Sermon ~ Sunday, March 4th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
Seven Essential Questions: Am I Accepted?
What makes a person (you or me) acceptable to God?
Is it a life of great deeds? Great commitments to worthy causes?
Perhaps it is a life of simple humility with wisdom?
Is it being a person of unshakeable trustworthiness? Or a good reputation?
How about great compassion?
We might say these, and many other ways define an acceptable person before God. As well as striving for the right, the right way to act, to live.
Is the person lacking these qualities unacceptable before God, a “sinner?”
If so, what turns one who is unacceptable, a “sinner” into a person of honor?
Is it even possible?
In our reading this morning, presented with a “sinner,” a person of unacceptable reputation and behavior, Jesus turned the question of condemnation back on the supposedly honorable leaders of his community. And then he gave the possibility of change, call it conversion, repentance, whatever, to one considered unacceptable. And he did it with a simple change in the point of view. Jesus looked at the “sinner” from God’s perspective not the human.
We know the story. It is morning, a crowd of people have gathered around the Rabbi Jesus. He sits down, as rabbis do when they teach, and begins his lessons for the day. Somewhere in the middle of his instruction the religious leaders barge in with this woman they claim to have caught in the act of adultery. (I’ve often wondered what the religious leaders were up to that they actually caught this woman “in the act.” I’ve also wondered where the man was because the Law is clear that, if this is the case, he also is guilty.)
They ask Jesus what they should do with her. They remind him that she has broken God’s law and the Law says she should be stoned to death. Of course, according to the law they were supposed to bring two witnesses. Where were they?
It becomes apparent that this is all a scheme to trap Jesus. If he chose fulfillment of the law, he would seem cold-hearted in the eyes of those gathered to listen to him. If he chose compassion, he would be seen as one who disrespected the “Law” and is “soft on crime.”
Jesus does something next that must have frustrated the religious leaders to no end. He stoops over and begins doodling in the dirt with his finger! They keep asking him over and over, “Teacher what should we do?”
After a bit, Jesus straightens up and turns to the religious leaders first.
“Let the person who has never broken God’s Law throw the first stone at her.”
Then he bends over and resumes writing in the dirt. And we are told that the religious leaders left one by one, beginning with the elders.
When Jesus added this condition to the Law it made it impossible for them to follow through on the punishment. Since no one could keep the Law perfectly, no one could be the perfect (sinless) witness. Sinners accusing others of sin was and is the height of hypocrisy.
After they all left Jesus straightens up, looks around, only he and this woman are left. “Woman, (which would be like us saying “Ma’am”) isn’t there anyone here who says you are guilty?”
“No one sir.”
“Well, I don’t say you’re guilty either. Go your way and leave your life of sin.”
The Law breaker has found grace.
The Unacceptable has become the accepted.
The unlovable is the beloved.
This is the Good News.
Now for many of you this may not be something you ever give much thought to. Perhaps you grew up in a home where it was safe; you were cared for; you were loved and told you were loved. But some were not. Perhaps it wasn’t at home; perhaps it was in school, maybe on the playground. You were ridiculed for your athletic ineptitude. You’re the last to be chosen and then placed out in right field. And as you make your way out there you hear someone say, “No one hits the ball to right field anyway.”
So perhaps for those of us who never really had to struggle with our sense of self-worth and acceptableness, the more appropriate question might be “Who do I find acceptable?”
The world goads us on to judge others.
Whether it is the peer pressure of that school playground or today’s social media sites such as Facebook posts or Twitter “tweets” (I wonder why we shouldn’t call some twitter tweets “twits.” This seems more appropriate to their content or lack thereof!) But it isn’t limited to Social media, oh no! This has been going on for generations around tables where people have played cards and yes, sadly it even happens around many a church coffee hour table.
We are quick to judge, attach a label, to think we know all that we need to know, about another person or their circumstances.
So a cautionary word is needed here, in this story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, we must be careful that we do not find ourselves among those holding stones!
Jesus gently invites and encourages us in living a life of humility and honest assessment of ourselves with a generous spirit towards others in our community. While we are constantly being invited and tempted by the world’s propensity for dividing humans in to us and them – good guys and bad guys, the guilty and the guilt-free, saints and sinners – in truth we are each a little of both, every one of us.
Whether you are feeling judged and unworthy or find yourself judging others, the lesson is the same. Jesus speaks the same words to each of us, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
It is with such grace and compassion we find ourselves, no matter who we believe we are, or where we think we are in our walk with God, we are accepted.
Whenever I read this story, I wonder what this woman might have done after that encounter with Jesus. Did she just leave like her accusers?
Did, she perhaps, become a follower of Jesus?
Maybe we are left wondering because we are left with the same choices, but also like this woman, even with our flaws, Jesus loves and accepts us as beloved children of God.
Listen to this week’s audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon by downloading the link below; open and enjoy.