Tag Archives: grace

A Little Writing in the Sand

In John’s gospel, it doesn’t take long for things to heat up. Blink an eye and Jesus is already getting into trouble. From the wedding at Cana (John 2), Jesus heads to the Temple in Jerusalem and drives out the moneychangers, snapping a whip and overturning their tables. See what I mean? From the get go, there’s tension with the religious leaders.

The tension continues and continues to intensify. Jesus heals the man at the Bethesda pool and pronounces him a forgiven man. “This was why the religious leaders were seeking all the more to kill him.” When he proclaims strange words about eating his body and drinking his blood to receive life, the leaders understandably take offense. When he goes to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkoth, the leaders are ready to arrest Jesus. And we haven’t even gotten to the end of chapter 7.

Then Jesus  shows his face again at the Temple. Ok, more than just shows his face. He sits down and holds a little bible study. Before long a crowd gathers.* The religious leaders catch wind of the impromptu meeting and with the snap of their fingers hatch an unassailable plan to catch Jesus red-handed. They will stretch him on the rack between his penchant for mercy and the requirements of the law.

So, they find a woman caught in the act of adultery, strong arm her into the midst of the outdoor lecture hall, and set their trap. Here are the facts, they say. This woman has been caught in the act. Her guilt is clear. The Law says she must be stoned. The Law of Moses. The highest authority in our tradition. Tell us what you would do.

The details of what happens next often go unnoticed. First, Jesus bends down and writes on the ground with his finger. Maybe the text of the commandment? Now he stands up and speaks. I think he was giving them conditional permission to begin the stoning. With one caveat. The one without sin can cast the first stone. I want to imagine that what he said was even juicier than that. I want to imagine that he was giving permission to begin the execution to anyone who was without THIS sin.

Because you notice what he does next? And you notice their reaction? He bends down again and starts writing in the dirt again. And “one by one” — did you notice how specific the text is about that? “One by one” the accusers walk away.

Here’s a thought. Admittedly a speculative thought. But there’s a certain logic to it. What he was writing in the sand — one by one — was the names of their girlfriends.

There’s a large lesson here about the magnanimous character of God’s grace and forgiveness. I am not deserving of the gift of grace and the forgiveness of sins, even the repeated sins I can’t seem to shake off. Yet, I am forgiven. Grace abounds!

And there’s a micro lesson for how I get around in the world.

I have a pretty strong sense of justice. Right and wrong matters to me. When I see someone gaming the system, I get angry. When I see another mistreated, my blood boils. And I often find that the faults I am so quick to notice in others are the ones I hate the most in myself. I’m irritated when others are late for meetings, rarely stopping to wonder what might have gone wrong. When I’m late, there’s always a good reason. It’s easy to notice my wife’s irritability and call her out on it. When I’m irritable, I have a good reason for it. Speeding down Roosevelt Road, cutting in and out of the traffic lanes? The other guy’s a jerk and a menace to all of us. I’m late for an appointment.

Apparently grace is not just something to be received, it’s something I’m called to practice.

*You can find the story in John 7:53-8:11. I know it’s not in the most reliable manuscripts. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great story.

How Do You View the Heart of God?

feltbrokenheart.jpgIt sounds like a theoretical, obtuse question. But I don’t think it is. How we answer that question impacts how we view the world and our place in it. Different answers to that question getting played out in concrete situations with real people.

For example:

  • Wheaton College has moved to terminate a tenured professor of political science because she publicly expressed agreement with Pope Francis’s statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
  • The Anglican Communion has suspended the Episcopal Church in America for resolution to change language that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
  • The international refugee crisis is fostering vigorous disagreement about whether we should welcome Syrian Muslims as refugees
  • Disagreement within the Christian community over the use of handguns.

I continue to marvel over how sharply divided people of the same faith can be. I wrote about this a few months ago with reference to the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Now, it’s the issue of gun safety that has me thinking about it again.

A friend posted a few sentences critical of President Obama’s recent executive orders about gun safety; when I read some of the discussion that followed, I ran across this: . . .the entire point of Christianity is that the human race is overwhelmingly corrupt and evil. . .

This gets at the crux of the divide. How do you view the heart of God? And consequently, how do you view the world and your own place in the world?

I view the world as full of good. It’s not a place to be feared, but to be embraced. God’s creative dynamism fashioned a world full of beauty, full of goodness, and full of people whom God has created in God’s image. Sure, there is plenty that is wrong, and my heart often aches over it. War, violence, brutality, starvation, suffering — all of that is real. And none of that is God’s intention. God is at work bringing healing and restoration; God is working through God’s people to bring things to that fulfillment. And I want to do everything I can to push violence and suffering and death to the edges of our life together with the hope and expectation that they will eventually fall off the cliff. It’s our job as the Body of Christ to get out of the churches and into the world to be a part of God’s big work of reconciliation, redemption, and peace.

And there are brothers and sisters who see the world as a “corrupt and evil” place. There is much to fear. God’s big work in the world is to judge the people and the forces that are evil. All this evil will continue to accumulate until God finally gets fed up with it and destroys the whole thing. Then all the good people will be taken to that paradise in the sky. It’s the work of the church to deliver the profligates from their hellbent eternal destiny and the church has to take a defensive and righteous posture over against the world in order to remain free of it’s corrupting influence.

Admittedly, I’ve polarized here to illustrate a point.  Have I oversimplified it too much?  What do you think?