19 June 2017

Today's Chapel

Morning Prayer, p. 235

Psalm 130

Office Hymn: 553 “O Christ, Our Hope, Our Heart’s Desire”

Reading: John 7:53-8:11

They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” 

O Lord, have mercy on us.
In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Did ever He speak a more devastating word of law? “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Let’s face it. You love your stones, your gotchas, and the way you feel so utterly “right” when you get to hurl them and they land with a satisfying thunk. 

The problem, of course, is that the Law of God isn’t a list of disjointed items. It is a whole. A seamless will of God that our lives be love from the inside out and everywhere in between. Picture a beautiful and rare vase. And you drop it. It shatters. You can hardly pick up one of the shards and say: Well, see, I didn’t break it here! And when so and so dropped it, that’s exactly where they broke it. What a sinner they are! Um no.

So James 2: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but you do murder, you have become a transgressors of the law.” Or Romans 2 for that matter, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, everyone of you who judges. For in passing judgment you condemn yourself, because you the judge, practice the very same things.”

So they had her. Caught in the very act of adultery. And since it takes at least two to tango, where’s the fellow? Jesus doesn’t ask, but nor does he let them get away with it. They are trying to trap him, after all, because they’ve pieced together that he’s the mercy man. But they had her, dead to rights. And they had the law. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. So what do you say?”

He then does the oddest thing. Ignores the question. Stoops and writes. The only indication in Scripture by the way that Jesus ever wrote anything. He’s writing in the dust. But what? Some of the fathers speculated that he looked at folks in the crowd and on the ground wrote down the sin THEY were hoping others never knew about. One after the other. St. Augustine in his ingenious way thought he was digging in the earth to form a new heart a heart of flesh and not of stone for these stony hearted folks who could see the splinter in her eye but not the log in their own. We could speculate till the cows come home but we’ll have to wait to find out! Instead, just note that whatever he wrote didn’t make them back down. “Well? Well? Can we stone her? What do you say?”

He stands among and said to them: “Go ahead. Stone her, only let whichever one of you is without sin toss that first stone.”

He bent down and went on writing whatever he was writing with his finger in the dust. What a fascinating tidbit then: “Beginning with the older ones” the stones begin to drop across the courtyard. Yes, years can make you a bit more conscious of your sin than the hot-head of youth with their fervent idealism. We old ones know how often we have sold out ourselves, at least the guilt isn’t too far away ever. But the word of law didn’t just cause the oldest ones stones to drop. “Let him who is without sin among you” caused all the stones to eventually drop and then silence. Jesus stooping and writing and a woman standing, awaiting her fate. There WAS after all one who COULD throw that first stone. 

But He didn’t. He didn’t come to throw stones. “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” 

And here we see the tragedy in the story; a horrible tragedy. They were willing to drop their stones and slink away. And so they were just left with a word of law. The sting of being a hypocrite. The shame of being exposed for a self-righteous ass. But remember, He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world. What they ought to have done, what each of us ought to do, is drop our stones and go stand WITH the woman as one who also has dropped the vase and shattered it, who has betrayed love and fractured it in countless ways in our lives. For then, then the final word would not be: “Let him who is without sin…” Then the final word would be: “Woman, Man, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” With her, we could whisper together: “No one, Lord.” Then hear from His sweet lips: “Neither do I condemn you;  go, and from now on sin no more.”

Two final thoughts: first, what right did He have to do this? After all, it wasn’t Moses but Yahweh Himself who had laid down the stern demand of the Law. How could Jesus set it aside? The truth is that He didn’t. He transferred her stoning, her deserved death, to Himself. This he did for her and for us all. His cross is His owning our sin and taking its desserts as His very own.  Second, note that He did not tell her: “if you go and sin no more neither will I condemn you.” Too often THAT is what the world hears us church folks saying, and being rather keen to sniff the hypocrisy of our lives, they believe the whole thing is a sham. But note that Jesus said quite the opposite: He does not condemn her and with that forgiveness, that love, that covering of her shame, He sends her forth a free woman and tells her to live in that freedom. You too. 

People loved by God, drop the damnable stones already, but don’t walk away. Go stand with “them” - whoever the “them” are that you feel oh so righteous to look down your nose at. Go stand with them that the final word in your ear may be: “neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more!” 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Benedictus, p. 238ff.

Collect of the Day: O God, the strength of all who trust in You, mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing, grant us Your grace to kept Your commandments that we may please You in both will and deed; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

Remember, O Lord, according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Your whole Church, all who join with us in prayer, all our sisters and brothers wherever they maybe in Your vast kingdom who stand in need of Your help and comfort: commending into Your hands today especially Alex, Amy, Allen and Jan, and asking Your blessing upon Pastor Michael Paul and all who labor for you far from their native lands. Pour out on them and on us all the riches of Your mercy, so that we, redeemed in body and soul, and steadfast in faith, may ever praise Your wonderful and holy name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. 

O Lord, our Heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, You have safely brought us to the beginning of this day. Defend us in the same with Your mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by Your governance, may be righteous in Your sight; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Taught by our Lord and trusting His promises, we are bold to pray…

Let us bless the Lord.

The almighty and merciful Lord, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit bless and preserve you. 


Anonymous said...

A masterpiece - thanks for posting.

William Weedon said...

Dear Anon, thank you for the kind comment. Pax!