Category Archives: Sermons

Deeper, part one: Solitude vs Loneliness

This Lent I have started a new series called “Deeper.” The idea is to take the six weeks of Lent to go deeper with our faith, and to go deeper in our relationship with God. Many of us barely scratch the surface when it comes to examining our relationship with God. This Lent, let’s try and go deeper. Each Sunday I will look at a practice that can help us connect on a deeper level with God. The problem, as I see it, is that many of these things that can help us go deeper, can also have a dangerous side. This Sunday I explore solitude.

Solitude is an important part of the spiritual life. Jesus pursued solitude, and was often drawn out of his own yearning for solitude by the needs of the people. In fact, the Bible story for this sermon includes Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place, only to be ‘tracked down’ by Peter. When Jesus was told that there was a crowd waiting for him, he says, “Let’s go the other way.” I take a closer look at this story, and this aspect of Jesus’ personality that we often forget.

The problem with solitude, however, is that there is a fine line between it and loneliness. The same empty house that can be exhilarating to the exhausted parent can be crippling to the newly widowed. I encourage us all this Lent to “seek solitude and redeem loneliness.”

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Breaking the Silence (part 3): Domestic Violence

Domestic ViolenceThis is the final part of my three part series called Breaking the Silence. It was an emotional set of sermons, each dealing with important topics that have too often been ignored in the Church. I am in the process of creating brochures to go along with these three sermons, so that others can get the facts and help loosen the stigma that so often keeps people from getting the help they need.

For domestic violence, there seems to be an important Biblical understanding that needs to be addressed and reshaped. The nature of marriage and divorce has often been used to keep people, especially women, in abusive relationships. The sermon below goes into more detail, but it should be said that the Biblical understanding of a marriage is that it is between two people who are in a covenant relationship to be mutually submissive. When some cherry-pick Scripture to read “wives submit to their husbands,” they often leave out the surrounding paragraphs which are inevitably about love and kindness. The Bible describes relationships built on mutuality, not hierarchy. Secondly, a divorce does not end a marriage. Violence ends a marriage. A divorce may be the legal ending of a marriage, but a covenant relationship of love, respect, and mutual submission is broken not with a signed document, but with spiritual, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse. There are other ways that a marriage may end, but in regards to this issue, too many women have been trapped inside a destructive relationship in the name of “saving a marriage.”

If you are in an abusive relationship, I implore you, save yourself. The marriage is already destroyed. Call the police and get out, then call the Pastor to seek healing.

Breaking the Silence Series

Mental Health: Silent No More

Suicide: Nothing Separates

Domestic Violence: Call Police, Not Pastor

 

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Suicide: Nothing Separates

This is my sermon from January 24, 2016, preached at Two Rivers United Methodist Church in Rock Island, Illinois. It is about the importance of compassion and care for those that are both contemplating suicide, and for families who have endured it. Any conversation about suicide must begin with the truth that “nothing [not even suicide] can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-8255.

Breaking the Silence Series

Mental Health: Silent No More

Suicide: Nothing Separates

Domestic Violence: Call Police, Not Pastor

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Mental Illness: Silent No More

This is my sermon from January 17, 2016 at Two Rivers United Methodist Church in Rock Island, Illinois. The Church needs to do more to help fight stigma attached to mental illness. I want to thank Sarah Griffith Lund for helping me come to a deeper understanding of this issue.

Breaking the Silence Series

Mental Health: Silent No More

Suicide: Nothing Separates

Domestic Violence: Call Police, Not Pastor

Listen to our conversation with Sarah Griffith Lund, the author of Blessed are the Crazy, in this Pulpit Fiction episode.

STIGMA IS UGLY

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The Gospel According to Pixar: Toy Story

I doubt it was an intentional allusion, but did you notice what shape these two form? Look familiar?

I doubt it was an intentional allusion, but did you notice what shape these two form? Look familiar?

Where do you find meaning? This is a big question. It may be THE big question. What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of living? You may not realize it, but this is the question of the Toy Story saga. Over three incredible movies, the characters of Toy Story are searching for meaning.

The toys, especially the two main characters, Woody and Buzz, at different times face existential crises searching for meaning as they come to grips with their own mortality. Their mortality is wrapped up in the life of their owner, Andy. In the first movie Buzz faces the reality of being a toy and not a Space Ranger. In the second movie Woody has to choose between “immortality” in a museum, or life with a kid who will eventually grow up. In the third movie all of the toys face their impending loss of purpose as Andy goes to college.

When Woody meets Buzz, Woody is a sure and determined leader of the toys. He knows his purpose. He has a laser focus as Andy’s favorite toy. When Buzz shows up his status is threatened. To make matters worse, Buzz has delusions of grandeur. Woody mocks Buzz because Buzz believes that he is a space ranger. He comes to Andy’s room convinced that he is on an alien planet, and must find and defeat the evil Zurg.

Buzz faces a crisis when he realizes that the storyline of his life isn’t real. It is just a storyline for a TV show designed to sell toys. He is one of thousands of Buzz Lightyears” that line supermarket aisles. It is Woody who convinces Buzz that his purpose is far grander than defeating Zurg.

“I can’t help anyone… I’m not a Space Ranger. I’m just a toy. A stupid, little insignificant toy,” says Buzz.

“Whoah, hey, wait a minute. Being a toy is a lot better than being a Space Ranger,” Woody exclaims.

“Yeah right.”

“No, it is. Over in that house is a kid who thinks you’re the greatest. And it’s not because you’re a Space Ranger, pal. It’s because you’re a toy. You are his toy.”

Woody redefines Buzz and gives him purpose. No longer does his purpose revolve around catching the evil Zurg. Instead, it is to be with a boy. Toy Story ends with Woody and Buzz realizing something about their purpose. Woody is not defined by his status, and Buzz is not defined by his ‘job.’ They are both defined by their relationship to Andy, and to each other.

In Toy Story 2 it is Woody who has the crisis when he discovers that he is not just a toy, but that he is a collectible. His value is altered, and he is faced with a decision. He can define himself through Andy, where his value will inevitably deteriorate as Andy grows up and plays less with his toys; or he can define himself as a collectible and be a part of a museum forever.

Knowing that Andy will eventually “put him away,” he decides to go with immortality at the museum. Fearing that he has been kidnapped, Buzz and the other toys go on a perilous adventure to find him. Risking everything for the sake of their friend, they finally find Woody, and the following scene ensues:

We witness Woody’s change of heart when he is reminded of who he is. He is reminded of the mark that was placed on him by the one who loved him more than all. He is reminded of the love of his friends, and the fact that they were willing to risk everything for him.

Jesus, when speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John tells them this, “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13, CEB). Jesus had a firm grasp on the transforming power of love. He said these things to the disciples when he knew that his time on earth was coming to a close. He says these things to them even while he knew that his path led to the cross. He told them they were his friends. He told them to love each as I have loved you. He told them there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for one’s friends. Then he went out and did it.

That’s the kind of love that can transform hearts. That is the kind of love that can make people stop on their tracks and reconsider their path. Another way of putting it: It’s the kind of love that can cause you to repent, and believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Woody’s heart was transformed by the love of his friends. In all my time as a writer, pastor, and Christian, I don’t think I’ve ever convinced anyone to Christ. I don’t think I’ve ever persuaded anyone to repent. If I’ve done anything, I’ve loved them to Christ. If I have done anything, I have loved people to a deeper understanding of God’s love. I’ve written, preached, talked, teached, but nothing counts as much as the times that I have been a friend. I’m not sure I’ve ever laid my life down for a friend, but I have laid down my time. I have laid down my own vulnerability. I have laid down my compassion and kindness.

More importantly, when I have had moments of doubt. When I have questioned everything. When I have wondered aloud about my own purpose, it has never been a well-constructed argument that brought me back. It has been the time, care, kindness, and love of friends that has reminded me. There have been times when competing ideas of the purpose of my life have waged a war in my mind. Like anyone, I have had late nights wondering about where the value of my life may lie. There are times when I’ve been lost, but every time there was someone there to remind me to look down at the bottom of my foot, recall who and whose I am, and come back to my purpose: to love.

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The Gospel According to Pixar: Finding Nemo

Dear Daughters,

On your first day of Kindergarten I wore sunglasses. It was a sunny day, but that is not why I wore the shades. I wore them because I didn’t want you to see. I didn’t want you to see the redness in my eyes or the tears flowing down my cheeks. Your mother and I walked behind as you and your sister walked together, hand in hand, toward the school. It looked so big, and you looked so tiny. Your head seemed to barely peak over the top of your backpack, which was wider than your body even though it carried only the lunch I had just made for you.

You walked to the big lot where all the other kids were waiting. Other parents. Other sunglasses. I wasn’t embarrassed of my tears. Everyone who knows me knows that I a crier. You even know it, but not today. I didn’t want you to be thinking about my tears. You had enough to deal with. You found your line. We gave you hugs and waited for your teachers to come. And she did. The line of kindergarteners started to move. Some of the parents walked with their little ones. It was a first-day exception to the rule that I was not aware of. I didn’t know that we could walk in with you. So Mommy asked. She bent low and said to you, “Do you want us to come with you or do you want to go alone?”

“I want to go alone,” you said. And into the deep blue you swam.

Into the deep, fraught with dangers on all sides, you ventured. There, kids could be mean to you. There, teachers could crush your spirit. There, cafeteria chaos loomed. There, I would not be able to scoop you up if you called out, “Daddy uppy!” There, into the deep you swam. There you ventured out, wanting to go alone. Needing to go alone. It is possible to be both overjoyed and terrified at the same time. For in that moment I was joyful that you were ready. I was so proud of my brave, independent, smart little girl; and I was terrified for my precious, vulnerable, sensitive little girl. So I waved, and I watched you as long as I could. Then you were in the building, and somehow I went about my day until it was 3 p.m., and I found that you had survived.

Finding Nemo is about a Dad, Marlin, trying to find his son, Nemo. Along the way Marlin bumps into Dory, a wonderfully optimistic fish with an extremely short attention-span. She reminds Marlin that when things look difficult, the best thing to do sometimes is “just keep swimming.”  Most of the story of the movie is of their adventure. They engage much danger along the way, encounter strange creatures, and develop a lasting friendship. Meanwhile Nemo is made a pet, trapped in a tank in a seaside Dentist’s office. Here, Nemo makes some unlikely friends, draws on his own courage and teamwork. Eventually, Marlin and Nemo are reunited, and through the power of teamwork and positive thinking, they are freed from a fisherman’s net.

It is a wonderful adventure, but it is easy to forget how it all started.

I get Marlin. Here, on Nemo’s first day of school, he is rightly worried. Maybe he goes overboard, but I understand his desire to protect his son, and I cringe at Nemo’s open defiance. Marlin knows that the deep blue is a dangerous place. He knows that something as simple as touching a boat can get you killed. I struggle with the same emotions as Marlin. I think every parent does, and I don’t expect it to get any easier. The dangers just seem to get bigger as life goes on. In the end, all I can do is trust.

I trust that the things your Mom and I have taught you can hold true even in the midst of hardship. I trust that you feel my love and my presence even if I’m not there at your side. I trust that there will be others that care about you that will guide you on your way. I trust that there will be friends who will love you for who you are. I trust that your own strength and resourcefulness will surprise you when you need it. Above all, I trust that the same shepherd who guides and protects me through the darkest valley is the same shepherd who will watch you too. If I am to claim faith in the Scriptures, and find solace in words like the 23rd Psalm for struggles in my own life, it means I have to find solace in them for you as well. Even though you will walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For the same rod and staff that protects me, protects you as well. Surely goodness and mercy pursues you as relentlessly as it pursues me, too.

Holding onto this is the only way that I can let go of you, and letting you go is precisely my job as your father. The only way for you to become the amazing women that God has created you to be is if I allow you to venture. I have to allow you to get lost, to play in the rain, to have your heart broken, to scrape your knee. You both have so many gifts. You have incredible kindness and curiosity. You are ferocious and gentle. You are passionate and loyal, and sometimes agonizingly stubborn. So go out into the deep blue.

Explore. Fall. Imagine. Sing. Bless. Feed. Dance. Play. Read. Love. Fail. Forgive. There will be hard days, and sometimes the best thing to do is just keep swimming.

Through it all know that no matter what, I will pursue you with as much goodness and faithful love as I can.

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Unlocking Prayer: Supplication

Date: June 21, 2015

Title: Unlocking Prayer: Supplication

Place: Two Rivers United Methodist Church

Text: Psalm 86

Description: Prayer connects us to God and others through God’s unending love. All around us people are joined in hatred, fear, and anger, but the only thing that can truly unite us is hesed – the steadfast love of God. When you open yourself to God’s love, the guilt, the shame, the fear, and the hatred can be conquered. When you open yourself to God’s love, you may find that inside there is a spark of God’s power. When you open yourself to God’s love, you might just find that baby, you’re a firework.

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Are we there yet?

The prophet George Carlin once said, “Have you ever noticed that everyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and everyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” This, I believe is why everyone, to some extant, is a backseat driver.

We’ve all been riding with someone who is either a maniac or an idiot. It can be hard to suppress those feelings when you are quite sure you  will either be dreadfully late or die ina fiery wreck.

Have you ever driven with a backseat driver? I’m not naming any names, but I may have experienced it from time to time. It can be infuriating to listen to the unwanted advice. “Are you going to turn?” “You’re in the wrong lane.” I think in our heart of hearts, we’re all backseat drivers. Some of us are just more expressive about it than others. As a driver though, have you ever had enough and just said, “Do you want to drive? Do you want me to pull over so we can switch and you can take over?” Have you ever actually done it?

You know who were the worst set of backseat drivers? The disciples. Over and over the disciples have a different idea than Jesus as to where they should be going. Over and over again they think they’re going to restore the Kingdom of David, or they think they’re going to save their friend, or they think they are going to nice people’s homes with nice food and nice customs. And over and over again Jesus shakes his head, closes his eyes, pinches his upper nose (at least that’s how I picture it), and says, “will you please let me drive?” Until finally he does it. He does what every brow-beaten driver has dreamed of doing. He pulls over, gets out, and says, “Okay, you drive.”

This is the story that is known by many Christians as The Ascension. It is the end of the Easter season, but not yet Pentecost. It is the hinge upon which the writer of Luke and Acts connects those two works. The Gospel of Luke ends with Jesus being taken up to heaven and the disciples worshiping, and then going to Jerusalem. Acts, which is the sequel, picks up with a quick intro, a “Previously on…” and then tells the story of Jesus’ ascension with a little more detail. Jesus, in his last act on the earth, tells the disciples that they will soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit. They ask, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” Read: “Are we there yet?” They figure this must be it. They’ve been with this guy for so long, surely this is finally the time. Instead, Jesus tells them, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses to Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Then he leaves. This body, which had already defied the laws of physics by appearing in locked rooms and disappearing at dinner tables, is ‘lifted up.’ Jesus is gone.

He actually does it. He gets out of the car and says, “You drive.” So we took over, and just think of all the places we’ve gone.

We’ve taken it through building empires, inquisitions and crusades.

We’ve taken it through the suppression of science, the trial of Galileo.

We’ve taken it to grand cathedrals built on the backs of the poor to prop up the powerful.

We’ve taken it to explain plagues and keep people in the dust and shame in the shadow of an angry god.

We’ve taken it to the subjugation of women and used it to justify untold abuses and violence.

We’ve taken it to manifest destiny, claiming God as the motivation of the genocide of a people.

We’ve taken it to enslave a people based on their race.

We’ve taken it to Holocausts and concentration camps.

We’ve taken it to marginalize the LGBT population.

Jesus left and left us in charge and we used the power to subjugate those who look wrong, act wrong, pray wrong, love wrong, and were born wrong. We keep getting off course. How many times have we lost our way?

The thing is, Jesus gave us directions. He told us the way. The problem is, the directions seemed a little vague. Go to Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the ends of the earth.  Now, I can’t help but think that Jesus really screwed up with this one. I mean, I’ve threatened to get out before, but I’ve never done it. I’ve never once let my kids actually take the wheel because I know that things wouldn’t go well. And if I did get out of the car and let the kids drive, would anyone blame them for driving off the road and crashing into a tree? No. I would be blamed.

And what kind of directions are those? Is there any wonder we’ve veered off course from time to time? So we stop and lament and cry out to God. We shake our fist at the sky and say, “Why?” and we wonder why we aren’t there yet.

Then the angel of the Lord appears and asks, “Why are you looking at the sky?” The answer is not in looking to the sky. As much as I’d like it to be, the answer is not above in the clouds. The answer is not going to come down. The answer is not in the right orthodoxy or the right prayers or the right creeds. As much as I wish Jesus had stuck around for a little while longer, maybe it is time to stop waiting for Jesus to come, and start acting as if Jesus is already in our midst.

Instead of looking up, waiting for Jesus to give us the simple answer, we need to be reminded of the directions he actually gave us, and start looking out. Jesus gave us the power, and Jesus gave us directions. “Go and testify to me to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world.” Start in this city, then out into the countryside, then into enemy territory, then to all the world.

Testify to the love of Jesus Christ. Testify to the way that Jesus lived. Testify to the hearts that were changed, the hungry that were fed, the unwelcome that were invited. Testify to the love that was willing to go even to the cross. Testify to the faith that sent two women to look for him at the tomb, and only to be asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Testify to the love that conquered the grave. Testify to the love that stands among you, scarred from the nails but still willing to reach out and embrace those who had abandoned and denied him. Testify to the love that knows not manipulation or coercion. Testify to the love that is not of armies and force and restoring kings and sitting upon thrones. Testify to the love that is the Kingdom of God, the love that says that all are welcome, all are free, all are filled, and all are loved.

Go to the ends of the earth to testify to Christ’s love, but start with your own heart. Start in your own cities, in your circles. Testify to Christ’s love to strangers and even enemies. Go to the ends of the earth, and stop looking up. Stop looking for the living among the dead. Instead look out. Look out to your neighbor.  Look out to the one who is despised. Look out to the sick and the poor and the hungry. Look out and find Jesus not in the clouds, but among the least of these, his brothers and sisters.

We won’t find the answers as long as we keep looking up. Look out and be inspired by those that are following. Look around you and see the others that have figured out the way, who know the truth that we won’t find Jesus in cemeteries or the sky. We’ll find him on the journey. We’ll find him when we follow his directions.

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I thank God for Psalm 137

I’m thankful for Psalm 137.

I thank God for its ugliness. I thank God for the anger, the pain, and the anguish.

I thank God for the barely contained rage that drips from every word.

The Bible has its fair share of troubling passages. Perhaps none are more troubling than these nine verses that end with a cry for infanticide. It begins with these words:

Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down,

crying because we remembered Zion.

We hung our lyres up in the tree there

because that’s where our captors asked us to sing;

Our tormentors requested songs of joy:

“Sing us a song about Zion!” they said.

But how could we possibly sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?

Ravaged by the exile, the writer of Psalm 137 feels pain that goes beyond mere homesickness. His home has been destroyed. He and his people have been uprooted and taken to a foreign soil. A once proud people have seen their monarchy collapse. The glory days of David and Solomon are a distant memory. The grand Temple, the house of God on earth and center of all commercial and cultural activity, is rubble. God, who delivered the people from slavery, who gave them the Law to be the sign of their special relationship, who gave them the Land in which to dwell and worship, who made a people out of no people, cannot be heard. Everything the people knew was gone. In the midst of this devastation they are asked to sing. This is where their tormentors asked them to sing a song of joy. Psalm 137 is the response.

It continues with a plea for Jerusalem. The song longs for the memory of the city, and promises to keep it fresh. The promise of remembering is an important one. Time and again God tells the people to remember. Remembering keeps the people alive. It keeps them God’s people, and at this point, memory is all they have. Memory not only of the city, but of God’s presence in their lives. And then the Psalm goes to a more recent, bitter memory:

Remember what the Edomites did on Jerusalem’s dark day:

“Rip it down, rip it down!

All the way to its foundayions!” they yelled.

The memory of the taunt is a dark one, and it leads finally to this:

Daughter Babylon, you destroyer,

a blessing on the one who pays you back the very deed you did to us!

A blessing on the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock.”

I thank God for Psalm 137.

It is a devastating plea made in the midst of a devastating time. It is easy to read these words and be horrified. How could anyone wish something such as this? How could this be in our Holy Book? How could this be in the same book that holds Jesus’ plea for love of enemy? It is easy to read these words and just slowly walk away. Instead, I invite you to sit with them. Sit with the devastation that must have come to the people. Sit with the vision of what they experienced. Sit with the defeat at the hands of the conquerors, and remember that the Psalmist asks for nothing more than what was done to them.

I thank God for Psalm 137 because it gives me a place for anger. It gives me a place for devastation. It gives me a place to cry out. It gives me permission to give God my worst. I love the gentle words of Jesus. I love to read about the Lord as my shepherd, leading me through the valley of the shadow of death. I love to hear the promise of the prophets looking forward to the time when swords will be bent into plows. Psalm 137 though, gives me a place for other emotions. It gives me a place for all my anger.

It gives me a chance to react to beheadings of healthcare workers. It gives me a way to react to school girls being kidnapped. It gives me space to want to exact my tooth from the one who abuses their spouse or child. It gives me permission to scream, because sometimes a light, well-thought-out, gentle prayer just doesn’t satisfy me. Psalm 137 gives me room to rage when grace still feels a long way off. A closer look though, reveals that grace is contained even within this poem.

This poem is about the desire for revenge. It is about the very human yearning to exact punishment for wrong doing. It is about a people looking to take an eye for an eye, or in this case, a child for a child. The people were destroyed. Their children were presumably murdered in front of them, and this poem contains within it the collective rage of a people not only destroyed, but tormented afterwards. “Sing us a song,” their captors say.

Remember though, that this is a poem about the yearning for revenge. It is not a story of revenge fulfilled. It is a plea for God to take out God’s wrath, but the pleas are left unanswered. The cries are left unheeded. God’s voice is not heard. There is no response, at least not here. Eventually Cyrus the Great of Persia overthrew Babylon, and allowed the people to return. Eventually the people were restored. Eventually the people were allowed to return home. The Temple was rebuilt. The walls of the city were remade.

Eventually a savior came.

In the face of injustice, oppression, and violence, I don’t often react like a gentle lamb. Revenge is a powerful impulse. Just ask Liam Neeson. We love the action hero going on a quest for vengeance. We love that delicious moment when the evil doers get what’s coming to them. This doesn’t happen here.

And this is another reason I love Psalm 137. God’s response to this call for vengeance goes unheeded. The people are restored, but not through vengeance. They are restored through the suffering servant. They are restored through the lamb. When I am ready to boil over, this is an important reminder.

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He drew in the sand. Godspell Lent, part 3 #tryLENT

This is part three of the Godspell journey in Lent. The theme for the week is Conflict, and the song is “By My Side.”

Part 1: Prepare Ye the Way.

Part 2: Jesus Plays The Clock Game.

heart in the sandHe drew in the sand.

The woman was in front of him. As were the Pharisees and legal experts who brought her to him and the regular crowds there in the Temple.

She was faced with public humiliation and scorn in the very least. Capital punishment, though unlikely, still placed on the table before her. A pawn in a game played by powerful men, the woman has no name. We know nothing of her history. Nothing of her circumstances. We know only that she is a slut, an adulteress, unworthy of being treated as a human, and we know that only because the powerful men say so.

“Caught in the act of adultery,” is what they say. How exactly they caught her is unclear. Was she set up? Was she raped? Where is the man? They claim to be holding to the Law, but the fact is, the men care little about the Law. They use it for their own good. They use it for their own benefit, setting themselves up over and above all others. They aren’t interested in justice. If they cared about the law, then where is the man? Leviticus 20:10 requires that both the man and the woman caught in adultery are to be executed. The alternative is that the woman wasn’t yet married. Adultery laws were based entirely on property rights, so if the woman wasn’t yet completely the property of another, than the man did nothing wrong. Instead, if she was simply betrothed to another man, she alone would suffer the consequences.

And while this sort of inter-gospel speculation is something I usually avoid, I cannot help but see this as a possible part of the story. While the accusers saw simply a woman who could be used in their game, perhaps Jesus saw something else. When Jesus looked at this woman, a woman pregnant and betrothed to another, perhaps he saw part of his own story. This, clearly, is pretty wild speculation, but it is speculation that fits. This whole story is wrought with speculation. There are dependable reasons to think that John 8:1-11 is not authentically John. There is good reason to think it was added later, maybe much later, than the already late writing of the Gospel of John. In most modern Bibles, the fact that this story isn’t found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of John is noted. Yet it remains a part of the story. It remains so because it feels like it fits.

In the musical Godspell this story is a turning point. It is a place where the community starts to question. This is where the community starts to wonder. The telling of this story is not done in the third person. It is not acted with frivolity and joy. It is the source of genuine discord, and a lot hangs in the balance of Jesus’ reaction. His response is a part of the cultural understanding of Jesus. Even those that know little of the man know the words that are attributed to him, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” In the musical, there is a moment of tension before the community comes back together. The response to this crisis is the song “By My Side,” a beautifully haunting song that describes the groups resolve to move forward. The song however, ends with Judas deciding once and for all he had enough. At the end of the song, the community was tested by the conflict, and most of them decide to stick with Jesus even if doing so can be difficult. Judas decides to betray Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, the passage plays an important role in seeing what is at stake. The story isn’t about the law or justice. It’s not even really about grace. The story is about the leaders operating under the system that creates winners and losers, and about how Jesus refused to play along. The leaders care nothing about the woman nor her supposed sins. All they care about is beating Jesus. They want to trap him. They put him in a situation which cannot be won. Either he picks to condemn her, which upholds the Law, but jeopardizes him in the eyes of the Roman government, who are the only ones able to inflict capital punishment; or he chooses to let her go, thus making a mockery of the Law. They think they have him cornered. Either way he breaks the law. And how does Jesus respond?

He plays in the sand.

He refuses to get caught in their trap. Instead of seeing a pawn placed in front of him as a challenge, he sees a woman. His answer befuddles those that sought to trap him, and they leave one by one.

In our story of Godspell, this is when Judas had enough. This is the moment it was just too much to take. He wanted there to be a winner and loser, and he wanted to be on the winning side. Jesus, on the other hand, is not on anyone’s side. He is not interested in winning and losing. He was not willing to get caught up in the conflict – at least not in this conflict. He was not going to choose between the Law and grace because this is a false choice. I’m not saying that Jesus avoided conflict. He simply chose to meet conflict on his ground, in his way. He faced the conflict with nonviolence, with the power of grace and forgiveness, and with a will that was in perfect union with God the Father.

He faced the ultimate conflict when he faced the cross. Those that crucified him saw that as the ultimate trap. Finally, they forced his hand. They asked him if he was king. They demanded that he either declare himself King and attempt to rule, or  face death and be defeated. When he hung from the cross they thought they finally had him, but once again, Jesus refused to play along.

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