How to preach a sermon on a Judge

Several months ago I was talking to a judge after preaching a sermon on God’s truth in an ‘electrician’, and as we spoke about her work she said, “All people want is to be heard”. As she said those words I thought, “A judge is kind of  like God; a just authority who hears our case…. I gotta preach on this.”

So now I’m in the thick of it with three Calgary judges. I know that most of you aren’t interested in the process of how a vocational sermon comes together, but for those of you who are, this is how the exegetical conversation (with one of the judges) is playing out so far:

These are the initial questions I sent all three judges (modified slightly for each one – one’s a Christian, one agnostic (I think) and one an athiest)

1. What do you ‘love’ most about being a judge? What parts of the job are most meaningful, make you feel most alive, real and human? Can you describe one or two of these moments in detail?

2. What would you say is the most difficult challenge you face at work? Again, can you tell me about a specific circumstance? What made is so hard?

3. How does the work you do contribute to human/societal flourishing?

Here’s one of the judge’s responses:

“Hi John,

My apologies for being tardy with my response.

What strikes me most when listening to the people who come before me is that everyone has a story.  I hear about their background, their lives, and their problems.  Sometimes, a person is drawn into a dispute just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  At other times, it is the person who initiates the claim.  In either case, each believe they have been wronged.

I do my utmost to allow people to speak as long as they need to.  What is important is giving everyone the opportunity to be heard.  This is one of the best parts of my job.  Sometimes, even the unsuccessful party will say at the end that although they lost, they felt like they had been heard and they understand the reasons for the judgment.

I have the most satisfaction when I am able to resolve a dispute in favour of someone who has come to court as the disadvantaged one.   The analogy would be the battle between David and Goliath.   I recall one case in which there were a myriad of lawyers defending a claim of a self represented individual.  That person believed in her case and knew that she had been wronged.  When I gave my judgment orally, I saw the look of relief come over her face, as if to say that finally someone else “got it”.

One of the most difficult challenges is having to decide a case based on the evidence before me when the outcome may have been different if the person had brought forward the evidence necessary to prove their case.  I have to decide the cases based on the evidence and sometimes people do not understand that.  Of course, I never know for sure if the outcome would have been different, but in these cases, I do not experience the same sense of resolution.

My work as a judge is one small part in providing just resolutions of disputes through a fair, expeditious and accessible process.  From a societal point of view, the courts contribute to an orderly society where rights and responsibilities are made good.

On a personal level, I hear from litigants that they have tried unsuccessfully to settle their own disputes, but have had to come to court to have someone else settle the dispute.

John, I would appreciate complete anonymity on this.   However, please feel free to contact me if you have any further comments or questions.   I look forward to hearing your sermons.

With warm wishes,

[JUDGE #1]

As I read this judge’s email, all kinds of biblical and theological thoughts ran through my head.  Below is my response email;

[Hey JUDGE],

Thank you for taking the time to send these thoughts. Very insightful (and very much reflecting the image of God!)

A few followup questions:

1. I think God shares your delight in hearing people out;

“Why do you complain, Jacob?
 Why do you say, Israel,
 “My way is hidden from the Lord;
 my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know?
 Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
 He will not grow tired or weary,
 and his understanding no one can fathom.” Isaiah 40:27-28

“May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”
 1 Samuel 24:14-16

“Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.” Lamentations 3:59

Can you unpack further why it feels so right to you to listen fully, to give people a complete hearing? What emotions, thoughts, passions are moving inside of you in the act of listening well, of hearing justly?

2. I believe God also shares your passion for bringing justice to the disadvantaged –  I love this sentence you wrote, “I saw the look of relief come over her face, as if to say that finally someone else “got it”.

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:17-18

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Deuteronomy 27:19

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:14

Again, can you share a few more thoughts about the emotions, thoughts and passions you’re feeling as you witness the cause of the ‘fatherless’ (the ‘weakly represented’, the ‘David’)?  Your unique position as a judge is God-like in that you have the power to remedy the injustice, to speak a word that brings freedom, relief, recompense, renewal. What does is feel like to have the power to help the weak, to stand up against sometimes powerful and unjust forces?

3. You wrote, “One of the most difficult challenges is having to decide a case based on the evidence before me when the outcome may have been different if the person had brought forward the evidence necessary to prove their case. I have to decide the cases based on the evidence and sometimes people do not understand that. Of course, I never know for sure if the outcome would have been different, but in these cases, I do not experience the same sense of resolution.”

As I read these words I was reminded of the bible’s distinction between grace and good works. When pleading our case before God, too many of us make an argument based on ‘good behaviors and works’, when all The Judge ever wants from us, is this particularly case, is that we throw ourselves on the mercy of the court (grace). The different sense of resolution you feel made me wonder about God’s suffering in light of the bad cases/defenses/prosecutions we bring. Of course, in court, you can never offer advice to a plaintiff or defense… so too God respects our free will. So here are my last two questions: Why is it best to not intervene in cases like these? What does it feel like to perceive a ‘better way’ and not ‘be able to’ do anything about it?

And yes [JUDGE]… any quotes I use for my sermon will be totally anonymous (all three judges I’m talking to have asked for this) 🙂

john

I’ll add this judges response when I get it…

One thought on “How to preach a sermon on a Judge

  1. JVS

    The judge’s response…

    Point 1: John, for me it is mostly a matter of showing respect to those that come before me, but also on some level I think everyone wants, needs and deserves to be able to tell their own story. Fundamentally, it is about justice and fairness. How can one decide a case fairly without having heard both sides?

    Point 2: I must admit that I also get some rewards from this. I do experience some sense of pride and achievement in knowing that I have done a good job and helped someone in resolving their disputes. People often comment on the stress that the dispute has caused them, and what a sense of relief the experience when this comes to an end.

    Point 3: Regarding the last point, it is best not to intervene because one must not be perceived as being biased or by having already decided the case. If I was to “take sides” before hearing both sides, I would anticipate that one side may not feel like they are being treated fairly.

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