home and got the pictures developed, Cassie looked at one of them and said, “Are your pants unzipped in that picture?” And sure enough they were. And in half the pictures I took that day. Thank God for photo cropping technology, but it was a very important lesson I learned after that. Self-awareness is key.
And that’s what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples in this passage.
That too often we are quick to judge others without first examining ourselves. Like looking in a mirror for stuff in our teeth or flies that are unzipped, we need to look in a SPIRITUAL mirror to make sure everything is okay with ourselves. We have that ability. It’s just that too often we choose not to use it. We become blind to our own faults and our own responsibilities and instead blame everyone and everything around us. There’s this great book that Cassie recommended to me called Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. She had read it and thought it might be useful for me, too. And it was. It talked about whether or not we are living in or out of the box. When we are out of the box, we see others as people. We seem them as they are. When we are in the box, we see ourselves as people and everyone else more or less as objects. They are obstacles, or chores, or nuisances in our path to getting what we want. Now it seems like it would be easy for us to notice the difference, but it really isn’t. We become blind to our own perspectives when we don’t take the time to examine them.
I was thinking about this a lot in light of the whole tragedy at the AME church.
I know it’s been a few weeks, but it still bothers me and we hadn’t really talked about it together in worship other than to pray together about it. But I bet Dylann Roof, the person who murdered those nine people in cold blood, saw them as a problem and not as people. In fact, I’m pretty sure about that. The statements he gave while he was shooting them, about them raping white women and taking over the country, made it clear that he wasn’t looking at these nine innocent folks as people in their own right, but as objects of a group that needed to be eliminated. They weren’t people with hopes and dreams and plans and goals for life. They were just things that were in the way of the life he wanted. In fact, for one brief moment, Dylann Roof almost didn’t pull the trigger. For one brief moment, he saw them as people instead of objects and it nearly changed his mind. He was quoted as saying that he almost didn’t go through with it because the people were so nice to him, but then he did it anyway. It wasn’t enough. A lifetime of seeing the world through his own narrow vision didn’t give him the capacity to see it any other way.
We are called by God to be an introspective people.
Not to see the world the way WE want to see it, but to see the world through God’s eyes. We are invited by God to live in harmony with one another. We are asked to put others concerns before our own. We are told to consider the consequences of our actions before we do them. But do we? Do we stop to think about how what we say is going to affect someone – and do we even care? Our words are not supposed to be daggers, but love letters. Our actions are not supposed to convey violence, but care. If we were truly an introspective people we would be careful not to cause others around us harm, but a quick word, a careless whisper, an angry shout can do so much damage in an instant; a fist or a slap or a thrown object even more. We need to instead turn our inner eye back on ourselves and look at our own failings, our own mistakes. We need to stop blaming the people around us for the problems we encounter and instead look to see what we can do to make it better. We need, quiet simply, to take the plank out of our own eyes before trying to take the speck out of someone else’s. When we learn to do that, when we learn the value of introspection, maybe then the violence, hatred, bigotry, and prejudice we encounter in the world today will finally come to an end. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.