We are starting a new sermon series this morning: “A wider view of God”. In this series, we are celebrating that all of us have a window or perspective into the character of God. None of us see God completely or fully. But all of us see and know some part of God. Thus, if we want to know God more, we need two things: (1) we need to pursue him ourselves. (2) We need to pursue him alongside people who are different from us: people from different ethnic groups, different genders, different generations, socio-economic groups, different abilities. And, of course, we need people with different perspectives.
As the world becomes more diverse (and as the church becomes more diverse), differences can feel like a threat. We are tempted to wonder, “why don’t other people behave as I do?” and “Why don’t other people care about the same things that I care about?” Over this series, Pastor Harrison and I are interviewing diverse members of our congregation, asking three questions:
1. Which person of the Trinity do you feel closest to?
2. What characteristics of God are most important to you?
3. Can you share the story of the Gospel in a few sentences?
For those who are interviewed, we’re not even going to be able to share everything you say. There’s just too much good stuff even in those three questions. But to those of you who are listening—know that you may not see things the same way. But that is the point. So ask yourself, “what does this person see about God that I do not? How can I learn from her or him? How can I appreciate them?
Let’s start this morning with a few words from Monique. Monique was the chair of Leadership Council for two years, before finishing her term. She’s the VP of Student Life at Ambrose, a mother, and a wife.
Monique’s words are one window into the person of Jesus Christ and the character of God! And we’re going to focus on Jesus this morning—especially the character of Jesus as the one, to use Monique’s words, He has “ruthlessly and lovingly and gracefully done everything he could with people to bring them closer to himself.” Monique can help us see an aspect of Jesus more clearly! Let’s open up God’s word and look at this Jesus whom she loves:
[READ John 8:1-11]
In this story, the teaches of the law and Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. These leaders of the community, whom Monique talked about, say, “In the law, Moses required us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” Before we continue, I want you to know that stoning, in the law of Moses, was not pelting with softballs, but rather choosing stones at least the size of man’s head, throwing the accused from the top of a small cliff, and piling those stones on top. Even so, stoning was not primarily a death sentence, though it often resulted in death. Instead, it was complete and final ostracization from the community.
Jesus knows what is at stake. What is at stake, you ask? The possibility for everyone to be welcome in the family of God. So Jesus bends down and scribbles in the sand awhile. There’s a beauty in this story because people always want to know “what was Jesus writing in the sand?” But whatever Jesus wrote was for the woman who was there. That was his message for her only. It is the story that is for us. When the teachers of the law and Pharisees become impatient, again reflecting our modern temperament, they push Jesus for an answer. Only when pushed does Jesus reply: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” As if by a miracle, the oldest and wisest among the teachers of the law and Pharisees leave first; then the younger and less wise ones follow until only Jesus and the woman remain.
In a collectivist culture, like 1st century Judaism, the leaders would have served as paragons of their religious community. Their faith would have been unassailable and their integrity unquestionable. They would have shouldered almost unlimited responsibility in their community, and, as a result, had almost unlimited power. Their job was to protect those within the community from harm—both physical and spiritual. Thus, the laws about leprosy and uncleanness, which displaced infected people outside of the city to live among the unclean dead. In short, it was the role of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Teachers of the Law to be the conscience of the of community and to enforce the perfect law of God.
So Jesus’ question puts them in a bind. To claim to be without sin is to claim to be God. This is exactly the claim Jesus makes later in chapter 8 when Jesus speaks of God the Father saying, “I know him” perfectly and fully. The Pharisees rightly identify this as Jesus making the claim which they have just refused to make: in saying that he knows God the Father, Jesus is claiming to be perfect. These men have just refused to make such a claim: they have acknowledged that they are not perfect. In walking away, the wisest men first, the community leaders silently confess that they too have not lived up to the letter of the law of Moses.
Consider where you lead. Can you follow the example of the Pharisees in this case? Can you do what Monique said—what Jesus did—“be radically inclusive and extremely introspective and careful about [your] own practices before we are careful about others.”
After the community leaders’ silent confession, the clever part comes: Jesus asks the woman, “Has no one condemned you?” When she immediately says no, he continues: “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now, and leave your life of sin.” In this final statement of the story, Jesus does two incredible things: he allows the community leaders to save face by following their lead (If they do not / then neither do I); in doing so, he also leaves the woman under their leadership. She is not free to reject the authority of these community leaders: committing adultery once again will only serve to demonstrate that she alone is guilty: both of sexual sin and of bringing shame on the entire community by disrespecting the decision of its leaders. Jesus is the only one with the only right to ostracize and the right to judge; but he embodies the grace and truth of the Father, refusing to exert coercive power over the woman. He tells her, “Go now, and leave your life of sin.” What comes next for her personally is up to her. But the leaders remain responsible for their community.
Jesus spares the woman this time, offering her the opportunity for a graceful withdrawal. For forgiveness and the opportunity to begin anew. Jesus also offers the leaders an opportunity for a graceful withdrawal. He knows that they have many responsibilities and burdens. He knows that sin lives in their hearts and lives too. Be SURE that the woman and these leaders will meet again. Jesus knows this, so he offers them a better way forward as well.
Only Jesus can perfectly and fully see this issue and this interaction. Only Jesus can so perfectly balance the radically inclusive love of God and the recognition that we are all sinners, fallen short of the glory of God! Not only for the woman, but also for the leaders and teachers of the law. He is very gracious to everyone and ALSO very clear about what needs to be fixed. We need to learn a LOT from him.
Who went away from this interaction chastened? Who left emboldened? Was it not the Pharisees who were chastened and the woman who was emboldened? Those at the centre of the religious community, Jesus challenges the most. Those on the margins, Jesus welcomes the most. Now, to be sure, there is welcome for the Pharisees into the family of God and also challenge for the woman to leave her sin behind. But Jesus is welcoming allpeople into closer relationship with God.
So what about you?
Some of us here are in positions of leadership and power. We know our way around a boardroom. We have sat in Council meetings. We have led teams. Others of us know life on the margins. We have done something or said something that got us left behind; or we have been excluded just because of who we are, where we moved to, or a number of other reasons.
So there are two application questions today. Two things to ask yourself:
- What is Jesus calling me to leave behind? (and what does Jesus say about me?)
- Who am I casting stones at? (and what does Jesus say about that person?)
We have all kinds of ministries and strategies and reports to consider. We have a church vision statement as God’s leading to follow. But Jesus summarizes the WHOLE law in two sentences: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength. Love your neighbour as yourself.”
First, if you do not love yourself, you cannot love your neighbour. And let me tell you—that you do not (and cannot) love yourself enough. I don’t mean that you don’t indulge yourself enough. I mean that the love you require in order to function and to be filled and to even love others—you cannot generate within yourself enough love to fill yourself. Some of you have been trying for years to feel full! You lead, you achieve, you become busy. You work hard to provide for others. You do so much, even with good intentions—yet in your heart you still feel you are missing something. You are still frustrated, discouraged. Until you fully receive and experience the love of Jesus and until it sinks deep within your heart, you will always try to keep doing things your own way. And you will always come up empty—whether you feel like the woman or like the leader. Jesus offers you his love, his wisdom, and promises that he made you for his good purpose.
Second, you will cast stones if your desire is to make your neighbour like yourself. But you will build bridges if your desire is to make your neighbour like Jesus. If you want your neighbour to be like yourself, you will always wonder and question and get frustrated. You will put all your energy into trying to change and guide and redirect the other person, pushing and pulling them in every way. But if your desire is that your neighbour become like Jesus, then you will go out of your way to make sure that the path is clear for them. Because youknow the amazing love of Jesus, you will know that the love of Jesus is powerful enough and fierce enough to melt the hardest heart and redirect the most stubborn person. If you know the love of Jesus, then you know that God desires to welcome everyone into his family—and you will do whatever you can do join him in his work. In a word, the more we know Jesus, the more we are changed.