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

 

 

Jesus: The God We All Imagine to Be True

It was about 20-years ago now that I walked away from what they call “full-time” ministry in order to take a much-needed sabbatical.  The break was also necessary for me to lick my gaping wounds from the continual attack from preacher-biting sheep!  Equally, this detour gave me the opportunity to dissect my own naivety as to what the ministry was actually supposed to produce both in them and myself, but also in simply putting the pause button on what had become akin to my own personal purgatory in a valley of very, very dry bones.  I realized then rather acutely that this was not at all what I had bargained for, and definitely not what I had envisioned as a preacher of the gospel with what felt like an actual call to do so.  And so in the aftermath of my last gig on the preacher circuit, the only thing that made sense was to tuck tail and run as far away as I possibly could.  It was at that time that I got a different call: an invitation of the world into the land of sales and business.  The shift was not what I had expected, or had wished for up until that point, but the hopes of actually providing for my family and then landing somewhere on the actual food chain sounded like a feast we’d all been missing.  And of course, for a while, it was indeed that.

God Conversations

Since I took that leap, traveling from week to week to a new city, a new hotel, or wining and dining those who would buy what I was peddling, I pondered time and again on the actual “why’s” of my exit from being a man of the cloth.  And though that is still somewhat an experience in progress, I learned a lot about people outside of the four walls of the church in my exodus.  And the eye-opener was, that the people I encountered and had conversations with, by and large, were really intrigued and secretly both loved and desired to talk about the man we call Jesus.  Now to be sure the times have shifted as we continually become far beyond anything Post-Christian used to mean, but the fact remains that people in general know down deep inside of their heart of hearts that this man Jesus (or the very idea of Him) is the very God they imagine.  A God they wish were true as they sleep at night when one else but them and the God they don’t believe in are paying attention.  It’s as if somehow, they almost instinctively know that this mysterious figure in history is as close to a God they could potentially follow as anything they have ever come in contact with, even as they shuffle on from day to day pretending that it’s actually too good to be true.

The Upset Applecart

There are some reasons for this indecisiveness on their part of course.  But before we touch on that, the holy scriptures actually tell us that He is indeed the God they secretly admire from afar in the entirety of its story.  Yet it also states that Jesus is not only God, but that he is the exact representation of His nature (Heb. 1:3 NET), and that if we have seen Him we have indeed seen the Father (John 14:9 NET); and that this same Father has made Him known in space, time and history (John 1:18).  So bottom line: Jesus “is” the God you and I in the choir know, and indeed the God the world covertly longs for.  So that seems like really good news at the outset doesn’t it?  Of course the problem comes in when the same conversations I mentioned earlier lead to a conversation about the church that is to be at least some representation of that same God we wish to be true.  All of a sudden, the waters gets really muddied.  And as you probably already know, their admission is that they really like the idea of Jesus (what they think they know about Him), but as far as the church goes, they have a hard time distinguishing whether or not they are indeed one and the same.

The Problem is Nothing New…But

This problem I’ve described is of course no new story.  Many have in fact ranted for a couple of decades now about the supposed decline of the church and how secularists (the nones) and those who have left the church (the dones) have opted for a day at the beach or to be “home-churched”.  But this brings up something that I want to begin to wrap our talk up with today.  In fact, a guy by the name of Michael Lewis (internetmonk.com) who passed away several years ago now, hit a nerve with a book he wrote called Mere Churchianity.  The book really changed my life and ruined me more than I already was quite frankly.  But his overarching thesis was the gaping difference between what most of us have been eternally baptized in (what he calls a “Church-shaped spirituality”), and the one he rightly says we should have instead that he called a “Jesus-shaped Spirituality”.  I mean after all that makes sense doesn’t it?  I mean if Jesus “is” the exact representation of God, and he’s the God we imagine, then those of us who truly know him should probably look like and act at least like a distant cousin.  But hang with me for just a moment longer.

Jesus-Shaped vs Church-Shaped Spirituality

 Now again, you might be saying, “I get it”.  We’ve all heard this before Mark.  But I think if we stop long enough to think about it, it deserves meditation beyond the typical defense posture we posit with such things as “I’m not perfect, just forgiven”, or, “It’s all about grace brother”.  Or the one I like the most which says: “Be careful talking about the Bride of Christ man”.  And in all fairness to those church defenders, we know to some degree that all those rebuttals have their credible merit but have also become far too “Christian cliché” if I may.  But the truth is, I have long believed that Michael was on to something that is just as relevant today for our equal musing.  Because the fact is, that the ones who walked and talked with Jesus for 3 ½ years, and who mostly were murdered for holding on to this very unpopular belief, remind us that “the one who resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked” (I John 2:6 NET).  And though this seems obvious to the point of being overly cliché again, I ask you, “Does Michael have a point here”?  Does there not seem to be a stark difference in what you observe from what he called “churchianity” and what instead exemplifies a little more in the way of Jesus”?

 If It Was a Snake, It Would Have Bit Us

 The truth is, we all know that if this was a snake it would have bit us by now.  But perhaps we have become the Anti-Venom.  Yet surely we all know (myself included) that somehow deep inside ourselves, we are often more shaped by American values (enculturation) or the values and agendas of our favorite church, more than we are by the values of Christ himself.  The reason of course is because they are often polar opposites, or still yet to be deciphered by wood, hay and stubble that Paul warns us about (I Cor. 3:12-15).  And of course it doesn’t take even an amateur theologian to inform us that to not live by the values that the world and society says we must somehow operate under for our survival, is to bring about additional pain and suffering to what is already natural to the collective human experiment.  Yet somehow, we must secretly also know, that as we sheepishly negate the spirituality of Jesus rubbing off on us too much, we must also recognize that our watered down version of that same otherworldliness will indeed continue to thwart the impact of the gospel upon those who are secretly wishing for Jesus to come walking through their front door in some kind of shoe leather.

The Show is Sold Out Folks

Again, though the song remains the same here, it seems nobody is really listening or wrestling enough in most circles as to what a “Jesus-shaped spirituality” is to look like amidst the upstream current we will be swimming against should we decide to change our course.  But I ask you dear friend, “Will all of our reasoned discourse, homiletical precision, multiple church services, and rock and roll worship bands begin to turn the tide of those secretly wishing the Jesus we herald is the God that they imagine”?  Or, is the form of godliness we currently possess just shy of the power both to walk as He walked and to do what He did?  And if the demon now is so deep in the culture (Martin Lloyd Jones), which any thinking Christian must readily admit is the case, will anything but little Christ’s in some form of distinct saintliness and power be able to have the potential to expel it from our midst as we are now in the outskirts of what feels like our final hours?  If we still think so; somehow, perhaps we will forever be doing nothing more than playing musical chairs with the same choir we’ve always been preaching to–shuffling in and out to our same song and dance.  But for those who still wish for the God they have imagined, well; I guess there’s always another show!

Selah