For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
They were in the middle of having sex. Naked and sweaty. He was married to someone else, and she, well, she had been promised that he loved her.
He didn’t. None of them ever did. Instead, she found that over and over and over they were users and heart breakers and yet…here she was.
They didn’t even knock. They came in like they owned the place and grabbed her – only her, never him. She knew then that this one was the worst kind of user – he had likely been part of a scheme to get her in trouble from the outset. Liars and cheats. All of them. Every last one of them, she thought as they dragged her among them, naked and afraid, trembling in the cool air of the morning. Some of them stopped to pick up stones. They were going to be ready for the ultimate condemnation. Their heavy breathing and grabbing hands were the only things she knew for sure.
They arrived at the temple court. There was a man, too. Another one, ready to condemn. To judge. She had heard of this one, wandering about Galilee and the countryside, healing people, preaching. Even feeding people. As she stood there, freezing and alone, she waited to hear what he would have to say to her.
“She was caught. In. The. Act. Of Adultery. We are commanded to stone her. What say you?” The leader of the group sneered the words at the teacher.
No words about the man who had shared her bed. No words about the fact that they set her up. Was this man like the others? What would he say?
Nothing, for a moment. He said nothing. He knelt and picked up a stone, too…oh dear, he would be the first to throw – no, he dropped it and said “any of you who are without sin should be the ones to start” and then he began writing – greed, lust, thievery, lying, scheming – these words in the dust. She scrunched her eyes closed and waited for the pain of the first rock to pelt her sweaty skin.
Instead, she heard the soft plunk of dropping rocks. The quiet shuffle of retreating feet. The oldest ones, they must have had the most to account for or recognized their complicity first – they walked away before the younger. The younger ones, too, let loose their grasp of her arms and dropped their stones and left, perhaps too stunned to consider fully what had just happened.
Jesus lifted his eyes to her. He smiled a bit. He said in an almost mocking tone “what is no one left to condemn you?”
“No sir,” she stumbled out the words, mostly afraid to really understand what was happening.
“Then I do not either. Go and sin no more” And she saw that he could have condemned her, he could have thrown a stone in answer to his own challenge, but instead he wiped away the words of deeds and sins that he had scratched in the dirt. He challenged her to be different, he challenged her to do better, but he did not throw a single stone to do it. Instead, as she hustled away, to find clothes and a new morning birthed of second chances, she realized that nothing for her would ever be the same. She would follow this man, this one who was so different and so better and so…words failed her, but the Word made flesh, he did not.
I am the light of the world, Jesus said after this scene. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
This scene was calculated and constructed by men who were so certain of their rightness that when they were confronted by actual light, by the one who truly could change how they saw things and make them truly righteous, they were incapable of recognizing it. But it did show them who they really were. It did make them aware of just how much they missed the mark. Still, they were far more concerned with being right, with pointing out the error in the OTHER than they were with their own limits and failures.
We too, construct opportunities to be right. To be sure of where we stand, sure of how correct our opinions are – to be fair, sometimes our judgements are true, sometimes our pronouncements on the wrongs of another, just like the teachers of the law in this scene – we are 100% on point and also 100% off base. We tell ourselves that sending children to concentration camps is ok, because their parents didn’t follow the law. We insist that baking a cake for a gay wedding is akin to surrendering our core beliefs. We decry people who kneel, but also people who raise their voices and march. We judge based on what people buy, the curse words, the tattoos, the things that scare us or make us uncomfortable. We stand proud of our resistance to all of the above and judge those who speak out against them. We point to this sin or that sin that we see someone else doing – and we forget that our sins too are worthy of judgement. We forget that Jesus came to give us abundant life, a life where we can be light and salt and peace to others, not by telling them all the things they’ve gotten wrong – but by showing them all the ways that Jesus has made the wrong things right. Showing them the places where the brokenness we have known has been swept away and the scars that remain are reminders of the love that we have been shown by the light of the world. Where there is light, there is no longer any darkness. Where the light shines we not only see ourselves more clearly, but we see the wounds of the other more clearly. Are we asked to wound deeper those who already have wounds? Or are we called to help them heal – even when we disagree? Does Jesus call us away from living in sin? Yes! But as much as he has done that for us, he is also the one who makes a way for us to do it. He doesn’t ask us to condemn our neighbor as they do something we know or believe to be wrong. Instead, he asks us to show our neighbor what it looks like to love Jesus.
Today, we celebrated a baptism. As part of that we welcomed a baby to the community of church – the place where we can all disagree about everything else – but we all agree that the Jesus who lived and died and rose again, did so in order to show us a more perfect way, to show us how to be set apart by being more loving and more kind and more light than we could have ever been on our own – without Jesus and without each other.
So, what happens when our lives reflect the light of the world instead of trying to point that light accusingly at our fellow humans?
It would seem that Jesus was making that very point in this situation – the teachers of the law were ready to destroy another person in order to prove their own perfection. And Jesus simply reflected that same spotlight back on them – showing them, one at a time and all together, how very much they still were missing.
Eventually, the teachers of the law would decide that they did not like this turn of events and they would find a way, they thought, to be rid of this Jesus person.
Eventually, we all have the same choice to make. We can either choose to live lives that reflect the light of the world or we can do our best to exclude this Jesus person from our lives, because he makes us uncomfortable, makes us think about how we do things, makes us want to do and be better.
It is the gift of God that we have the opportunity every day to choose – to decide whether or not we will surrender ourselves to the love and light that is Jesus or allow ourselves to be swayed and driven by our selfishness and darkness. Jesus wants only for us to know we are loved and to live abundant lives of grace and peace and hope and love. We want what our own way more often than not, and when we choose that, we remain in the darkness that would keep us from a relationship with God, that would keep us from being who we were made to be – whole persons living in the light and love of a gracious redeemer.
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.