Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Thanksgiving Sunday – The Stone Droppers
Scripture: John 8:1-11
- Prelude – “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” – by George Elvey, arr. by Joel Raney; Terry Reitz, organ; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Prayer time – Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Hymn 92 – “For the Beauty of the Earth,” by Folliot S. Pierpoint; Dorothy and Brad Beeman, hymn leaders; Terry Reitz, bells; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Hymn 131 – “We Gather Together,” by Theodore Baker; Dorothy and Brad Beeman, hymn leaders; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Special music – “Thanksgiving Medley,” arr. by Daniel Kramlick and Christine Anderson; Terry Reitz, bells; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Scripture – John 8: 1 – 11; Niva Smith
- Sermon – “Aged Sages of Biblical Renown, Thanksgiving Sunday – The Stone Droppers,” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 102 – “Now Thank We All Our God,” by Martin Rinkart; Dorothy and Brad Beeman, hymn leaders; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude – “Give Praise to God,” by George Frideric Handel, arr. by Robert J. Powell; Pauline Olsen, organ
This Sunday we will continue in the three-part, post-election series. Yes, it is still a focus on our Aged Sages, but given what is going on in the country, this needs to be a time of remembering who and what it is we seek to serve. Last week we heard the stories of three of our veterans; three who served their country while serving God at the same time. They shared a part of themselves with us, and for that, I am truly grateful. The week before I talked about Nehemiah and rebuilding after the election.
Now, in this service, we look ahead toward Thanksgiving, and given the new mandates by the Governor, and recommendations by epidemiologists, it may be a Thanksgiving unlike any other. The stresses around us are very real. The passions around the election continue. So today, as odd as it may sound, the scriptural focus will be on a familiar story of a woman caught in adultery. But there is so much more to this story than meets the eye. Let’s revisit the story for just a second.
Jesus is coming to the City of Jerusalem. Somehow he finds himself heading up to the Mount of Olives – just across the Kidron Valley from the Temple. As he climbs out of the valley he approaches the home of the High Priest. He sees a crowd gathered on one of the overlooks. They are yelling, “Kill her.” He works his way through the crowd and he sees a woman surrounded by a group of adorned, uniformed, and authoritative men. In front of a kneeling woman, is the High Priest. In the circle around them are priests, Pharisees, and other Temple authorities, each with a large and rough stone in their hands. He turns his attention toward the woman. Yes, she is kneeling; but he also sees that her skin is cut and bruised, she is bleeding from obviously being dragged, her hair is disheveled, her eyes are downcast, and her clothes are torn and covered in dirt. Everything about her says that she has accepted her fate. She is about to be stoned to death. But why?
Jesus turns his attention back to the religious leaders. Their faces show obvious anger. They are scorn-filled, and passionate as they yell. So he asks, “What has she done?”
“This woman,” they state, “was caught in the very act of adultery.” Okay, that’s a pretty disturbing image in and of itself. Was it a wife who walked in on her husband? Was this a setup? To place her here in the midst of this crowd, the law is clear that there have had to be witnesses.
Jesus realizes that something else is going on here. Where is the husband? Shouldn’t he be right here with her? Where is the scorned wife? She should also be here. Yet here is a woman; alone, captured, tried and convicted; and now ready to die. It suddenly dawns on Jesus what’s going on here. It’s not about her. It’s about him. He is being set up at the expense of this woman. He asks the question a different way. He asks, “Why am I here?”
Remember, Jesus has already proven himself an enemy of these same religious authorities. He is said to have done miracles. He has fed the hungry. He has, as he put it, forgiven sins. He has healed the infirm. He has touched the unclean. He has taught things that go against the Law and even the Temple – at least that’s what the authorities have said. He knows it’s why he’s at this gathering on this day. He’s being set up…again. And yet, as he does with every other set up, he sees this as a teachable moment. He is an opportunist. So he asks again, “Why am I here?” They respond. As we said, she was caught in the very act of adultery and according to our Laws, she is deserving of death.
Now, just so we realize, Jesus knows they can’t kill her. They are under Roman rule and therefore cannot carry out a death sentence on anyone. Only Rome can do that. Jesus knows this.
Jesus knows that they know this. I can just see him as he looks into the eyes of each of the stone-holding men. Jesus looks at each man, shakes his head, and moves a few feet away from the woman. As he does, the attention turns toward him. He kneels down…a sign of authority. He begins writing in the dirt. They don’t understand.
No one knows what he’s writing. Some have said it was the names of each of those holding stones. Some have said that it was certain pieces of the law. Others have said it was a list of sins of each man standing around the circle. Most scholars, however, have said it wasn’t anything, just an attempt on his part to move the attention away from the woman. It worked. Finally, still kneeling Jesus looks up at each man again in turn, and says, “Whoever among you is without sin, go ahead and cast the first stone.” This is where the scripture really takes hold. Jesus has, in his own miraculous way, made everyone equal. Each is a human being. Each has faults. Each has sinned, all of them including the woman. Jesus has taken an opportunity to once again reverse the old ways of inappropriate human-oriented judgment and condemnation, and offers a new and more difficult way.
“You who are without sin, cast the first stone.” Ouch.
The scripture says that the oldest among the religious leaders are the first to drop their destructive weapons. It was more than the stones in their hands. It was their realization that they were not those chosen to judge. That was God’s role. Their experiences in life, alongside the words and actions and even eye contact with Jesus, lifts the mirror that is their personal lives, places it in front of their faces. They understand and that replaces their need to kill. It takes time, but ultimately even the younger, more passionate of the stone-throwers walks away.
Jesus then moves back to the woman. Her demeanor has not changed. Jesus walks around her and once again kneels, this time in front of her. He waits for her to look up.
Finally, she does and their eyes meet. He reaches out his hand. She takes it and he helps her to stand. “Woman,” he says. As normal as that may sound, he does an incredible thing here. He does not call her a whore, doesn’t name her an adulterer, or even a sinner. Instead, he names her as one equal to them and to him. He simply asks, “Who remains here to condemn you?” Maybe it’s here that she realizes that everyone has left including those ready to stone her. “No one, sir,” she replies. “Then neither do I condemn you. Now, go and sin no more.” Can you imagine her response? I have no doubt but that she weeps. Her life is changed in that moment. She is resurrected. And we are to realize that judgment separates. Acceptance of the imperfections within all of us has the potential of bringing people together. So now let’s look at today.
For Us Today
I watched as the President’s supporters marched in Washington last week. I watched as the new doctor overseeing the epidemic talked about rising up and not wearing masks, while another rose up and talked about the importance of wearing masks. I watched people carrying signs, some reading “Stop the Steal,” and others reading Biden / Harris or “We Won.” I watched as Tucker Carlson on Fox and Anderson Cooper on CNN talked about each of those things. One talked of the President’s seeming inability to accept the inevitable. Another spoke of the conspiracy and how the election was stolen. Each blamed the other, both individually and corporately for the conflicts, the divide, even the outcome of the election; for misinformation, deception, and inappropriate behaviors. Both stated that the other shouldn’t be trusted. The two really seemed to be the epitome of where we are in this country right now. They are as much the faces and voices of the two sides.
I watch as more and more returns come in, and see that almost 73,000,000 voted for reelection, and almost 79,000,000 voted for change. In so many ways, that’s close. Only 3 – 4% percentage points divide the two candidates. That’s out of over 150,000,000 votes cast. It means that almost half our nation is deeply disappointed right now; outraged, even don’t trust the outcome. They seem to be pointing fingers at the other side as though it’s their fault, or their leader’s fault, or the system’s fault.
The other half is celebrating, dancing in the streets, and some are even pointing fingers back the other direction with what seems like an elementary school response — nah, nah, nah-nah, nah — as they sneer in joy. It’s not pretty, in any way shape, or form, nor is it appropriate. So, as I think about this story I keep wondering, who represents the woman caught in adultery? Even that question has all the possibilities of further dividing us. So many, it seems, are so ready to throw stones at the other. So, the obvious answer to who the woman represents, is whoever it is with whom my side disagrees. They should be put in the middle and stones should be thrown at them. Agree or disagree, let’s keep going. To me, that’s where we seem to be.
That still leaves one person out; Jesus. Who among those crowds represents Jesus, the Jesus who is seeking to move beyond the judgmentalism; beyond the overt and passionate anger, beyond stone-throwing hoping that those ready to launch stones are all equal in the eyes of God. One is no better or no worse than the other. What separates the three sides of this story are their actions so let’s look at it again.
Jesus was coerced up to the Mount of Olives. He immediately recognized what was going on. He could have gotten angry. He could have turned around and gone back home. He could have chosen another road and gone to visit friends instead. He chose not to. He chose to see this as a teachable moment, as dangerous as it was. So, he sees the crowd and works his way into the middle of it. Now, he could have immediately confronted the authorities. He could have gotten angry.
He could have been the first to throw a stone, not at the woman but at them. He didn’t do any of that. He could have even confronted the woman, explored the gory details of the adulterous event. He didn’t. Instead, he turned the situation into something more – a moment that would redefine the situation and the focus.
He immediately took the attention away from what appeared to be the center of the focus (the anger and condemnation of the woman).
He physically separated himself from her and allowed the crowd to refocus their attention on him.
He knelt and began to draw in the dirt. Those in the crowd had no idea what he was doing, that is until he spoke. That’s when he taught. Unlike anyone before him, he was able to, in one short sentence, turn the anger upside down.
I think today he’s saying to each of us, “This can’t be a time of judgment or condemnation. Drop the rocks. Remember that we’re all in this together.”
We all fail. We all do inappropriate things; things that divide rather than heal or build bridges. So drop the weaponized words, and think for a second.
As Christians, we must remember that God doesn’t see Democrat or Republican. God is not represented in one political party or another.
God, however, does see the hearts that lead to actions. God sees it in individuals, and God sees it in groups. What I’m seeing today is something out of the Old Testament; the belief in a God who wipes out those in opposition to the chosen people – whoever they may be.
But we’re not in the Old Testament. We’re in the new. The God we believe in is powerful because of His love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
God knows we all miss the mark; God’s mark, the mark Paul identified as (and please hear these) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and yes, even self-control. If that’s the God you believe in, the God of Jesus, then let’s drop the stones and come together and create a future that is better than the past. But there’s more.
Like Jesus, I think first, each of us needs to kneel. We need to pray. We need to be filled with a power greater than ourselves.
We, each of us, need to be reminded that we all fall short of God’s desires. Yet, God loves us…each of us.
So here is what I’m proposing. Instead of hurling bomb-like assaults on those with whom you disagree, what if we replaced those bombs with prayers pointed in their direction.
What if we picture them, whoever and wherever they may be, and pray for them. Don’t pray that their position will change. Don’t pray that God will illuminate them so that they know just how wrong they are.
Pray for them as a child of a loving God who is just like you, another of God’s creations, another who is occupying a place on this planet, and one who is walking alongside you.
Pray for them as a human being, as you would a friend. Embrace them with love in your prayer.
Believe in a God that is powerful enough that God will help them feel that love; your love.
Let’s stop tearing each other down and begin to build each other up.
Friends, our hearts change as we turn them outward in love toward another. I think that outward turn becomes that much more powerful when it’s focused on one we might even consider an enemy; someone with whom we vehemently disagree. Love wins out!
God’s Spirit becomes that much more powerful when we pray for them as sisters and brothers like us…so let’s pray…