Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It Could Be a Country Song - the Adulterous Woman and Jesus.

I was driving to work today, listening to the country music station, bobbing my head to a song about trucks and dirt roads and girls and bonfires and dancing and probably beer, when I swear I heard the Holy Spirit ask me to change the radio station.

Not because God doesn't like country music.  Trust me, I think He does, just like I think He likes a lot of other music you'd probably be surprised at.  Like Baroque and those tin-sounding tunes played on harpsichords.

I mean, He created music, after all.

No, the Spirit asked me to tune the radio to KFIA, our local Christian AM radio station that plays a lot of sermons from local churches during the morning commute.  I occasionally listen to that station in the morning, but only occasionally, since I can only listen to so many sermons before they begin to blur into one long narrative in my brain.

(We sang a song in church this past Sunday about Jesus, saying, "all I wanna do when I wake up is spend my day with you", which is true enough, but it doesn't mean I want to listen to sermons all day. Maybe I could take him fishing with me, or to a ball game. Or, maybe he'd like to chill with me while we watch a movie, or the latest episode of Revolution. Maybe he'd help me clean my garage. I think Jesus would dig that.)

Anyway, I switched the radio over to KFIA.  Lo' and behold the preacher, I don't know who, was finishing up his sermon by reading a passage where Jesus is telling his followers not to judge others.

Thank you, Lord.  I needed to hear that today.  I'm sure others listening to the radio did too.

Part of my personal journey of learning to follow Jesus the best I can (trying to understand better and apply the understanding to my life in a better way), has been to confront this issue of "judging others", something we Christians seem to be really, really good at.

We're good at judging others, that is, not confronting the issue. We're really good at judging, not so good at the "don't judge" thing.

It seems to me that most Christians I know believe that there just has to be some moral boundary, or moral limit or edge or cliff over which love can't extend.  Someplace that we have to say "sin is just sin!"

Sin, I've heard said, has to be named as sin, for the good of the world, so that people will know they are sinful and need a savior. The Church must set standards and boundaries for people based on the word of God that need to be upheld as sacred. These boundaries are sacrosanct, inviolable and "biblical".

Which is true. For the most part,  I agree with that. The Church stands for something important in society.  It is a beacon of light set high on a hill, exposing the darkness, and beckoning those who see it to come and live in the light of grace, and truth, and love.

But as we in The Church beckon people to come, we must remember that those we are calling to are not just issues to be confronted or rebuked.  They are not "gay people" or "fornicators" or "thieves" or "adulterers" or any other label to be categorized.  

They are, each and every one, a person.  A real person.  With hopes, fears, feelings, thoughts, desires, ideas, dreams, insecurities, biases, emotions and needs, just like every other person.  They are not political stances, or pawns to be used to prove a dogmatic point of theology.

They are real, living, breathing, feeling, hurting, rejoicing, happy, sad, angry, upset, confused, ticked-off, overjoyed people just like everyone else.

In Matthew 7:1, Jesus says,
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged."
The Church has to stand for certain things, this much is true. In the big picture, on points of policy and politics and theology and issues, The Church has a responsibility to guard and keep safe the sacred truths and values that have been passed down through generations.

For my own part, though, I've decided to adopt what I see as Jesus' example of how he dealt with the big issues of doctrine, policy, right and wrong, and the way he applied those principals to an individual person with a beating heart. After all, I think Jesus meant it when he said, "don't judge....."

In John 8, we're told that one day while Jesus was teaching to a crowd in the Temple,
"... the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd."
Before we move forward, take a moment and grab onto that - they caught her in the act of adultery and they dragged her out and put her in front of a crowd. 

Nevermind the fact they didn't drag the man out with her.

Just get your heart around the fact that these men broke into a room.  They grabbed this woman probably in the act of sexual intercourse.  They dragged her out in all her shame and nakedness, crying and probably in hysterical fear for her life because she knows the law, too.  They  parade her across town, crying and struggling to get free, down several streets to the Temple, of all places  (where she's not even allowed to go, much less go naked!), and throw her out in front of a crowd.

Naked. Alone. Frightened. Angry. Ashamed. Probably pretty pissed off.

But ultimately, powerless.

Are you feeling the inhumanity here?  Are you feeling the degradation here?  Do you feel the injustice in this effort to serve justice?  Good.  We need to feel the inhumanity, because it's into this inhumanity that Jesus speaks some humanity, grace, and love.

So the Pharisees tossed the woman out and stated their issue, their creed, their stance on culture and law:
"Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
To the Pharisees and teachers of the law assembled in the Temple courtyard, this woman was not a person, she was a symbol.  She was a pawn to be moved about on the chessboard of politics and society to try to prove their point about how correct they were in their efforts to control and direct culture, and to define the boundaries of what is right and wrong, good and bad, holy and unholy.  She was a symbol used to try to prove that they were correct on the issue. 

(Sound at all familiar in the Church today?  You know it does.)

Interestingly, on the issue - on the topic or talking point of adultery - they were exactly right.  The law indeed did say that she deserved to be stoned to death.  They were correct on the moral stance of the issue, but dead wrong on the application and the purpose for the law.  

The purpose of The Law was to keep us out of trouble, to guide us and protect us from ourselves.  The point of the law against adultery wasn't to punish adulterers, but to warn people of the terrible consequences of adultery, in order to make it something to be avoided at all costs. Punishment was the last resort. The Law is a warning sign for our own good; a flashing red light, saying "don't go past here, danger lies ahead".

So, into this charged climate of right and wrong, morality and doctrine, fear and demands for justice and deep, deep shame, Jesus looked at the woman standing before him.  In his great wisdom and compassion he saw a woman, a person, not an issue or a talking point or a dogma or a creed.  He saw a quivering, crying, ashamed and utterly powerless woman with no recourse but to throw herself on the mercy of the Teacher.

All the while the Pharisees were demanding an answer.  "What do you say, teacher?"

" ...(Jesus) stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust."
I imagine there was a stunned silence in the crowd for a moment after that, punctuated only by the occasional sobs from the lone, naked, frightened woman on the ground in front of them.

Jesus acknowledged the "correctness" of their stance regarding the Law of adultery.  The woman, Jesus affirmed, did indeed deserve to die by stoning, as the Law said.  But he changed the focus from the accused to the accusers.

From the judged to the judges.
From punishment to compassion.
From justice to grace.
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged."
So as the silence fell, and the weight of the Teacher's words began to set in,
".....(the accusers) slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman."

Beginning with the oldest.  The wisest.  The most experienced.  Or perhaps those with the most weight of sin on their shoulders from having lived the longest.  Perhaps because each one of them knew that every single person there was imperfect, had sinned in some way, and as such were unqualified to judge anyone in the way Jesus demanded.  The one who dared to cast a stone would be a liar, and everyone knew it.

Or perhaps they suddenly realized their own issues and sins were somehow more personal, more immediate, more intimate than an issue, a stance, or a theological point.  Perhaps their hearts sped up a beat or two, and they saw the possibility of their own judgment at the hands of some other angry crowd.

Whatever the change, the accusers decided the religious stance or the talking point or being right on the theological issue and pointing out sin was no longer a detached philosophical point.  It had become very personal. So one by one, they left.
"Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Jesus demonstrated outrageous grace to a frightened, ashamed, scared and utterly powerless woman. Jesus, the only one who could rightly throw a stone at her because he was indeed sinless, refused to condemn her. He saw past the issue, past the stance, to the person at the heart of the issue, and to the heart of the person in front of him.

Let me be clear here for those who might misunderstand. Jesus was not telling the woman "you did no wrong". She clearly understood her sin, and the gravity of her situation.  The men accusing her of adultery were absolutely correct on the points of law and punishment.  Jesus did not say adultery is OK.

But what Jesus did was demonstrate that the law should never be used as a tool to coerce or control the actions of others.  The law is a signboard to all, not a bludgeon to be used by the few to control the many.

Which brings me to today, and the issues the Church confronts in culture, in much the same way the Pharisees confronted Jesus with the adulterous woman.

Charged issues like homosexuality, same-sex marriage, drug use, smoking, drinking , living together before marriage - go ahead, name your sin and its prohibition - get used by the Church all the time, in much the same way the Pharisees used the issue of adultery.

We metaphorically drag people we see as sinners through the town square of discussion and opinion and gossip and innuendo, accusing them as effectively, as callously, and as inhumanly as the Pharisees did.  We cast sinners in the town square of opinion accusing them of sin, but tend to forget that Jesus is the true judge, and he tells us....

....don't do that.  Don't cast people down.  Don't judge them. He reminds us,
 "The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged."
I love and agree with the Church universal that stands for certain societal values, because the Bible demonstrates that, for the most part, they are good for society and mankind.  God's decrees are not random or capricious and sin is named as sin because its almost always harmful or denigrating or dehumanizing is some fashion or another.

Jesus point, I think, is to remember that as we, the Church, defend and protect the sacred teachings and tenets of Christianity, we don't lose sight of the individuals that those sacred teachings and tenets are reaching out to.

People lost 'in sin" in the eyes of the church do not need the church dragging them to the town square and accusing them of their sin.  They know what the "Pharisees" think already.  You did too, before you became a Christian.

Jesus wants us to be a beacon of love, of grace, of compassion and reconciliation in a world that sees far too little love, grace, and compassion.  The woman accused of adultery knew she was guilty.  She didn't need anyone telling her that she was guilty.  That just added to her shame.  Jesus reached through the shame to touch the heart of a real live person, and extended radical grace.

Church, that's our job.

Name sin when there is sin. That's right to do. God the Father does it in the Old Testament, and Jesus does it in the New. .

But when it comes to dealing with the personal, the individual, the heart of someone that can be crushed or renewed - we must always extend love, grace, compassion, and reconciliation, even at the expense of our pride and "rightness" in our sacred teachings - because Jesus showed us that a restored heart is far more important than being right on an issue.

After all, people are the real issue.  Lives are the real issue. Let's try to be right on that issue as often as possible.

John 12:46-47  "I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it,"

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