Amazing Grace in the Mirror

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

August 16, 2020

Video of whole service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/311181213434884/

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I have to tell you I am excited about this sermon series. I think this notion of finding the Sweet Spot of Salvation is really so key to helping us to live a life centered in our faith in God and our love of our neighbor. Now, those of you who were in Worship in the Garden on Thursday got to hear the long version of what the Sweet Spot of Salvation is, but I’m going to give you all the short version since this will be unfolding over the next several weeks as well.

When I talk about the “Sweet Spot” of salvation, I’m using an analogy to a baseball bat. On the baseball bat, there is a certain spot where, if you hit the ball right there, it – like – guarantees a hit, maybe even a home run. Here I’ll show you on my trusty bat. Right where this logo is, that’s the sweet spot. It’s not the big wide end, and it’s not the tiny end by your hands. It’s a perfect balance.

So one simple way to think about the sweet spot of salvation is balance. It’s that right balance between resting and making an effort, between being comfortable and being uncomfortable, between trying hard to do a new thing and following the easy path that seems to have been laid out for you. We find the sweet spot when we know when to push and when to rest. 

This whole series will be about discerning that sweet spot for ourselves. The reason I say it is an individual endeavor, at least in some ways, is two-fold. First, we are all different people with different tendencies to err on one end of this balance or another. So my work to get to that sweet spot might not look just like yours. Secondly, to make matters even more complicated, our sweet spot might change depending upon our particular circumstance or the stage of life we are in or even week-to-week or day-to-day.

So one of the most important things we need to do as we seek that sweet spot is know ourselves, to be aware of who we are and where we are at. That’s what Jesus is helping the scribes and the Pharisees to do in our scripture today.

This is a great story. Every time I read it, I noticed and hear different details, and this week when I read it was no different. I also read a commentary on it by a scholar named Nancy Taylor, and she helped me understand the characters in the story so much better.

I’m going to retell this story, and as I tell it, I want you to listen closely. In fact, we are going to hear a bunch of compelling and interesting stories about Jesus and his followers in this series. Every time, I hope you will do the same thing: try to imagine yourself in the place of the different characters in this story. Listen and look for what you can really relate to – what seems similar to your personality or your life situation. So I invite you to get ready to listen and see. 

Here’s what’s happening. Jesus has been teaching in the temple…and the religious leaders are seriously ticked off about this. Dr. Taylor in her commentary points out that in the story, just yesterday, those leaders had tried to get Jesus arrested by the temple police. But the temple police refused to carry out their orders. That’s because the police listened to Jesus teach, and they were like “You know I think maybe we should be listening to this guy instead of arresting him.” I bet that made the religious authorities mad: being disobeyed by their own temple police force.

Then – that same day! – one of their own, Nicodemus, confronted them – IN PUBLIC – and told them they didn’t even have right to try to arrest Jesus according to the law. I mean, Nicodemus was one of THEM. How dare he side with this Jesus guy? This Jesus! This newcomer, this interloper who is drawing all this attention during THEIR religious festival. So the authorities are threatened, they are angry, and they are ashamed because Nicodemus has called them out.

So Dr. Taylor imagines these scribes and Pharisees going home that night “fuming and scheming” of how they were going to shut this Jesus up once and for all. Filled with rage and shame, they come up with a scheme. They are going to publicly expose Jesus for the charlatan teacher that he is. Somehow, they find a woman in the very act of adultery, and with absolute disregard for her humanity, they decide to use her as a pawn to entrap Jesus. Dr. Taylor writes, “To what brutish level have they fallen in shaming this woman and subjecting her to the possibility of death by stoning for the purpose of entrapping Jesus?” [1]

Yes, they have fallen to that level. So they drag her in front of Jesus and the crowd, and say, “Hey, we caught this woman in the act of adultery. The law says we should stone her. What do you say?”

Now, they know Jesus is going to choose mercy. That’s what he’s been teaching. That’s what has gotten them so upset. They have all the rules and the laws, and they get their power by being the enforcers. Mercy is not their thing.

Jesus knows this, but he can’t just tell them they are wrong. He knows that for the scribes and Pharisees to be transformed, they need to see themselves. They need to see themselves: dehumanizing this woman because of their own shame and rage. So, he simply holds a mirror up. He does not shame them further or tell them what they should be doing. He simply says to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

Then he goes about his teaching, he just bends down, continues writing in the dirt. He doesn’t even look at them. He’s said all he needs to say. One by one, starting with the eldest and the wisest, they begin to walk away. They see themselves, they see the harm they have attempted to cause with their reckless selfishness, and they all walk away. In fact, the whole crowd walks away.

Until it’s just Jesus and the woman. Jesus stands up and looks her in the eye. He says, “Is there no one left to condemn you?” She says, “No one, sir.” He replies: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and do not sin again.” 

It is a heck of a story.  

As you heard me tell it, did you see yourself anywhere in the story? Was there one character or characters that you identified with? Did you see yourself at all in the scribes and Pharisees, driven by their deep insecurities, by the fact that they were threatened by Jesus and his growing influence in the community? Did you see yourself in their desire to judge? Did you see yourself as angry when someone didn’t do what you wanted them to do? 

Or maybe you saw yourself in the woman? Are you part of a group that is sometimes scapegoated by people in power because they feel threatened? Have you had the blessing of being seen and supported by someone who accepts you and supports you – even if you’ve made some mistakes in the past? Has anyone every empowered you to move past the mistakes that unmerciful folks wanted to condemn…so that you could live in a new way?

Or maybe you related to the crowd that Jesus was teaching when the scribes and Pharisees showed up? Maybe you’re just looking on, not really getting engaged. Or maybe you’ve even offered forgiveness and affirmation like Jesus himself.

I don’t know your answers to these questions. I don’t need to know. None of us need others to tell us where we fall short, do we? We can just look in the mirror that God, that Jesus holds up for us. This can of course be difficult. It’s hard to admit your failings whether they are minor or large. Yet we have to know and face them in order to figure out where our sweet spot of salvation might be. We need to look at how things in our lives really are before we can be freed to live in a new way.

Here is the good news. These are the words of Dr. Taylor: “Ultimately, this is a story about what it is like to live in the presence of God, where our sins, as clear as day and as visible to ourselves as to everyone else, are met with divine forbearance. This is good news for the woman caught in adultery, for her haughty accusers, and for any in whom there is even a smudgeon of sin…Jesus gently invites and encourages us in living a life of humility and clear-eyed assessment of ourselves and our community.” [2]

Friends, it is okay to look in that mirror. You don’t have to be afraid of it. God’s amazing grace meets us there and leads us into the Sweet Spot of Salvation so that we may really live. It is there that we are freed from our present brokenness to love and serve God and one another.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

[1] Nancy S. Taylor. “Pastoral Perspective: John 7:53-8:11.” Feasting on the Gospels: John, Volume 1, Chapters 1-9 edited by Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 2015. p. 250.

[2] ibid, p. 252.

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