How not to judge

Here is Rev Sue’s sermon that she preached on Wednesday 13 October:

A story from a woman called Louise.

A few years ago in my thirties, I was in a car accident that caused me some spinal damage and exacerbated a pre-existing pelvic condition, subsequently leaving me initially in a wheelchair.

Currently, I am at a stage where I can now stand unaided and potter around a bit, but I still rely on a wheelchair or crutches for more than short periods of standing or walking.

One evening my partner surprised me with theatre tickets. I hadn’t been getting out much—outings now need to be meticulously planned—so I was really excited.

We were lucky enough to be able to park in the disabled bays right outside the venue (I am registered disabled and have a badge). We sat in the car and discussed whether I should take my crutches inside, as I was quite anxious about blocking the aisles. We decided that with his support I would manage the few steps inside without them.

The first upset of the evening was getting out of the car. A man queuing for a space behind wound down his car window and shouted that we should be ashamed of ourselves for parking there. We clearly didn’t “look” disabled and we literally “made him sick.” Hmmm.

This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. I have a hidden disability, and unless I am in a wheelchair or using an aid, I look perfectly “normal” and am (relatively) young.

I tried to concentrate on the show for the first half, but the evening had been ruined for me by then. In the interval I needed the bathroom. The female bathrooms are down two flights of stairs (no elevator), which I couldn’t manage, so I went into the disabled bathroom on the ground floor.

When I came out, there was a queue of old ladies.

The first lady in the queue took one look at me and declared to her friend in a loud voice “young people are so lazy nowadays.” She looked at me and said, “there’s nothing wrong with your legs,” and rapped me across my ankles with her walking stick! I went home in tears.

This evening affected me emotionally for weeks.

Although I shouldn’t need to justify myself to others, I would have been happy to answer genuine questions about my health instead of being met with accusations and aggression, but after much reflection I realized that forgiveness was the only way to move forward.

Both today’s readings are about judgement. In the first reading Paul is talking about passing judgement on others, and links it with hypocrisy. We do well to examine our own hearts – none of us is perfect, and none can therefore judge another. Does that mean that the people who abused Louise should have accepted that just anyone can use disabled facilities? As Louise points out they could have asked her some questions. The thing about judgement is that it leaves no room for discussion. The judged person is condemned without a hearing. Louise knew better and forgave the people that had denigrated her.

Jesus had very harsh words for the Pharisees, but we know that he was always ready to talk to them individually, to give them the chance of repentance. He was not judging but warning them that their actions and attitudes were not acceptable to God.

Paul, too, ends with a warning. Throughout our lives we have only to ask, and God’s kindness will show us our secret sins, and God’s grace will help us to change. But we must take God seriously. If we harden our hearts and judge our neighbours we can form habits we cannot break and when we are at the last confronted by the righteousness of God we may have become too self-seeking to recognise God’s love and respond. But it is completely our choice – we have only to ask.

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