Sunday, March 24, 2019

Neither do I condemn you. Lent 2019, John 8.1-11,

John, Chapter 8
2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Imagine standing before God and Jesus on the Day of Judgment.  And imagine that the Accuser begins to read the litany of your sins for which you will be judged.
Do you suppose that it will read:
·         She was too loving.
·         He was too forgiving.
·         She was too merciful.
·         He was too compassionate.
·         She was too accepting.
Do you suppose, if those were the charges levied against you on the Day of Judgment, that God would then condemn you??
No.  Of course not.
For this is all the stuff of grace and near to the heart of God.
And though we can never be perfect, and everything we do is in some way tainted by sin, it is better for us to err on the side of grace, than the law.
We, however, often feel most righteous when we are most judgmental, and condemning.
Some lament the fact that we simply don’t preach against sin enough in the Church.
I quote a Dr. James Emery White from his blog page:
“In 1973, psychiatrist Karl Menninger published a book with the provocative title, Whatever Became of Sin?  His point was that sociology and psychology tend to avoid terms like “evil,” or “immorality,” and “wrongdoing.”  Menninger detailed how the theological notion of sin became the legal idea of crime and then slid further from its true meaning when it was relegated to the psychological category of sickness.

Sin is now regarded as little more than a set of emotions that can be explained through genetics.
So something like lust is not a wrong that threatens our own health and the well-being of others; it’s simply an emotional urge that is rooted in the need to propagate the human species.  It’s fixed in our genes.”
And hearing someone say something like that, there is a whole chorus of voices that say “Yes, that’s what wrong with our world.  We need to take a strong stance against sin, and for righteousness.
What is the world coming to anyway?
One of the things we do is focus on certain sins more than others.
And frequently that means that we focus on other’s sins, not our own.  And we particularly love to focus on sexual sins.  That has been the case for a long time.
Imagine how righteous those scribes and Pharisees felt when they brought that woman before Jesus who had been caught in the very act of committing adultery.  I mean, really, in the very act. . .  One would assume she’d been pulled naked from the bed and her lover’s arms.
The judgment couldn’t be questioned at that point.
“Jesus, what do you say?”
People who committed adultery were to be stoned to death.
If a man raped a woman in the city, both of them were to be stoned to death—the man because he raped her, the woman because she didn’t cry out for help.
If, however, the rape took place in the country, the woman’s life was to be spared.
If a man rapes a virgin, who is not yet engaged, in other words a young girl, he is required to make the girl his wife and cannot divorce her.
And so the Law of Moses goes.
And it’s not only sexual sins that count.
Rebellious and stubborn sons are also to be executed by the elders of the town.
Even Jesus, at times, preaches a very strict understanding of the Law.
In Mark 10:11 he says "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
Yes indeed, whatever happened to sin?
Whatever happened to sin?
So there this woman was, standing before Jesus, having been caught in the very act of adultery.
She is without defense.
Then Jesus does a curious thing.  He bends down and starts writing something with his finger on the ground.
“When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.”
Wouldn’t you love to know just exactly what it was that he wrote on the ground???
Some have speculated that he was writing down the sins that these scribes and Pharisees had committed.
Or perhaps Jesus wrote something like “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;”, that’s from his sermon on the Plain in Luke.
He says something similar in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew:  "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.
In Romans, Paul writes:
“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
As Jesus wrote with his finger in the dust, the woman’s accusers left one by one.
Finally, she was alone with Jesus.
"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."
“Neither do I condemn you.”
“"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  John 3:17
Such is the heart and the love of Jesus.
He is unwilling to condemn because he came to save.

Those among us who are ready to condemn will cling to the final words of Jesus “do not sin again”.
Forgiveness is possible, but only if true repentance is found.  Sin no more.  And if you are not willing to repent and sin no more, the condemnation remains.
Actually, I’ve come to believe that true forgiveness means that ‘your sins are no more’, not that you will ‘sin no more’.
Paul makes it quite clear in the seventh chapter of Romans that our battle with sin continues.  He writes:
“For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
This is the thing, though.
We are forgiven by the grace of God, even though we will continue to struggle with sin all the days of our lives.
We are forgiven.
Forgiveness isn’t contingent on our never sinning again.
Yes, Jesus forgives us to set us free.
But his offer of forgiveness is renewed each and every day.
One of the most important things I’ve learned about this is that forgiveness is not contingent on our repentance, but rather that our repentance is in response to God’s forgiveness.
Repentance is the turning around, turning from our sinful ways, toward God.
And this turning, or better, returning to God, is only possible because of the forgiveness freely offered to us in Christ Jesus.
And so we, like this woman, stand before Jesus and hear those most wonderful words:  “Neither do I condemn you.”
As a Church we simply cannot be too loving, too forgiving, too merciful, too compassionate, and too accepting.
No amount of grace is too much grace.
Because grace, in all its lavish abundance, is precisely what transforms the lives of sinners and sets us free and brings us back to God.

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