8 09 2011

Stuck. Stuck in a scene of judgement, stuck with the finger pointed at you. Caught in the act and waiting for punishment. Stuck.

The woman was brought him. Caught. Bound, bleeding, shamed. Shamed. The price for quick sex, dirty sex. Or for being caught in the religious power play. It is the temple courtyard, the Pharisees’ turf. The woman is brought, crawling, bound and struggling, fearing for her life. The Romans look on, ready to pounce on any disturbance. The people look on, knowing that yesterday they were cheering Jesus and today… who knows.

This is a scene of judgement. This is a scene where those in power are using their position to emphasise their authority. The woman is just a pawn in their power game. The crowd watch as the leader of the Pharisees accuses her before Jesus: this woman was caught in adultery. Moses commands us to stone such women. What do you say?

The woman trembles. Jesus pauses. He writes something in the sand. The people clamour to see. Luke doesn‘t tell us what he says, but from what happens next, we can guess: stone her. Panic reaches the woman’s face as she realises her last chance is gone. The angry mob get twitchy fingers and begin to search for stones.

Stuck. Stuck in a scene of judgement, stuck with the finger pointed at you. Caught in the act and waiting for punishment. Stuck.

How many of us live our lives there. We are stuck there. Our relationship with and understanding of God is based on feeling like we have been caught and will be – or are being – punished. We are the woman. God is the angry mob.

Then Jesus cuts through all of it with a stroke of revolutionary genius. This is the method of execution:  Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Would you be the first? You will be arrested for inciting a riot and maybe for murder. But more than that, you will break the very law you are abusing the woman with to test Jesus. Because the law says none of us are without sin. Clever.

The people look to the Pharisees for what to do. The eldest was always the most important – and the eldest walked away. One by one they followed. Humiliated. The whole scene has changed. The stage is empty except for the woman and he who is without sin. When Jesus bends down to write again she probably thinks he is going to get a stone.

Stuck. Stuck in a scene of judgement, stuck with the finger pointed at you. Caught in the act and waiting for punishment. Stuck.

Instead Jesus walks on the knife-edge between condemning her on one hand, and overlooking her destructive lifestyle on the other. “Neither do I condemn you”, he says. “Go, and do not sin again.” The key here is that Jesus recognises her sin, and he holds her to account – but he removes the penalty for that sin. She is guilty, but she will not be killed. He did not condemn, but neither did he condone. The challenge to her was to change. For how many of us is changing harder than being punished. We want to be punished. We do not want to change. 

In our little church we are beginning a series on grace. Why? Because I think so many of us are stuck with this idea of God as the harsh religious leader who must enforce the law; but Jesus shows us a grace which see the person to be embraced not a problem to be erased.

The abused woman in this story we hope was able to find healing. We hope the community was as ready for repentance and forgiveness and new beginnings as Jesus was. Jesus did not get stuck at condemnation.

Let’s pray we don’t get stuck there either.

This story can be found in full in John 8.1-11


24 05 2011

When I saw the offensive graffiti written on the house, in 2 ft high letters, I though to myself, here goes. This is one of those situations you read about in the papers and hope to never see. The bad spelling said a lot – if you can’t spell ‘paedo’, it’s probably best not to write it on a wall – but that’s not the point.

So where does Jesus send us when this happens in our street? As far away as possible, I hoped. Probably best not to get involved. But Jesus was never really a ‘don’t get involved’ kind of person.  Instead he said go and knock on the door and see if the guy is ok. And if he wants help cleaning it off. Actually it was Fran who said that, but Jesus tends to use her like this.

But people might see, I thought. And the man might be grumpy? It’s probably best not to get involved. Keep my head down.

So I knocked on the door. There was no-one in. Phew… But a man called through the window from a house opposite. He warned to me stay away. Why? Because I didn’t want to give the church a bad reputation hanging round with people like that. The church already has a bad reputation, I replied, which may not have been the best response. I am not worried about that, I said.

Actually I am. Not so much the church’s, but mine. Jesus may well have hung out with people of dubious reputation and survived but… hang on, he didn’t survive. Jesus may have had the confidence to ride social shame – even violence – but I don‘t know if I do. I don’t think I am so good at slipping away unnoticed. I certainly have no 3 day rising plans. What if the church was targeted in a ‘guilty by association’ way; what if my house was, or my family?  And… and… and…

There are always excuses. Always reasons. But kingdom values are different values. And this is where it shows. I do not believe scrawling on people’s houses is any sort of justice. I do not believe destroying people’s reputation publicly is any sort of trial. And this is true whether or not the person is guilty or innocent. I believe in justice. I believe in grace. I believe in a love beyond all compare. Which means that even those guilty of the most grievous crimes are still worthy of love. As are those publicly accused by the mob. 

As are those who do the accusing.

Not everyone can love like that. I don’t know if I can. But perfect love drives out fear. The light overcomes the darkness. And there are more important things than reputation.

(And credit to the council – graffiti removed within 36 hours)


2 04 2010

Today the world is destroyed. Destruction, before reconstruction. Tearing down, before building up. Razed, before renewed.

Today, Good Friday, is about Jesus. It is about his extreme aloneness. His abandonment.  It is about Jesus and his being God who is killed. Dead. It is about a death with such cosmic repercussions we have misunderstood it for centuries. And always will.

But the bits we grasp we must hold to. That Jesus death tore the Temple curtain in two. That the holy of holies, the very presence of God, is not the preserve of the priests, the powerful, the pretentious, the pretenders. That there are no longer segregations for the rich and poor, male and female, weak and strong, literate and illiterate, in and out.

The curtain is torn. The curtain is torn! Haberdashery dashed, the curtain curtailed. Access is free. Jesus has paid.

As I write this on Good Friday, Jesus is still dead. The curtain is torn. The earth is dark. And no-one knows why. In hindsight we know that the world as we know it is being destroyed, that it may be renewed. Destruction, before reconstruction. It does not need to be destroyed again. We don’t await rapture, but renewal. Because once sin and death are destroyed, there is only life and beauty and love and something like how it all began at Eden.

But we don’t know that yet. So let’s leave the curtain perilously on the floor, peer into the darkness, and see what happens.


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