The Bible passage I mainly used is John 8:1-11.
What do you think God is like?I’d like you to put yourselves in the shoes of an interested visitor to our service today. Imagine someone who has probably read the service booklet by now, listened to the words of the hymns and the Bible readings, and who is probably wondering what “Imposition of Ashes” might be, and whether it hurts.
What might they think we are about?
Would they be concluding that we are a nervous, somewhat paranoid bunch of people, who feel the need to check that God isn’t cross with us, rather than confidently making our own way in the world?
What would our visitor think of the God we are worshipping? Does he sound like a stern and strict enforcer of the rules?
But I don’t think we believe in an angry sort of God, and I don’t think we are a nervous sort of people.
So I want to take a closer look at what we’re like and what God is like. I want to suggest that we’ve got a God who loves us no matter what we’re like, and that we’ve got a God who has found a way of dealing with the wrongs in the world.
During the week I saw a programme on telly about a man who as a boy had quite mercilessly bullied a school mate. Now grown up and my age, he was tortured with guilt and shame about what he had done, and desperately wanted to meet the man he had wronged, and ask for his forgiveness.
The programme built up the tension by interviewing a psychologist, who spoke about the immense damage that bullying can do. Then Matt Baker, the presenter, did the detective work of tracking down Simon, the bullied boy, and asking if he would be prepared to meet Jon, who had done him such harm.
Jon was a perfectly decent family man, yet as a child he’d picked on another boy and made his life a living hell. It made me think that something is very wrong in people. Even people who ought to be perfectly decent and good don’t always behave in a decent, good and righteous way.
Jesus came for sinners
It made me think how that old fashioned word that the church still uses – sin – still has some currency. Jesus said, “I haven’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” So if you are righteous, holy, decent and good, I’ve one thing to say – there’s the door. Just close it on your way out, and keep us sinners warm. Because we’re the ones Jesus has come for. And in this service, we are confronting the reality that none of us are good through and through.
We believe in Love
The truth is, we’re not all bad. Alongside that crookedness inside us all, there is also a great deal of goodness. We respond to love. We have it within ourselves to respond with kindness when we see a need.
But the dividing line between good and bad doesn’t separate US, the good people, from THEM, the bad ones. Oh no. The dividing line runs right through the middle of our souls. And that’s the problem.
And or course God knows all about it. He knows we aren’t perfect, so he gave us a book with rules to follow, he taught us right from wrong. God’s ways, the Bible’s ways, are the basis of the law of our land.
The law is very good at telling us what we should do. But the law is a lot less good at telling us what to do when we’ve done what is not right. We tend to resort to punishment, in those circumstances.
But punishment doesn’t put right what was wrong. It just makes the perpetrator suffer. The injured party is still injured.
If I broke into your house and stole all your possessions, and if I was then arrested and sent to prison, you wouldn’t have your things back. I’d be suffering for my crime, but you would still be dealing with the shock of being burgled, the fear of it happening again, the loss of your treasured belongings. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
And yet we still think that a little bit more suffering will cure our suffering. A little bit more violence will fix our own violence. One more war will end all wars. But it never does.
We need more than the law.
Jesus was different. He knew what to do with people who had done something wrong. And we’ve got a brilliant example in our gospel reading today.
Jesus and the woman caught in adultery
First of all, this is not about the woman. The pharisees weren’t wanting to know what to do with someone who had committed adultery, They knew perfectly well. They just wanted a situation to throw at Jesus, something to test him with. They just wanted to say “It’s all very well for you to criticise us for being judgemental and unloving, but let’s see you deal any differently with a crime!”
He is concerned with everyone, the pahrisees, the woman, and the person who isn’t there. Let’s just mention him first. You can’t commit adultery by yourself. What happened to the man involved?
He doesn’t escalate. He finds something very interesting on the ground instead, until finally he says “who’s good and who’s bad here? Just show me where the dividing line goes.” And they can’t. They can’t draw a line that allows the adulterous woman to be on one side, and the upright, religious people to be on the other side. They find that it can’t be done, so they slink away.
At last Jesus turn to the woman and points out that no one has condemned her. “Neither do I condemn you, Go and leave your life of sin.” Jesus opened a door for her, and gave her the chance to step through into a new life.
The key that opened the door was Truth.
The tv programme I saw last night had Simon, the victim of the bullying saying “Yes I will meet Jon. But I won’t forgive him. I’ll never forgive him for what he did to me.”
Jon the bully said “I can’t keep this a secret any longer, I have to put my cards on the table. I don’t know what Simon will say when we meet, but I have to believe it’s better to tell the truth about what I’ve done.”
When they met, Jon said “Simon, will you forgive me?”
And Simon said “Yes.”
The truth will set you free
The woman had no choice about telling the truth – the truth was told for her. Jon felt he had to tell the truth, because the secret of his shame was eating him up.
We’re in the happy position of being able to choose. But if we want a door unlocked in our lives, maybe we need to tell God the truth about ourselves.
Jesus is the truth, he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus is present here, by his Spirit.
So we’re in good company, we’re in safe hands.
And what does he have to say to us? “I do not condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”