A Lesson In Stone Theology

Some 15 years ago now, I preached a message with the above title.  Fast forward to the last couple of years, and I have searched high and low for the archived copy either in my electronic files or in printed ones lying around in various places; and you guessed it: nada; zilch.  And yet even so, this wonderful passage and its ongoing application and relevance in the life of the church is still sorely needed; perhaps especially right now.  So, let’s take a little look see.

The Woman, The Mansplainers and The Rebel Jesus

The passage comes from John 8:1-11.  And in our story, we find Jesus in the temple courts early in the morning right after prayer on the Mount of Olives, as was His custom.  And in the courts, he sits down to start teaching, and as sure as death and taxes, the “experts in the law” and the “Pharisees” our text says, brought a woman “caught in adultery” and “made her stand in front of them”.  And their challenge for Jesus was this: “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.  In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women.  What then do you say”?  We then find out (duh) that they ask this question because they want to “trap Him” and by doing so add to their catalogue of charges against Him.  And yet interestingly, Jesus at first appears to ignore them and bends down and writes on the ground with His finger.

Now as you can imagine there are many speculations and commentary from the earliest times around this event, with certain scribes mentioning that Jesus was writing down particular accusations of the would-be accusers themselves.  But it causes me to wonder, and of course none of us really know, if that’s what He actually did; because vs. 7 then tells us that “When they persisted in asking Him, He stood up straight and replied, ‘Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her’”.   And our text then tells us that “Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground”.  And though I am not a big commentary consulter when it comes to my own study of the scriptures (though the thesis of others is very plausible), I tend to think that Jesus’ two-fold “gotcha” is enough to cause them to drop the charges and go hide in yet another humiliation by Jesus to these inept spiritual leaders.

Jesus’ One-Two Punch to the Heart of the Matter

 The first “gotcha” moment to the entrapment dummies is in letting them know that they need to get up a little earlier in the morning than Jesus did to know that by them stating that women such as her should be stoned was missing a small little detail.  For instance, in Leviticus 20:10 (the book everyone just loves), it clearly states that “if a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death”.  And then again, we find in Deut. 22:22, “If a man is discovered in bed with a married woman, both the man lying in bed with the woman and the woman herself must die; in this way you will purge the evil from Israel”.  Bam!  A little male chauvinism twist at its finest wouldn’t you say?

Now it won’t be our purpose today to get into “why” that was a justifiable practice in purging the evil from Israel, or anything else.  But the point is that these so-called experts in the law had built an awfully good fiefdom for themselves in adding a whole lot of extra gobbledygook to what God “actually” said in order to keep people both oppressed and subservient to their “all knowing” exposition.  Meanwhile, they were always left standing securely in their ivory tower of condescension missing the very texts that would incriminate themselves first and foremost.  And of course that is a convenience many graceless church men and women still allow for themselves as well, much to our continual sorrow.  For as the preacher said, “there is nothing new under the sun”.

But in addition, as our case in point here, in the “so called” experts and Pharisees effort to purify their people after their previous exilic history resulting from their gross disobedience to what God had commanded them under the covenant; they went a bridge too far!  And as Jesus would remind us in a couple of other passages in the gospels, not only did they proselytize and convert people into being monster judgementalists like themselves, they also were actually unwilling to lift a finger to ease these extra-biblical burdens on their followers (Mt. 23:4).  And as a result, not only were they still utterly lost, but they had become wandering sheep with no real shepherd in sight (Mt. 9:36).

And of course, the second “gotcha” is simply this, if we look at our text purely at face value.  Once the mansplaining chauvinist pigs realized not only their obvious inability to get things in the scripture right, they were also faced with the fact that not only did they now know this to be true, but also the whole crowd watching them now came to the stark realization as well.  For they now know in unison that these blind guides don’t know “diddly squat”, and thus were incapable of boxing their own way out of a wet paper bag to find the truth, much less the situation they know found themselves in!  And as a result, this awareness caused all of the lost sheep’s eyes to be fixed on Jesus as to what would be His next move and wondering: Could he be the one that we’ve been looking for?  The one who would guide the least and the greatest of us into real graceful righteousness (Jer. 31:34) coupled with a spirit of grace that gives life; rather than the letter that only seems to kill (2 Cor. 3:6)?  And you could cut their hopeful revelation with a knife, while one by one the prophets of woe and dread exit to lick their wounds and regroup for a meeting of entrapment for yet another day.  And that’s the wonderful thing about the legalists.  They are the gift that keeps on giving.  And both them and their progeny will go to their grave having been right about everything.  Right up until the final shovel of dirt pats their eternal ground!

A Sinner Confronted With Just the Right Amount of Grace and Truth

And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  The women caught with her pants down and shamed before the masses, recognizes that her male accusers are now GONE.  And though there are those still lingering around with just enough popcorn left for the climax of the show, the woman has her moment with Jesus; the gamechanger par excellence!  The man of the hour has come to her address. It’s as if there is no one else in the room.  And our text says that he again “stood up straight” and says to her, “Woman, where are they?  Did no one condemn you”?  And I for one find his questioning utterly pastoral and healing.  For if knowing the history of women in this culture, with the added baggage of adultery as the perfect ammunition to churchmen’s stares everywhere, the question I would imagine also caused her to “sit up straight” for just a moment herself.  Perhaps it was the first time in her life she did so in fact.  For it was a time when there were no pointed fingers, no threats of male exploitation hiding behind the “cat calls” that would come her way.  And instead, there was nothing but reassuring eyes staring back at her waiting for her serendipitous reply.  And so she says, “No one Lord”.  And the answer that would come back to her was so full of dripping grace and truth that I would bet my last negative dollar, caused her to never, ever be the same again!  For the revolutionary Jesus said to this precious would be child of the King, “I do not condemn you either.  Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore”.

The Two-Edged Sword of Abiding Stone Theology Applied

And there is in this wonderful story a two-fold reminder to the woman, that then by proxy we are to take and hold in justifiable tension on our own path with Jesus of Nazareth.  I know you thought we would never get there.

First of all, I find that most people currently outside of the faith, and even those of us who have had our halo slightly bent most of our lives, really love this story.  I mean after all; it is great news.  Because the concept of grace is indeed the “thought that changed the world” (U2).  And in addition, if there is one verse both the lost and those of us who walk with a limp on the narrow path know, it is something along the lines of “judge not”.  Consequently, it is the national anthem of those still keeping God at least a stone’s throw from having any jurisdiction in their lives, and the anthem of those still forever trying to get it right.  And well, the point is, in a sense we all are.  Even though many like the “experts in the law” try to remind us that they have somehow bypassed these experiences. And so, it is a need of continuance.  It is of a “time-release” nature.  It is grace on top of grace, and more grace besides; even through the dark glass until He come again.  We’ve all needed it.  And we must endeavor to keep the cupboard full of such gracefulness, as our both “necessary” and “daily” bread.

But of course in contrast, there is the other side most of those on the outside and us “grace folks” don’t care for too much.  The aspect of which Jesus reiterates to the woman in that she is to “Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore”.  But before we rush to reactionary mode, and as a shot of “shock and awe” to die hard religionists, this must also reside in the time-release category.  It is a work always in progress.  It is the recognition (daily I’m afraid) that with each first light “cup of Joe” and daily bread, it must also lead us to wipe off our tears and our dirty knees to start over again in some form or fashion.  All the while, the cupboard of grace opens to continue to give us what we need to both forgive, be forgiven; and with that vow before us to “go and sin no more”.  And then we rinse and repeat.  Again, and again, and again.

And yet the sad part is, most in the church never seem to get this theology lesson. Even now.  For we either continue to evaluate ourselves by our own standard of righteousness we seem to be getting right and thus constantly stand in judgement of our other brothers and sisters.  Or, we err so much to the side of grace that we expect nothing akin to discipleship and transformational change from those who tip a few dollars week to week to hear us spout of sermonettes of anemia!  And right about now, I’d say we are reaping what we’ve sown.  Obvious it seems to everyone; except for those that have been digesting the idiocy!

But one thing is for sure.  There is a lesson somewhere between the un-cast stones and the “about face”.  I like to call it a lesson in stone theology.

Selah

 

 

It’s Not Called Faith Until It’s Hard!

I guess at times over the years many either overtly or secretly considered me a prophet of doom.  Perhaps now looking back it wasn’t totally unwarranted.  Not because I ate locusts and wild honey, saw apocalyptic visions or preached imminent doom before sundown “lest ye repent”.  However, I guess in a way I just continually felt that many of us (including yours truly as a much younger man) somehow didn’t get the memo that the walk of faith is well…hard.

Yea, there it is; I said it.  Now take a deep breath and then exhale.

The Bitter Revelation

And now that we have collectively had our breathing exercise, I guess you could say I’m at least fortunate to have grasped this very central core of the Holy Writ’s teaching early on, although it didn’t serve me well in ministry very much.  After all, nobody likes a “Debbie downer”.  And though Eeyore is cute and all, you wouldn’t invite him to do a self-improvement seminar.  And I get it, I get it.  But I was a little troubled in my spirit I guess.  For while it seemed most everyone else was preaching “God wants you to be happy and fulfilled”, I seemed to always emphasize the “yeah, but”, or, “maybe not so much”.  You see because as I read the ancient writings, what always seemed to rear its ugly, yet substantiated head was the message that perhaps we either missed or simply tore it out before it had a chance to get into us. And the message is, that life is not only difficult sometimes, even many times; but if you decide to add Jesus to your life-cake mix, man oh man; you’re going to have you some TROUBLE!  That is, if you actually “believe” and stick around long enough to let that active decision run its course.

This Does Not Compute

You know it’s really no wonder that I ran into some problems seeming to always allow the chicken little in me to take center stage.  And I won’t put much fuss up about it.  In fact, I remember as a child growing up at the tail end of the Jesus movement, much of what I heard at least in my circles was the “if you gave your life to Jesus everything would be a breeze” kind of message.  You know, things like “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and such and so on.  And yet it seemed that every time I decided to follow Jesus and lay myself down and put myself out there, a crucifixion of some sort lay not too far off in the distance.  I could pretty much bank on it.  And, the more I read, prayed and pondered, the more I couldn’t help but see that this is to be the way of those who embark on the narrow path in some form or fashion.   I couldn’t get around it.  And even if I had wanted to, my continued reality of unanswered prayers, disappointments, and knives aimed straight towards my back taught me otherwise.  And then I realized that somehow or another we’d all been duped.  And so, a man named Job became my new travel companion.

So let me just say that I can perfectly understand why no one wants to read Job.  Can I get an amen?  In fact, it’s the same reason everyone echoes Paul’s prayer in wanting to know “the power of His resurrection”, yet sheepishly leave out the “share in His sufferings” part (Phil. 3:10).  It’s tantamount to the Fonzarelli trying to say he’s wrong The Fonz.  Not only does it come out incoherent, but we’d rather not do it at all.  And the devil knows.  That’s why he paid God a visit one day to talk smack about His boy.  He came to the Lord and basically said (Mark Prince translation), “Yo God, I mean it’s no wonder why Job serves you and all bruh.  You know with that silver spoon he has sticking out of his sheltered behind and all, and his smoking hot (but not so wise) wife and Norman Rockwell picturesque kiddos.  I mean come on man.  And don’t let me forget, the dude’s got more money than Kanye, and enough land and stuff to isolate himself from any pain the world gives out in good measure. Of course he serves you.  I mean sign me up for some of that”!   And the Lord said, “it’s your call Lucy; but you can’t take his life”.  And then, the rest of the 40 plus chapters show his utter crushing of all he knew, loved and held dear. And then in a New York minute, everything was gone.  And then my boy Job, for the exception of having to stomach a few “fair-weathered friends”, and a little mirror-check of his own smidgeon of self-righteous narcissism once hidden; always kept his faith. And in the aftermath, true humility before a Holy God became his permanent abode, and he also still ended up with more money than Kanye! But I’ll leave the rest for you to discover for yourself.  Suffice is to say for now, that Job should be Church 101, but instead it is a neglected class whose casualties are far too many to mention here.

The Forgotten Class

Well, wait a minute, before I forget.  The Job Church 101 class was once taught.  Oh yeah, the early church taught it.  They learned it first from Jesus who said, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his own cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NET).  And so it would be no real surprise that Acts 14:22 tells us the disciples of Jesus were encouraged to “continue in the faith” teaching them that “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions”.  Class 101 for sure.  And Stephen found out firsthand, and later Paul and Peter, and then the rest of the 12; save John who was exiled to a luxurious vacation spot in Patmos.

But getting back on track here, I’m sure Job was insightful to them as well.   But if they had forgotten, their Lord not only told them what it would require to have faith in Him, but He then laid down the gauntlet with spilled blood and a broken body and drinking that ghastly cup.  We now have a name for that act in commemoration in fact.  We call it the Eucharist, and we are to regularly imbibe it till He come.  Symbolic innuendo methinks.  And well anyway, Paul reiterated what Jesus taught, and what he taught in his class when he instructed a timid boy named Tim to pass it on to his parishioners when he reminded him, “Now in fact, all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 2:12 NET).  And I could go on, but O.K., O.K.  Here I go again.  Old habits die hard I know.  I didn’t mean to bathe you in it.  Really, I didn’t.  Class dismissed for now.

Time To Get Down To The Heart of the Matter

So back to where we started.  I was trying to make the point that it’s not actually called faith if it’s not hard.  In other words, the expectation that we can inoculate ourselves from either the world’s pain or the pain of carrying our own cross in this world for this noble cause we profess is a misnomer.  It’s gotten us nowhere, and fast.  And I don’t mean to say that many good things will not come on the path, and we should pray and believe to that end “always”.  And we can encourage each other with much emphasis from the scriptures on this aspect of the Christian life, and we must.  I’m simply saying that we must no longer commit the treason of false advertisement when we sell the gospel cheap!  Or better yet, when we don’t lay the “good news” out warts and all for people to consider first and foremost.  For there was once a man that came to Jesus who blurted out, “I will follow you wherever you go”.  And he got an A for that.  But Jesus reminded him that “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has not place to lay his head”.  To which he retorted something along the lines of “Let me go bury my pops first”, and Jesus, being seeker-sensitive as He was (sarcasm alert) said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God”.

So what we learn is that Jesus told people to “count the cost” of discipleship.  Yet from my estimation, it seems we have been guilty of gross misrepresentation for “not” imploring people to do just that.  We haven’t told the whole story.  And consequently, churches full of “Humpty Dumpty’s” are unaware of the great fall that is to come, or that has already been played out for our viewing displeasure!  They are unprepared for the “faith that is hard” phase of their walk that upon navigating through can only then lead them to the forty, sixty and hundredfold of fruitfulness.   And because of this much neglected class, perhaps you and I are watching the movie reel of both others and ourselves played out before us right now, quarantined away here in contemplative Coronaville.  And just maybe someone forgot to tell us what we needed to know; found both in the scriptures, and also in the sage and timeless words of G.K. Chesterton when he wrote, “The Christian life has not been tried and found wanting but has been found difficult and left untried”. 

Selah

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus