Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Faith for Life - Tough but Tender

Preached on Sunday, March 5, 2017

Scripture readings: Isaiah 42:1-9; John 7:51-8:11

One day, Jesus came across an angry crowd which had caught an adulteress and they were backing her into a corner so that they could stone her to death. Jesus shouted at them to stop, and he yelled, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Lake Lenice, Crab Creek
North of Mattawa/Desert Aire
February 2017
All of a sudden, a woman from the back of the crowd fired off a big rock that barely missed hitting the adulteress. Jesus recognized the rock-thrower at a glance and he shouted, “Come on, Mother! Will you please mind your own business!”
The spiritual leaders of God’s people dragged a woman into the presence of Jesus and told him that they had caught her in the act of adultery. John, the writer of the gospel, doesn’t tell us how these spiritual people caught her in the act, but it’s clear that they neglected a very important fact. In the case of adultery, it takes two to tango, and they neglected to bring the man whom they also must have caught. The Old Testament law for the punishment of adultery clearly says that both partners were to be killed together. (Leviticus 20:10)
These spiritual people staged this trial in order to trap Jesus, as John tells us. I wonder if these spiritual people were looking around for likely acts of adultery, and how they tracked this case down? Some people wonder if one of the spiritual leaders was one of the partners; but that couldn’t be, because these were spiritual people.
But that’s exactly the issue. That’s the problem. Maybe something like this would have happened without Jesus and, yet, these spiritual people did this horrible thing because of Jesus.
It makes me see, once again, that Jesus often brings out the worst in people. It happened over and over again in the gospels. It still happens, so they say.
Of course, the opposite is also true: that Jesus does bring out the best in people. But does that knack for bringing out the best happen as often as bringing out the worst?
It’s one of the clearest lessons in the New Testament, and none of any of the lessons of Jesus have stopped being important. These lessons continue to be true, and we need them, and so this is a very scary lesson, if it applies to the spiritual, religious people of today.
Are there any spiritual or religious people here today? Then you better watch out!
The other crazy thing about this story is that Jesus really was taking sides. It’s clear whose side he takes. He took the woman’s side.
Wasn’t Jesus being awfully irresponsible? Wasn’t he setting a terrible example for us?
Adultery is a terrible thing. At very least, it’s a betrayal of trust, and Jesus took the sinner’s side against the people who stood up for traditional values. He sided against those who upheld the value of the holiness of trust.
Except for the fact that they didn’t. They didn’t stand for trust. They were on the side of entrapment, and trickery. They were willing to hurt Jesus through the hurting of others. There’s no trust in that. And they hated Jesus.
Well, what they hated most about Jesus was that he clearly didn’t believe in their integrity. He didn’t believe that they were what they claimed to be. Over and over, Jesus called their goodness and their virtue into question; and so, well, they decided that they would show him a thing or two. And, once again, they chose to show Jesus, and everyone else, what they were at their worst.
Jesus no longer makes himself seen and heard the way he once did, when he walked this earth. Of course, he’s still here, and we can see and hear Jesus in different ways. So, what if Jesus arranges our lives so that, sometimes, it becomes clear that we aren’t what we claim to be, and that we aren’t even what we like to think ourselves to be in our most private moments? What if Jesus arranges our lives so that others can see and tell us that we aren’t what we claim to be, and that we aren’t even what we like to think ourselves to be?
I find that this very thing does happen to me. I also find that (when it does happen) it doesn’t bring out the best in me. When this happens, I’m tempted to blame those who catch me; spiritual, religious person that I am. This also brings out the worst in me.
It’s just one the many reasons why I need Jesus.
When the story is over, it was easier for the woman to know why she needed Jesus than it was for the spiritual people. It was harder for them, but they needed to know it too. They needed to know why they needed Jesus, and how much they needed Jesus.
The woman knew that Jesus could see through her and, knowing what Jesus knew about her, she could know that Jesus cared. She knew that Jesus was opening the door to a new life; a life of freedom, and love, and acceptance, and change.
The spiritual people needed to know what Jesus knew about them, and so he showed them. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” The older ones, who knew themselves better, were the first to put down their stones and go off to think, and to pray.
I think that’s what at least some of them went off to do. I hope so.
Jesus used a determined quietness and gentleness to awaken them to their true and needy selves. They either saw the patterns of their lives, or they saw some particular action that they refused to face that was so revealing of those patterns, or else they saw the present moment.
What could they see in the present moment? They could see their current plotting and scheming. They could see their angers and hatreds. They could feel the stones in their hands. They could see the cringing figure of the woman they were willing to kill in order to get back at the one who dared to show them their true selves.
The person at their feet, whom they accused as a sinner, represented something else that they would not see or admit. She was someone the prophet Isaiah spoke about. She was a bruised reed. She was a smoldering wick. They meant to break her and snuff her out.
Jesus took her side in order to keep her from being broken and snuffed out. It’s possible that some of the spiritual people in the mob didn’t go home to think and pray, unless they went to think and pray about how to do a better job at breaking Jesus and snuffing him out.
It certainly came down to that in the end; except that Jesus refused to stay broken and snuffed out. The truth is that Jesus died on the cross to keep any of us who are bruised reeds and smoldering wicks from being lost, and broken, and put out.
Jesus came to carry all of that on the cross. Jesus came to call us to a new life in which we can stand tall and shine. That is, if we will let Jesus show us who we truly are, and if we will let Jesus tell us why we need him, and how much we need him.
Then we will find his faithfulness and his unique brand of justice. Christians often speak of this strange justice as Jesus saving us; and we can see what this saving is really like in this story of Jesus, and the woman, and the mob.
We know that Jesus went to the cross, not to excuse us, because his strange justice has the purpose of making things right; making things as they should be. Excuses don’t create this justice.
Jesus came to create justice by taking our side against everything in our life that accuses us and shows our inner shame. On the cross he takes our side in order to give us a new life. This is what defeats our accusers.
The story of the woman caught in adultery is really another way of seeing ourselves. In future days, she would be able to tell others about the day when Jesus saved her and tried to save the spiritual people who needed Jesus without admitting it. We can look at that day’s story and see what our own salvation needs to be and how it needs to come to us.
Jesus arranges our lives not only to help our blind eyes to see ourselves but, also, he arranges our lives to hear him tell us about his love. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Another surprise is how easy it is to hear Jesus’ words to the woman as a warning, and not as an invitation and a promise. Why would anyone want her to be warned, instead of wanting her to be invited to a new life? Why would anyone want these words of Jesus to be a warning when they could be the life-changing promise of Jesus?
This also tells us something about ourselves that we need to hear. Jesus invites us to receive the new life that his cross and his resurrection are designed to give us. And we want to turn his invitation to us into a warning to the world. Why do we do this?
We are called to imitate the determined quietness and gentleness of Jesus so that we can be his gift to the bruised and the smoldering. We are called to imitate the quietness and toughness that Jesus showed to the accusing world: the judging, blaming world.
I am choosing to take the side of the invitation and the promise. I want to share that with my neighbors and with the world.

That’s what Jesus offers to you: to become the people who don’t condemn but share the invitation and promise of Jesus to others. That is the calling of Jesus to all of us who claim to be his people.

1 comment:

  1. To all of us who claim to be his people!
    Wonderful written sermon, and it starts with a nice big laugh at the beginning!