March 19, 2013

Jesus: Caught in the Act!

Have you ever been caught doing something wrong? Maybe it was an embarrassing moment you hoped no one would see? 

Or maybe you are a celebrity whose most embarrassing moments gets replayed on your own reality television show like Jessica Simpson

Television programs have made millions catching people at their most embarrassing moments even allowing videos of themselves to be shown. 

When I was a teenager, a friend of mine had this crush on the girl who lived next to a mutual friend. He would watch from inside the house as she swam in her pool...kind of creepy now that I think about it...he wanted to talk to her, but just couldn’t muster the nerve. 

One day I’d had enough of his love sickness and went out to talk to her hoping to drag him with me. Apparently he wasn’t wearing the right clothes...the girl attracting clothes. He wanted his cool I went out to start a conversation and he went to change. 

I walked up and said hello and started a conversation. As we walked I noticed the ground around her above ground pool was really wet. She said there was a leak and it was causing the grass to be wet and slippery. It was just about then my friend came jogging up with this cool, swagger, strut, run thing...and before I could say anything, about 10 feet out, he hit this patch of wet, slick, and apparently muddy ground. 

He slid the 10 feet across the yard slamming into her above ground pool. He was so embarrassed he ran back to the house and never went into the backyard again. If we were leaving the house and she saw us in the front...he would simply duck his head and run for the car.

Embarrassing moments, when they are happening, are not that funny to us, but after awhile we can usually laugh about them. They also do something pretty amazing; they draw us together. It is crazy, but I have spent hours with friends sitting around, laughing, and telling stories about those moments I wish no one had seen.

What happens, though, when we get caught doing something seriously wrong? Something that is more than just embarrassing? We hide, lie about our involvement, and we cover up what we have done wrong. We are like Adam and Eve in Genesis 3...attempting to hide our sin and knowing we can’t get away with it.

We are currently in a series where we are looking at Jesus and how he deals with people who have sinned or failed. And this morning we are looking at a pretty common story...the story of the Woman caught in Adultery. This is probably the most well known story of Jesus dealing with someone who has sinned, but it is also easily misunderstood. 

This series is important for us because we are called to follow Jesus which means more than just adding Him to our lives so we get into heaven when we die. Following Jesus means we view Jesus’ actions and attitudes as the example we are to follow in our everyday lives. One of the things we will spend a lot doing is dealing with issues of forgiveness and reconciliation with people who have been caught in sin. This is also an area where we often miss the mark as followers of Jesus in today’s church in dealing with people outside. 

So let’s start by reading our passage...John 8:3-11,
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. 
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  
Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  
“No one, sir,” she said.  
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” 

This story, I believe really brings out the divisions when we start to talk about sin in a person’s life and what should take place when they are caught. 

But let’s be honest...

We like a good train wreck!
The teachers of the law drag this woman who, and the passage emphasizes this point, has been caught in the very act of adultery. They want to make a spectacle of her so they drag her through the streets where everyone can see. They know how to work the crowd. By the time they get to Jesus the people are frenzied and hyped up because they get to see a lynching in the name of obedience to God’s Law!

We get sucked into this too.

How many times have we picked up a tabloid paper, stayed on Jerry Springer a little too long, watched Judge Judy, relished a reality show fiasco, stood outside watching with more than just a passing curiosity while our neighbors were arrested...we like to watch a train wreck. I don’t know if it just touches something deep within us that makes us feel better about ourselves...”At least I’m not that screwed up!” For some of us it might be about the justice. We want to see people get what they deserve. 

F. B. Meyer says,
 "It is a terrible thing for a sinner to fall into the hands of his fellow sinners.”
But let’s remember we don’t like to be someone else’s train wreck, and people outside the faith don’t like to be the train wreck either. As we look at this story, we see that Jesus isn’t interested in the train wreck either. 

Jesus saw a woman. A woman who had, most likely, been set up...because why is she here and the man not? A woman who had obviously made some bad choices...maybe she made those choices because she was a sinner...maybe she made them because life had almost forced her into this role...either way...

Jesus saw a person, a woman, and He treated her with dignity and compassion.

He didn’t get sucked into the hype. He knew a life was literally on the line...both hers and his...and ours. He knew this story would help define hour treatment of people when they are caught in the act of sinfulness. And how often do we see people who have made a train wreck of their own lives and look at them with something other than dignity and compassion? 

When our society sees people in poverty, rather than give them dignity or treat them with compassion, they dismiss, ignore, or mistreat them.

When dealing with sin in the church, we so often miss treating the person with dignity and compassion.

Jesus’ reminds us we are to treat people with the dignity and respect deserving of someone made in the Image of God. Which can be hard. People do horrible, horrific things to other people...sometimes so horrible we want to stop thinking of them as human.

Jesus’ response to this angry crowd is a response that shows both compassion toward the woman and serves as pointed criticism of those involved. When everyone is pushing him for a response, Jesus looks at them and says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

This statement alone has been misunderstood and misused so often it isn’t even funny. Every time someone messes up, someone will use this against people. Well, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” They go into KJV for that one. What they are saying is that if you have sinned you have no right to judge, and that is NOT what Jesus is saying. If that is the case, no one would ever be able to make a make a decision about whether something is right or wrong...we would all have to be quiet.

Jesus is saying, “There is more going on here than meets the eye! This is a set up! God’s law requires we bring no false witness against our brothers...and you have obviously set this woman up to take the fall. Where is the man? If your hands are clean in this woman’s guilt, then by all means go ahead with this!”

Jesus knows...

We like to ignore our own sin.

The Teachers of the Law had most likely set this whole thing up...they were arranging a murder. This wouldn’t be the last time.

So often, though, we are able to smugly look down our nose at others ignoring the fact that we are guilty too. We are good at ignoring our own sins while hating the sins of others. This shouldn’t mean we abstain from calling sin sin and dealing with it, but it certainly means we need to call out our own sin just as often.

Why is it the church is so good at calling out homosexuality while ignoring divorce? Why is it so good at naming abortion sin, but ignoring its neglect of the poor and promotion of war and violence?
Why can we point out the problems of an alcoholic or drug addict while turning a blind eye to our own harmful addictions; just because they are not that bad?

We are so good at pointing out the sin in others and leaving our own sin unmentioned or simply pretending our sin doesn’t separate us from God the way other people’s sins separate them.

So often what people outside the church see and people inside the church miss is that by pointing out the sin in others... 

We indict ourselves!

Don’t get me wrong, Jesus isn’t diminishing the woman’s sin, he is putting it in perspective.

As the old cliche goes, when you point the finger at someone you have several fingers pointing back at you!

He treated her sin with brutal honesty...but he also treated her accuser’s sin with that same brutal honesty.

but the point of all this...

Jesus gave grace and hope.

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 

“No one, sir,” she said. 

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

So often we forget that grace is not glossing over the wrong that has been done. When someone falls in today’s world, people will automatically say, “We have to show them grace!” What they often mean is, “Let’s just forget it and move on!” or “We all sin so this is no big deal!” They will point to this passage as proof.

The grace Jesus demonstrated is very different from the often wishy-washy form of grace offered today. Jesus’ grace says, “I have forgiven you. Now let me also change your life.” He forgave the woman’s sin and sent her out to start a brand-new life.

That is what we so desperately need in our world today...a grace that says, “You have done wrong, now let me help you start a brand new life!” That is what Jesus calls us to live out when He forgives our sins, and that is what He wants us to do in relationship with others. 

We need to learn Jesus’ kind of forgiveness because many believe we must settle for one extreme or the other. Either a justice oriented approach to sin which relishes justice and judgment, or a “grace” driven approach which takes too lightly sins consequences in our lives and the world we live in.

As we follow Jesus, we are asked to find a way to give dignity to those caught in sin, to live humble lives that recognize and call out our own sin, and to offer Jesus’ style of grace that recognizes the damage sin does, but calls us to a brand new life!

Living this out is tremendously difficult. But it will make a difference in our world. It will allow people to see Jesus in us. I think learning to forgive properly...learning to give true grace is such an important part of our witness, and yet it so often neglected because it is hard. Committing to forgive the way Jesus forgives might put us in a tough situation.

Take a look at this photo by Chris Clark, Grand Rapids Press.

On May 20, 2012, 18 year-old Takunda Mavima was driving home drunk from a party when he lost control and crashed his car into an off-ramp near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Riding in the car were 17 year-old, Tim See, and 15 year-old, Krysta Howell. Both were killed in the accident.

Takunda Mavima lived.

Mavima plead guilty to all charges and was sentenced to between 30 months and 15 years in prison.

Despite their unimaginable grief and anger, both the sister and the father of victim, Tim See, gave a moving address to the court on behalf of Mavima, urging the judge toleniency.

“I am begging you to let Takunda Mavima make something of himself in the real world — don’t send him to prison and get hard and bitter, that boy has learned his lesson a thousand times over and he’ll never make the same mistake again.”

And when the hearing ended, the victim’s family made their way across the courtroom to embrace, console, and publicly forgive Mavima.

That is a Jesus style forgiveness that recognizes the sin, that says, “I have forgiven you, now let’s change your life!”

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