For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
It is the time for the church, the time for believers everywhere, a time for those that claim the label of ‘followers of Christ,’ to speak the words of Jesus.
It is our time to recognize God at work, even when that work does not match up with what we think God should do, when it is different from what those in power have told us God is doing, or what God will do.
As the time of Babylonian exile was nearing an end, as the people were on the cusp of recognizing their own failure to look to, and trust, God, time to quit listening to the false prophets and to listen to the prophets from God – in this time, God instructed the prophet Isaiah to speak.:
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
It is the time to recognize that God is doing a new thing.
As African Americans have suffered abuse, and even death, at the hands our broken law enforcement officers, as Native Americans, once again, experience the abuse of a broken political systems as broken political leaders attempt to divide and destroy, as broken false prophets, hiding behind a false guise of evangelical leaders, abuse and misuse God, God’s truth and our faith, in order to control governmental leaders and the people sitting in the pews and on the screens, as broken believers, broken followers of Christ, have failed to seek and search for truth, as we have settled for the false lies of broken voices, it is time, time for us to see that God is, and has been, doing a new thing.
As we live, and attempt to survive, in a world where, over the past 100 days – the most vulnerable have been the most ignored and abused, it is time.
It is time for us to speak to what God is doing.
Let’s begin with a truth:
We are all broken people in a broken world.
As the new testament church began, fresh off the excitement of the touch of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this multi-national, multi-race, multi-cultural, multi-almost everything, group was riding high on their new enhanced understanding of God, and relationship with God, each other, the world, and even God’s creation. The church, this collection of new believers, had been enlightened and had accepted, this realization of this new thing, they were beginning to grasp this fulfillment of the old thing.
Our Acts passage take us within months, maybe days, of that life changing moment when the Spirit had pushed the waiting disciples and apostles out of their room and into the crowded streets. Streets crowded with those who had come to Jerusalem seeking to celebrate this day shuh·voo·owt (shavuot), a day of celebrating redemption. They came to celebrate and experience redemption anew. For those that sincerely were seeking that redemption, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the one that comes along side, met them in those streets.
This group was now tied together by God’s presence, resurrection, life, connectedness to God, unity, glory, forgiveness, justice, mercy were their unexpected bond. A bond of broken people existing together in a broken world.
Brokenness always brings brokenness. We know little of Ananias and Sapphire except of their brokenness. They, for reasons unknot, had become a part of this group of followers of Jesus. Now, we can only speculate the how and why of their presence in this group, it could be that they loved the excitement of the believers but not the commitment, it could be that they were all in on the day of Pentecost but the brokenness of the world got the best of them, or, like Adam and Eve, once they had a look at what they could gain through the use of this group they were unable to look at anything else.
As the Spirit began God’s work in the church, Ananias and Sapphira could see nothing except their own personal agenda. Even when they were given a chance to look elsewhere, an opportunity to once again see Truth, they didn’t. They were so focused that they were incapable of seeing anything else except self.
When all you can see is your self, you are incapable of seeing your brokenness.
Now, in our gospel passage, we return to a time before the crucifixion, a time when Jesus was invaded by a angry mob with an agenda.
‘We caught this woman in the act of adultery!’ The crowd screemed as they threw the humiliated woman at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus didn’t even need to inquire of the woman as to the validity of the accusations. Her countenance made it obvious – she was guilty.
The story, for us in this season, our season, is not about woman, it is not even about the judging and condemning crowds – this story, for us today, is about Jesus.
This was a trap set for Jesus. A ‘fail proof’ trap, to replace their previous failed trap. Jesus would be forced to say release the woman which would be a violation of the Jewish law, or, he could say, stone her, which would be a violation of the Roman law.
The genius of the plan was the whichever side Jesus took, he was doomed.
Jewish law did say that the woman, as well as the man, caught in the act of adultery should be stoned. Roman law, however, prohibited such a response.
The woman had clearly committed adultery, the claim made by the accusers, the crowd, was they had caught her in the act. One may ask, you may ask, ‘If the act was taking place, where is the other person? Assuming it was a married man, was he just really fast at jumping out of a window, was a a very, very, fast runner? Maybe it had been a strategic deal made with this other guilty adulterer to absolve him of a sentence of death.
But, again, for us, the story is not about the woman, or the accusers, or the other party, or the Jewish law, or even the Roman law – this, for us today, is a story about Jesus.
This is story about responding to broken people, like us, in broken times, like our times.
Twice, as the woman and crowds awaited the response of Jesus, he knelt slow and drew something in the dirt. Preacher, scholars, and experts have long speculated what need so desperately to be written at this moment in the dirt.
And, again, the story for us today is not about what Jesus wrote, or drew in the dirt.
It is about Jesus.
It is, however, about the fact that Jesus knelt down twice, and as he knelt his withdrew for a moment from the crowd and from the humiliated woman. As Jesus knelt down, he took a moment to wait. It was a moment of Wait much like when he delayed his trip to Mary and Martha following the death of their bother Lazarus, it was much like the moment that he followers waited following Jesus’ ascension, it was much like the time the disciples and the women unknowingly awaited the resurrection of Jesus.
Waiting was for everyone involved, the crowds, the woman, and even for Jesus.
This time of waiting was a moment for the crowds to be ready to see their brokenness, it was a time for the woman to see her brokenness.
As he arose he agreed with the sentence of death by stoning, however he attached a caveat to the who would carry out such a condemnation.
“Whoever of you is without sin, whoever of you has never disobeyed and turned from God,’ will be selected to throw the first stone.
After having made the crowd wait as he knelt down the first time, this was all he said and then he knelt down again, and again he began to write in the dirt.
It might have been that the first time of knelling was a moment of realization of human brokenness, it was his time of consideration and immense sadness for a broken world. A moment when he attempted to understand why those in the crowd were so quick to condemn in a such a violent manner.
Maybe, they themselves had experienced an unfaithful spouse, possibly they had grown up in a broken home where they had first hand experience of the devastation of adultery, maybe they were outraged because they had remained faithful and the woman had not, or, maybe, they, themselves, were adulterers as guilty as the woman. Maybe, just maybe, it was much deeper, possibly the long lasting impact of Abraham’s disregard of his wife, Sarah’s, dignity when he gave her away to Abimelech, twice, in an effort to secure his own safety, – or maybe it was the lingering impact of King David’s infidelity with Bathesheba centuries ago, that resulted in an attempted cover up that cursed David’s household. Maybe it had become a part of their DNA, to judge and condemn, to repond so quickly with hatred. Maybe they all need to learn to take a wait moment, a moment of Selah, a moment to consider and understand before hateful accusations are made and unretrievable actions are taken.
Whatever the deep reason, Jesus was offering them a chance to see their own brokenness. A chance to see they were all in need of redemption.
As Jesus stood back up the second time, only the woman remained.
‘Where are your accusers?’ He asked the woman.
This may have been her first moment to recognize that the crowd had dispersed. It may be that her humiliation and shame had kept her from seeing those in the crowd, one by one, turn and walk away.
However, there still stood one person facing the woman. The only person who fit the criteria to throw the first stone.
‘I’m not throwing a stone at you,’ Jesus lovingly said to the woman. “You may go home.’
Many preachers believe that the point of this story was that Jesus followed this by saying ‘do not sin anymore.’ Many make these final words of the story as the point of the story.
These concluding words were not the point, they were a natural, common, encouragement that Jesus would make. They were words that would have been said to anyone in the crowd, as they were an encouragement Jesus makes to us all. They are words of hope not judgement, they are words of life not death, they are words of joy not despair.
To paraphrase these words, Jesus said, ‘You have experienced what it is to follow the brokenness of this world, you have experienced brokenness,’ he said, ‘Now, experience life, experience it to its fullness, live in joy. Don’t go back to that, it is no way to live.
The point of this story was not only Jesus’ first time to kneel, the time when he waited in order to understand and empathize, it was also about what took place, there in the dirt, as Jesus knelt the second time.
Jesus knew that it was not his mission to stone the woman, nor was it his mission to lambast the crowd, it was to bring a recognition of brokenness to the crowds in order that they could see their own condition and their own need of redemption. It was to bring transformation not just to a few but to a world.
As Jesus knelt the second time, in the dirt, he possibly wrote the words ‘Mercy’ and “Justice.’ As he remembered the words of the prophet Micah who sought to remind his listeners to the way of God, and the way to be as God desire us to be –
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
What words are you writing in the dirt as you face this unprecedented time in our broken world?