“A Stone’s Throw”
Pastor Tom Millner
John 8: 5-11; Luke 6:41-42; Romans 7:15-25
I remember recently that a woman in Iran was sentenced to death by stoning after being convicted of adultery. It has invoked an international outrage and a multinational quest to save her from this cruel end. We read today the scripture from the Gospel of John that shows Jesus intervening on behalf of the woman caught in adultery. I’ve often wondered where the man was and what his sentence would be since she was supposedly caught in the “act.” I’ve always thought the “act” required two people, not just one. But “how many” is not the point of the story. Jesus wrote something on the ground that prompted the stone wielding men eager to carry out “justice” to re-think their position. He then challenged them; “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” They each dropped their stones and went away. Jesus then asked the woman to point out the one who condemned her and there was no one left. He then told her that He did not condemn either and that she was free to go and not engage in the life that got her to that place. What a relief! We all identify with the relief that the woman must have felt having been set free from the pain and humiliation of having been caught in the act of breaking the law. Adultery in our society is not against the law, but we’ve all been guilty of breaking the rules (if not the law) by bending them to our advantage. Thank God for His grace and mercy that reminds us of our restoration as His very own family, through the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ. Do we live in that restoration or do we dismantle what God has put aright?
In Luke 6 we read about Jesus talking to His disciples (and any others listening in) about judging others. Here’s what He said; ““Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” He then uses a metaphor of a bind man leading another with the disastrous result of both falling in a ditch. Then, he challenges those who are listening: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” There’s an old saying in the recovery community; “you spot it, you got it.” Often the thing for which we accuse another is the very thing that will trip us up in our own walk. Why is it so hard to “judge not”? Every time we do judge another, we’re using the same measure that would condemn ourselves. Is that so bad? Some would say we’re too easy on each other with all this grace stuff. Seems in some minds we should be holding each other “accountable” for our actions! What winds up happening, more often than not, is a metaphorical bead reading that gets tempers flaring and feelings hurt and defenses up. That leads to fellowship and relationships being destroyed rather than being nourished as God calls us to do. Even Paul had a tough time with doing what he knew he ought to do.
In our scripture reading from Romans 7, Paul goes to great lengths to explain the difficulty that he experienced in doing what is right. He asserts that he would not have known what wrong behavior was without the Law being there to illustrate what was right behavior. His struggle is not unlike everyone who truly seeks to live in the character of Christ. Paul concludes that when he lives in the presence of his redeemer, he is not living out the presence of his sinful nature. Relationship then, is the inferred key; the relationship with Christ that nurtures His right Spirit within. Paul writes in Romans 8, just after his struggle with his sinful self that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
As we dig deeper into the struggle with doing the right thing, we are all surrounded with thrown stones and dust miners. The modern church (and many included here today) is guilty of having been part of the stones and planks swirling around these days. Just listen to the news as one self-righteous group after another claiming to have THE WAY that points to the damnation of all others, offers up disdain for grace that embraces the whole of the human population. Earthquakes, hurricanes or any other natural disaster have been attributed to the so called gay marriage. It’s interesting that among the most religiously fundamentalist states, the divorce rate is exponentially higher than the rest of the country. Yet, focus on so called family values does nothing more than fuel the fires of self deceit and relationship defeat for so many. And how, I challenge you, are we any different? We condemn those who don’t understand what it’s like to have our attraction orientation. We ignore those who don’t share the same theological bent as we do. We isolate from the broader community to find the safety among those who see life our way. We judge the one who is not living up to “our” standard of what we call scriptural leadership, and then wonder why we get disenchanted with church and fellowship. We’re often too busy reading beads to plant the seeds of faith through mercy and grace that Christ has charged us with. It’s time we lay down the stones (even those that have been previously thrown at us), pull the planks out of our eyes and start building bridges to a world in need of a Savior! If you’re not engaging in bridge building, you’re not exercising your Christ given character!
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life. God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Jesus said that he came that we might have life and that we might have it to the full. That full life is not hurling stones at one another (here or out there) and it is not dust sifting through others eyes. That life is the living out of the character of Christ. We can’t fulfill that call on us if we’re not living in relationship with Him. When He said “if you haven’t done it for one of the least of these you haven’t done it for me,” He was challenging us to relationship. Relationship with Himself and relationship with each other that mirrors that relationship with Him. This church has been called into existence for a reason. We are here to “ignite the world for Christ, one life at a time” and we need to be getting back to the heart of that call. When I say we, I mean each and every one of us! Relationships in this community need to be healed and nurtured and bridges to the broader church need to be built. We need to be teaching by example how to love our neighbor as our self. We have in this room, this very day the resources that can change Wilton Manors, Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, South Florida, this State, and this nation. Within this room is the igniting fluid that can light millions of souls with the hope of a better day and the peace that passes all understanding. God has called you here for such a time as this. Are you willing to be ignited yourself? Are you ready to be a part of the solution to the problems and challenges so often laid out as complaints? It’s time to leave behind service as usual begin living in the extraordinary! Where have you been holding back when He’s calling you forward? Where are you judging that’s keeping you from budging off your safe pedestal of pious pride? Want to see a difference in your life? Make the choice that brings a difference to another’s life.