FIRST LESSON: Philippians 2:1-11
SECOND LESSON John 8:1-11
SERMON: “The God Who Stoops”
Have you ever had the experiencing of making a mess out of something, and longing for a chance to start over with a clean slate? Most of us have. Most of us yearn for the kind of place described by Louise Fletcher Tarkington:
“I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again;
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again.”
There is such a place. You are in it. The Church, is the Land of Beginning Again. At least it should be so. Truth be told we sometimes forget that, but still it is meant to be so.
The duet that Emily and I played a few moments ago is one I first played with Evy Miller, one of the organists in Hesperia, more years ago than I want to count. Evy had played the organ in that church since she was 17; by the time I got to play with her she was . . . well old enough to have grandchildren. One of them, Kristen, inherited Evy’s love of music, and one Sunday, when Kristen was about ten or eleven years old, she was scheduled to play a piece on the piano for special music. When Evy asked Kristen if she was nervous, Kirsten simply said ‘no.’ That made Evy curious, because most of us who perform get nervous before a performance, so Evy asked her granddaughter why she wasn’t. Truth came from the mouth of a child: “Because I’m playing in church.” She didn’t say that she was so good at the piano she knew she wouldn’t make a mistake. No. The implication was clear that Kristen expected that when she made a mistake, which she certainly would as a beginner, that church folk would understand, that they would be kind; she had nothing to fear.
But that was not the kind of “ church ” the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees who approached Jesus that day belonged to. They had a plan in mind which wasn’t so much focused on punishing the woman, but on using her to discredit Jesus. The Law was clear. Having been caught in adultery she was to be stoned to death. They thought it was a win-win for them. Either he agreed with the Law, in which case the people would find him hardhearted and lose some of their admiration for him, or if he let her go, he would break the Law of Moses. Either way, Jesus would look bad.
Or so they thought. He bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. We don’t know what he was writing; it may have just been some doodling. Calvin says that bending down like that was intended to show his lack of respect for these mean-spirited Pharisees. Lucado sees more than that. He sees the Lord who is “prone to stoop. He stooped to wash feet, to embrace children. Stooped to pull Peter out of the sea, to pray in the Garden. He stooped before the Roman whipping post. Stooped to carry the cross. Grace,” says Lucado, “is a God who stoops.”
As they continued to question him, he finally stood and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” He has not denied the Law of Moses. But he has brought to light their hypocrisy and avoided the trap. He is consistent with his teaching, “Get the log out of your own eye before you try to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” And then he stooped down and wrote on the ground some more. About the best thing we can say about these scribes and Pharisees is that at least they didn’t pretend to be without sin. One by one they recognized that they couldn’t throw a stone from a position of innocence.
When they are all gone, the God who stoops straightens up and asks the woman where they all are. Has no one condemned her. “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you.” The God who stoops is merciful. He is the one who is without sin. He had the right to throw that first stone, but he chooses grace over Law.
Note that he does not declare her innocent. He doesn’t say that there is nothing wrong with what she did. He didn’t say, “do whatever feels right for you.” He said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Makes me wonder whether she did or not. But what she did isn’t really important. What’s important is how we see Jesus here responding to the trap set for him and revealing himself as the God of Grace who wants to forgive our sins, and instructs to leave sin alone.
How can a righteous God not condemn?
Jesus does not condemn her because he knows he will be condemned for her. One of the commentaries on this passage imagined the full conversation with her going something like this: “Daughter of Eve, you have sinned; stones must be thrown, but they will hit me. Child, you have dirtied what God made precious; spears must be cast, but they will strike my side. My sister, you have used the Father’s good gifts to rebel against his plan for pleasure and fulfillment; thorns must pierce the skin, but my skull will bleed.”
Be careful. We live in a time when people on one side of the road say sin is an obsolete, old-fashioned concept. There is no right/wrong anymore. On the other side of the road are those who would like to cast some of those stones, people who will tell you that if you don’t believe this, or if you do that, or if you’re a part of this group, not that one, you are doomed. Neither side is a godly place to land.
In this one passage John’s gospel sheds light on God’s balance of righteousness and grace.
Consider this story: The Enemy of the world, Satan, (the Accuser) was on the side of life’s road with a very large cage. The man coming towards him noticed that it was crammed full of people of every kind, young, old, from every race and nation.”
Where did you get these people?” the man asked. “Oh, from all over the world,” Satan replied. “I lure them with drinking, drugs, lust, lies, anger, hate, love of money, and all manner of things. I pretend I’m their friend, out to give them a good time, then when I’ve hooked them, into the cage they go. “And what are you going to do with them now?” asked the man.
Satan grinned. “I’m going to prod them, provoke them, get them to hate and destroy each other; I’ll stir up racial hatred, defiance of law and order; I’ll make people bored, lonely, dissatisfied, confused and restless. It’s easy. People will always listen to what I offer them and (what’s better) blame God for the outcome!”
“And then what?” the man asked.
“ Those who do not destroy themselves, I will destroy. None will escape me.”
The man stepped forward. “Can I buy all these people from you?” he asked.
Satan snarled, “Yes, but it will cost you your life.”
So Jesus Christ, the Son of God, paid for your release and mine, your freedom from Satan’s trap, with His own life, on the cross at Calvary. The door is open, and anyone, whom Satan has deceived and caged, can be set free.
If the God who stoops has set us free, we are free indeed. And the question that remains is what will we do to say “Thank you.”