From the Pastor’s Desk, 9/27/21

John 7:53 – 8:11

   The scripture reference above is the story of the woman brought to Jesus and accused of adultery. Those who accused the woman were intent on stoning her. They were seemingly confident Jesus would agree with them. Jesus surprises them. He says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The stone throwers slowly dispersed indicating that they, too, had unresolved sin in their lives. How could a sinner condemn and use capital punishment against another sinner? When all had left Jesus asks the woman where her accusers were, and who now condemned her. She sees that her accusers are gone, and she replies that no one condemns her. Jesus says that he does not condemn her either. Then, Jesus makes a pronouncement that has always puzzled me. He says to the woman, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

   Is Jesus’ pronouncement contradictory? Is he indeed judging the woman on the accusation of adultery? If so, then isn’t that condemnation? Perplexing, yes?

   I suppose there are a number of optional explanations that support Jesus’ promise to not condemn her. One I’ve imagined is that Jesus presents a case for our identity to not be tied to any of our past sins whether egregious or minor. If the woman would have been stoned she would have been remembered, identified, as an adulterer. Jesus provides an avenue for her to be remembered otherwise, giving her the opportunity to do other things with her life. The pronouncement to not sin again is not condemnatory. Rather it is offering liberty to define her life in alternative ways. She now has this opportunity. I imagine she is more surprised by and thankful for the gift of this opportunity than she is by the sight of the absence of her stone-throwing accusers.

   Yesterday’s worship service opened the door for me to reflect deeply. The scripture text from James 1:27-2:8 cautions us as persons of faith who follow the royal law to “love our neighbors” to not show favoritism. The exercises we engaged in during worship were helpful in instructing us to consider when, where, and how we may fall short of living up to the royal law.

   During the service I remembered an image I saw on Twitter of an individual armed with an automatic assault rifle during a recent demonstration at the Arizona state capital building. It reminded me of scenes from January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. These kinds of images make me anxious, annoyed, and, yes, judgmental. I’m quick to think how wrong such individuals are. Because I judge the motives of these individuals, where do fit in the scriptures in John and James? Am I a stone-thrower? Am I showing favoritism to those who protest with more peaceful appearances? What might Jesus say to me as I wait to hurl my “judgment” at these individuals? Would I welcome into the presence of my community an armed individual as easily as I’d welcome a noticeably peaceful protester?

   How do I wish the armed protester to be identified in perpetuity? As a mean-spirited, wrongly directed, misinformed crazy? Or as someone who has as many opportunities as I, a sinner, do to do new things with their life? And how might I lean into this latter way of being that shows love rather than condemnation?

   I was also reminded yesterday during a conversation about COVID vaccines that people on either side of the vaccine question can feel judged. How do I as someone who is pro-vaccine make someone feel who is clearly on the opposite side of the spectrum? Loved and at liberty for alternative understandings or judged and identified permanently as wrong and misinformed? These questions could also be asked in the opposite direction.

   Paraphrasing the James text provides opportunity for reflection.

   My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?For if a person [brandishing combat fatigues and weapons] comes into your assembly, and if a [person carrying flyers with peaceful solutions for resolving disagreement] also comes in, and if you take notice of the one [with peaceful flyers] and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is [dressed in combat fatigues]  you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

   Or…

   My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?For if a person [promoting COVID vaccines] comes into your assembly, and if a person [railing against COVID vaccines] also comes in, and if you take notice of the one [promoting vaccines] and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is [railing against the vaccines]  you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

   Granted, there is much more nuance to be sorted out in the two paraphrases but the result for me is a deeper reflection into my judgmentalism, my unintentional showing of favoritism, and my ongoing consideration of how I can best love my neighbor to provide opportunities for them to live into the new life and ways Jesus always offers.  

Kevin Kessler
Kevin Kessler, Pastor

September 26, 2021   

   The worship experience on the date above was held via Zoom. The scripture text of James 1:27-2:8 was explored via engaging exercises providing opportunity for everyone to share verbally and reflect deeply on attitudes of loving our neighbors without showing favoritism. Brief prayers were interspersed throughout the service inviting God to guide and lead us in actions that display mercy and justice toward all.

   Links to songs shared during the time together follow:

Your Love Oh Lord by Third Day – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OBRvxrzhqs

Walk a Mile in My Shoes by Elvis Presley – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-NgDbK9N6g

Waving Through a Window –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9rf5wFq3zk

   A recording of the service will be posted to our website: cantonbrethrenchurch.org

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