Thursday, February 11, 2016

Lines In The Sand

She had been behaving strangely over the previous few weeks. Avoiding my gaze, being secretive. She had to go out suddenly a a few times after I came back from work leaving me with the children. It was just out of character.

Then one day there was the bag of money I found on the table. I asked her about it, where it had come from. She whisked it away making non committal comments and telling me to mind my own business.

We had been married for just over 3 years. Her family and mine had been friends for years. She was a good match but there was more than an arrangement. We had grown up in the same village. I had seen her blossom into womanhood and I had fallen for her. Those eyes… I love her still… But I had in recent weeks begun to wonder if there was someone else. And there was… But I hadn’t expected it to be him!

I came back home early last Thursday to find her gone. Sarah was looking after the kids. 'Where was she?, I demanded! Sarah looked sheepish and guilty but said nothing more. She just looked at the floor. I had to find her. I stormed out of the door and into the street looking left and then right and that’s when I noticed the commotion. People running toward the Temple. Something was going on. Perhaps she was there. I ran.

When I got into the court, I could hear the bray of the crowd above the calling of the money changers and animal sellers. In fact some of them had left their booths to see what was going on.

I edged into the back of the crowd, and that’s when I saw him, Yeshua Ben Joseph, some use his Greek name - Jesus. You know, that carpenter from Nazareth that so many people seem to be making a fuss about, using the M word and all that.

He was sat on the ground about to teach.  But there was more here. On the edge of the crowd I caught sight of her just out of the corner of my eye. Anna! My heart was win my mouth, She looked edgy and nervous, ready to bolt like a frightened dog. That’s when I noticed him.  He held her wrist and was whispering in her ear as he pushed her through the crowd.  The anger rose in me like molten lava. What was he doing with my wife?

Others were with him… Pharisees… ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ The crowd were stunned into silence. Everyone looked at Jesus. Anna how could you!?! I felt hot tears of grief and shame on my cheeks.

The crowd began to murmur, waiting for Jesus to reply. And they waited. And they waited. And they waited. And then Jesus did something odd. It looked like he was writing on the ground. I couldn’t quite see but it looked like references in the Torah... Now the crowd are silent again. All eyes on the Scribes and Pharisees. They are the ones murmuring to each other now! I get it - this is a set up! The only affair that Anna has been having are with these teachers of the law as they seek to conspire against Jesus!

Again the Pharisees question Jesus. 'Well what have you to say?', they ask insistently. Jesus makes no reply. 'Rabbi, if you are a teacher of the things of God, then tell us!' Silence.


Then one of the Pharisees picks up a large stone. And one of the Scribes does the same. Others in the crowd follow suit. No! Surely not here. And for a reasons that I cannot explain I too reach down and pick up a stone too. It’s weight feels satisfying in my hand. It’s roughness, it’s roundedness. It’s like it was made for me to hold. And into it I pour my anger at this outrage, the shame that will fall on Anna and me now. I pour into that stone my own failings as a husband, as a father, as a friend. It’s roughness reminding me of where I rub up against people the wrong way and irritate and frustrate them. Im aware that this stone doesn’t originate here but it has travelled time and distance to be here. This stone is me - the imperfect, broken, displaced me.  I draw breath suddenly and people swivel their heads to look in my direction.

Then Jesus looks up, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ I can’t throw my own failings, weaknesses, frustrations and anger at her. I love her. But how often do I throw that stuff at others? Am I without sin? Are any of us? We all fall short of the standard set in the Law. I lie and cheat to get my own way, to satisfy myself. I’m selfish and self centred. I pursue what I want, over an above Anna’s needs sometimes. I too am an adulterer. All of us are.

Jesus went over with his finger the things he’s written on the ground. I looked at my stone. I looked into my stoney heart and then looked up. And the crowd has peeled away. Later I’d take and throw that stone off the city wall as far as I could into the wilderness. I don’t like that version of me very much. Fortunately, despite my brokenness, I realised that day, perhaps more than ever that God loves me.

Jesus straightened up and spoke to Anna, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

She had a second chance. We all do. Go your way and sin no more…

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Girl, The T Shirt And Brooklyn Beckham: A Transfiguration Sermon

There was a girl who walked herself home from school each day.  One day her mother noticed that she hadn’t got home at the usual time. Five minutes went by - perhaps she got talking with a friend. Ten minutes passed - she’ll be back in a mo. Fifteen, twenty minutes passed still no sign. Perhaps she had an after-school club, that I’ve forgotten about, but the list clearly said there was no club that day.  Twenty five, thirty, thirty five minutes passed and still no sign. Just before mum had reached fever pitch and rung the school and then the police the door opened and in strolled her daughter.

Overcome with relief and joy, as any parent would, mum ran to her daughter and swept her into the biggest cuddle imaginable. But relief turned to anger as it so often does: where on earth have you been I have been worried sick demanded her mother sternly. Well I was walking home from school said her daughter and as I rounded the corner into our road I saw a woman carrying lots of bags and a very beautiful very large vase. I could see that she couldn't manage. Do you go and help her home her mother eagerly asked. No, said her daughter.  As I got near to her she dropped the vase onto the pavement and it broke into hundreds of pretty pieces. Her mother’s face changed - so you were late because you stayed to help her pick them up? No said the girl.  Then what said her mother.  The girl replied - I was late because I helped her cry.

Sometimes when the load we carry in life is too great to bear, and we drop something and we see how broken we are, sometimes we need someone to weep with us.

This morning the lectionary compilers give us the option to stop our reading at vs 36 and be stunned into silence with the disciples at the experience they had had with Jesus on the mountain, but my friends we need to hear again and and again of the God who loves us, not from a distance, but comes to us in our tear-stained pleading for healing and hope.

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 

Do you remember those washing powder ads where they tried to show one brand was better than the other leading brand because it washed whiter on just a 30 degree wash? This feels like - try new Glory - washes you whiter than white! You can see why, with talk of changed faces and glowing clothes, why some scholars think that parts of this story are actually a resurrection appearance of Jesus tagged on to another tale. But is that a problem? On the mountaintop Jesus talks with Moses (symbolising the Law of God) and Elijah (the prophets) about his departure in Jerusalem. From this point in our liturgical calendar we can look down into the valley onto Jerusalem and on towards Jesus’ inevitable death and Passion. We know where the story of Jesus is headed. Are we willing to walk there with Him?

34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

I had the misfortune of typing ‘father and son’ into Google as I prepared this.  In the search results, alongside stories of tragic deaths of fathers and sons over Christmas and New Year, came up a tale about Brooklyn Beckham (an aspiring model) sporting a new outfit in a photo on social media, to which his father David Beckham responded ‘Hey, that’s my jumper!’

Look at my Son the voice of God is heard saying, look at my son says the possessed son’s father to Jesus.  Both stories in this morning’s Gospel are inextricably linked.  Often we come to church or to a place of quiet prayer, to remove ourselves from the pressing needs of our society for an hour’s quiet space in the presence of God.  But it is clear from what we hear of Jesus this morning that whilst His true identity is revealed to a select few in the context of prayer and worship, it only makes sense in the context of a compassionate response to the needs of people.  For us, what we receive here from God in Word and Sacrament only make sense if we take them out from here into our everyday living in response to the needs of God’s people.

As we stand on the cusp of Lent we know where the story of the life of Jesus is going. Even from here the cross looms large. Are we willing to follow Jesus, I mean really follow Him, because not all of this is going to be glorious and wonderful. Sometimes the load we carry is too great to bear and things and lives shatter and break, but…

God loves the world so much that He sent His Son so that everyone who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. 

On the mount of transfiguration we get a look back to the scandal of Christmas - that the glory of God comes amongst us in human form - and that glory is revealed to us again; but on the way to Calvary He comes down from the mountainside, amongst us in our brokenness, and demonstrates what that glory really means in acts of love and compassion in response to human need.

Friends, Jesus’ glory is revealed in mountaintop experiences of prayer and worship but it only transforms lives in the context of the here and now.  Having met Jesus in Word and Sacrament this morning, and having our hearts transfigured by His grace - are we willing to demonstrate His glory to others in their need? As we head towards Lent are we willing to embrace the cross to which we are headed with Christ; to acknowledge our need of His saving love for ourselves; and to accept that we can hear of His love for us but if we want hope and peace in our lives then then we need to meet Him there.