This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Monday, March 19, 2012
God Speaking: Like Justice
Preached on Sunday, March 18, 2012
Scripture readings: Ezekiel 33:10-20; John
The religious leaders of Jesus’ people brought a
woman to Jesus for judgment. They wanted Jesus to be responsible either for her
death, or for sparing her.
If Jesus took responsibility for her death, then he
would be contradicting the mercy he showed to the wrong kind of people; the
people they condemned as sinners. If Jesus took responsibility for giving her
mercy, then she would be a nail in his coffin. They would accuse Jesus of
betraying God’s laws. They intended to use this to turn as many people as
possible against Jesus in order to destroy him and kill him.
The leaders wanted death. They wanted the woman to
die, and they definitely wanted Jesus to die. (John 5:18; 7:1) They saw Jesus
as dangerous. They saw him as a sinner. They saw him as a threat. They saw him
And so they wanted for Jesus what Jesus did not want
for them. They wanted for Jesus what God did not want for them. God the Father did not want them to die, and neither did the
Son of God. The prophet Ezekiel spoke about this as he spoke for God: “As
surely as I live, declares the Lord of Hosts, I take no pleasure in the death
of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezekiel
This is what even the Old Testament (where things are
often so scary and violent) is really all about. It is about bringing life into
a dying world. This is what God has worked for all along. John tells us this
about the Father and the Son, in his
gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that
whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not
send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through
him.” (John 3:16-17)
and the Son want life. They love life. They created all life. They desire to
Those who brought the woman to Jesus for judgment
wanted death. Something in their heart was in harmony with the people who stood
against Ezekiel and the message he brought from God, when he asked them, “Why
will you die?” (Ezekiel 33:11) Why do you want death?
Long before Ezekiel, Moses voiced the same offer from
God: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you, that I have
set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…”
(Deuteronomy 30:19) God wants to give us life, and God wants us to choose life.
But there are people who want death. The leaders who
brought to Jesus the woman for judgment wanted death.
They thought they wanted death for the woman and for
Jesus; but, in another way they were like moths drawn to the flame. They were
drawn to be a part of the movement of death in this world. They didn’t
understand that, however wrong the woman’s actions were, their actions were
worse. Their hearts were set on something deadly.
I want to read an extended quote from C. S. Lewis,
from his book “Mere Christianity”. Lewis wrote this: “People often think of
Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot
of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not
think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every
time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you
that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And
taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life
long, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature
or into a hellish creature; either into a creature that is in harmony with God,
and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state
of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To
be the one kind of creature is heaven; that is, it is joy and peace and
knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage,
impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to
the one state or the other.” (C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity; Chapter 4, p.
When we look at Jesus, side by side with the leaders
who brought the woman to be killed, we can see this difference between heaven
and hell. They are doing the work of hell just as surely as they think they are
serving God; when they are really only following an idol of a god that they
have designed in their own image.
We don’t see this so much in the woman who has
betrayed her husband, and her lover’s wife, and both their families. Probably
she was only thinking about love. Perhaps she was reaching for the only love
she could see, but she chose a man to love who would rather abandon her to
death than stand by her side.
Maybe the man who left her to her fate was only a
coward who was willing to be let off the hook because the leaders only needed
the woman. Maybe the man who left her was one of the conspirators; one of the
leaders who wanted to create a scandal in order to bring about the death of
Jesus, and he used her longing for love to make her a puppet; to make her a pawn
in their plan. Maybe he only used her. If either of these were true then her
choice was all the worse, no matter how deceived she was.
There are women, as well as men (and there are kids
as well), who make such self-destructive choices for themselves. Those who
truly care about these men and women and kids lead lives of anxious prayer.
They pray that the God who always works for life will open their eyes and lead
them from death to life.
The leaders who brought the woman to be judged used
God’s ways to lie about themselves. They used God’s ways as a lens to see
others and not to see themselves.
They spoke of the woman as an example of the kind of
people they called “such”: “such men”, “such women”. (John 8:5) They
selectively used God’s laws to compare themselves with others; to earn points
for themselves and subtract points from others.
The day before this hanging court (or stoning court)
came into session Jesus had pointed out how the leaders used the law to blind
themselves. He said: “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps
the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” (7:19)
Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath; and so they
wanted to kill him for breaking the Sabbath by doing the work of healing. Yet
they did the work of circumcising babies on the Sabbath in order to keep the
law. (John 5:1-18; 7:23)
Circumcision was about the blessing and honoring of
life; about setting people apart for God. Jesus blessed and honored life by
healing the sick. Those he healed found themselves set apart for God.
The Old Testament law was about the blessing and
honoring of life. It was about the shaping of life as God designed it to be
lived. In the case of the woman caught in adultery, the law was about the blessing
and honoring of marriage as a great source of life for human beings. The
leaders were using the rules of God’s law as instruments for judgment and
punishment, when the rules of the law were given to be instruments for the
blessing and honoring of life.
The woman and her lover had also broken the instruments
for the blessing and honoring of life. The leaders were going to use her as an
opportunity to destroy life. They thought this was justice.
Jesus was going to intervene for her, and he was
going to make her judgment into an opportunity for restoring life. Jesus
thought this was justice.
The purpose of the law was to tell the leaders that
they were sinners too. It was not given to them just to make them feel that
they were better than others. They needed to know the truth about themselves
and have their lives restored by God. Jesus had come to do just that. He would
die for that very purpose. He would die for them and their sins on the cross.
The leaders who brought the woman to be judged used
God’s ways to lie to themselves about justice. They thought justice was about
punishment when it was just as much about transformation.
At the heart of the law was the lamb sacrificed for
human sins. That was a law meant to speak to the heart and change it. Jesus is
the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the lamb who changes
hearts and lives.
Human rules and laws have the weakness of not being
able to touch the heart and change it. This is why all the work of government,
and all the work of human law, needs to be done under the influence of the
virtue of humility and restraint.
Even God’s people do not have the power to reach into
the inside of others to heal the blindness, or the hardness, or the confusion,
or the brokenness of another person’s heart. We want to do it, but we can’t.
Well, we can’t, and so we pray to the one who can do it.
The prophet Isaiah says this about God’s special
work, which is the work of his servant the Messiah and Savior; the work of Jesus
the Son: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I
will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not
shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not
break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will
bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes
justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:1-4)
God’s justice and God’s law are about tending to the
bruised reed and the smoldering wick of the people who are unaware, or isolated,
or cut off from God’s fullness of life. They need to be restored. They need a
forgiveness that will change their lives. This is the justice that God came in
Christ to bring to the world.
That day in the temple, Jesus gave this restoration,
this new start, to everyone present. He gave it to the leaders and to the woman
they sought to kill. That day, they all saw the danger of their sins.
The leaders saw that they were sinners who were not
fit to throw their stones at another sinner. The woman saw her own danger, and she
saw the love of Jesus who presented her with a new life blessed by God. She now
had a calling from Jesus to a new way of life.
We live our lives as judges of others, and as those
who are judged. We are called by Jesus to a new kind of justice in our life in
We need him to take our blinders taken off, so that
we may see the danger we are in; the danger of making ourselves into self-righteous
judges who are ripe for hell.
We need to hear that we, ourselves, are bruised reeds
and smoldering wicks; and perhaps we have sought cover under the disguise of
being self-righteous judges. We have sought to hide from ourselves. We need
Jesus to restore us.
And we need to hear Jesus calling us to not hate and
despise “those people”; those who are really nothing more than broken reeds and
smoldering wicks. If we will hear, and see, and follow Jesus, we will leave
behind us the life of the justice that deals in death, and we will find the
justice that receives new life from God and gives that life to the world.