Yesterday I preached about sin. I was a little anxious because I know a sermon on sin is only slightly better than a sermon on the church budget. But it’s a necessary discussion and one the apostle John tackles unapologetically in his sermon called 1 John.
We need to acknowledge sin as a very real, very powerful presence in our world. It’s hard to look at the state of our global society and say there is no sin. Look at the greed; look at the violence; look at the hate. Sin is real. John says in chapter 1 of his sermon that if we say we have no sin “we make God a liar.”
The God of scripture is a God of redemption. Essentially every story – yes, even the violent ones – point toward redemption. And when Jesus arrives, God’s redemption manifests itself in human flesh. And after that human flesh lives his life teaching us to love and share and forgive, he’s nailed to a cross and humanity’s redemption is once and for all accomplished.
So if you tell God there’s no such thing as sin, you tell God his very essence is a lie. If you believe in the God of scripture (which opens up an entirely new conversation) then you believe in sin.
If you do not believe in the God of scripture, I encourage you to open a newspaper, turn on the news, read a blog about poverty or militant dictators or 3rd world suffering. Do this, then say with a straight face there is no sin.
Jesus showed us lots of things, and one of the most important is how to handle sinners. The apostle John also wrote a story about Jesus from his perspective. In 8:1-11 of his gospel, he tells a story about a woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law drag her to Jesus, who is in the temple teaching a crowd of people. And before the entire crowd they announce that the woman has been caught sleeping with a man who is not her husband, and that the law of Moses demands she be stoned to death.
They turn to Jesus, “hoping to trap him.”
Jesus stoops down and draws in the dirt. He stands up and says, “All right, but the first stone must be thrown by the person who has no sin.” And he drew in the dirt again.
One by one the Pharisees and teachers of the law dropped their stones and walked away.
A few things:
1. The Pharisees are right.
And Jesus acknowledges this. The law clearly says she must be stoned. To say otherwise is a misrepresentation of scripture. However, the Pharisees are operating in the realm of analysis, while Jesus operates in awareness. Rob Bell describes the difference in this blog post titled ‘how about a short sermon.’ Analysis asks “What?” while awareness asks “Who?” Analysis leads to certainty while awareness leads to exploration. Analysis breeds judgment while awareness invites grace.
The Pharisees chose analysis; Jesus chose awareness.
2. The Pharisees chose the wrong battle
They often picked analytical fights with Jesus, and they always lost. In this story Jesus turns their analysis against them by permitting the stoning but only if it’s instigated by someone who is flawless. Of course, declaring oneself flawless is heresy. So the Pharisees found themselves trapped between upholding the Law or breaking it.
Jesus did this because his fight was on another battlefield. And that battlefield was in the heart of the humiliated woman lying in the middle of the crowd. Jesus saw someone hurting. Someone broken. Someone whose humanity had been robbed. And his fight was one of redemption and grace, not judgment and punishment.
3. We have a choice
You and I are often somewhere in that crowd. We are somewhere between the Pharisees holding their stones and Jesus drawing in the dirt. We are capable of showing grace, but not always willing. And, at least in the Christian world, we are far too often the stone holders ready to inflict punishment on wrongdoers. After all, scripture is clear.
But what happens when we find ourselves in the middle of the crowd? What happens when we become the woman. What happens when our sin is exposed and the people begin gathering their stones and we desperately scan the crowd for a messiah drawing in the dirt.
What then? Are we okay with sin analysis or would we prefer grace awareness?
It’s time for the Church to stop condemning.
It’s time we took our appropriate place in the center of the crowd with our sin exposed, waiting for the final word from Jesus.
It’s time we start looking more like Jesus and less like Pharisees.
It’s time we stop analyzing sin and start exposing grace.
It’s time we join God in his pursuit of redeeming the world.