Archives for March 2020
With Ezekiel, Paul’s Romans, and Mary and Martha, the disciples, and the crowd, we wait for God’s promised life to come, and see God’s face saying, “Do you trust me to watch for this and give you life?”
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday in Lent, year A – recorded for preaching online during COVID-19 restrictions
Texts: John 11:1-45; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
My soul waits for God more than those who keep watch for the morning. More than those who keep watch for the morning.
Today the psalmist has such longing within, such waiting for God, that it needs to be sung twice or it’s not enough: My waiting is like sentinels who sit for hours in darkness watching for the sun to come up. Like sentinels who sit for hours in darkness watching for the sun to come up.
And so is our waiting. We wait for when this “stay at home” order will be lifted. We wait for when we might be able to gather together again for worship, even gather with our families and friends. We wait for these things more than those who watch for the morning. More than those who watch for the morning.
But we wait for so much more. We wait for the relief from other pain and suffering we or those we love endure, beyond this virus. We wait for when our society will be just and whole for all. We wait for when our national government will serve all people and honor the rule of law. We wait for these things more than those who watch for the morning. More than those who watch for the morning.
And everyone we meet in God’s Word today shares our painful longing.
Ezekiel and the other Jewish exiles long for God to bring them home. Paul longs for his Roman churches to experience the truth of being Christ together and so heal their divisions, set aside their self-righteousness. Mary and Martha wait for Jesus with pain that we can still feel 2,000 years later.
When will morning come? Can you see it?
Well, there is a glimmer of the dawn in today’s Word.
The psalmist assures Israel that with the God who is named I AM WHO I AM there is steadfast love and redemption.
Ezekiel sees a vision of a field full of dry bones. No hope, no possibility of life, and he’s asked: “can these bones live?” And he sees a possible new life for God’s people, a making of living, breathing, bodies from the bones of their exile.
Paul sees what being the body of Christ could be for his Roman friends, bringing different cultures together not by diluting into sameness, but by honoring and loving their differences in the deeper truth of their being one in Christ.
Jesus does show up for the Bethany sisters. He asks, “Do you trust me? I am Resurrection and Life, right now, for you.” He asks what God asks Ezekiel: do you think the dead can live?
My soul waits for God more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
Today there is a promise of something worth watching for.
Today God’s word asks you: can you trust the GOD WHO IS to give you life?
Three times Ezekiel is told that by God’s restoration “you shall know that I am the ONE WHO IS, who has spoken and who will act.” If they will trust God, Ezekiel and his people will know God’s life.
Paul is convinced the Spirit who raised Jesus from death lives in his people, has made them the body of Christ. Even in their mortal bodies, in this life. Right now. If they will trust the Spirit in them, they will know God’s life.
Jesus invites the disciples, Mary and Martha, and the crowd today, to see in him the life the Triune God is pouring into the world. Martha already trusts what you and I trust, that her brother will live again on the last day. But Jesus says, “right now, I can be abundant life for you.” If they all can trust Jesus to be that, they will know God’s life.
My soul waits for God more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. God’s Word tells you today if you watch for what God is doing, right now, you could trust not only that morning is coming, but that even in the darkness you can have God’s life in you. A life that restores dry bones, knits a community together, even raises the dead.
What will it take for you to trust that God is worthy to watch for, that morning is coming, that even in the night you are not alone?
Before you answer, notice that in today’s Word, knowing and trusting are invited before any healing happens. Ezekiel’s people are still in exile, and all Ezekiel has is a vision. The Roman churches are still divided, and all Paul has is a vision. Martha and Mary are still in mourning, the disciples and crowd are still confused, and Jesus stands before them as a vision of God’s life.
If you are waiting for God more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning, know this: you’re like all people of faith everywhere. You’re asked to trust that your life, the world’s life, is in the Triune God’s loving hands, even if there’s little evidence yet.
That’s where you are, where we all are, on this day.
So hear this: The Triune God is the GOD WHO IS. Who has spoken love and acted love for you and the creation. Christ is alive, death has no power and God’s Spirit lives in you. You are loved forever by God.
So keep watch. This health crisis will abate, and we’ll be back together. Your other pains and sufferings may last the rest of your life, but they are held in God’s compassion and grace. Our society and world are being healed and brought together through God’s people of many faiths, through you acting as Christ. You may not see the full morning of any of this now. But if you look, there’s a glimmer on the horizon.
And yes, that glimmer can be as hard to see some days as a path out of exile. As hard to hope for as the healing of a community in division. As hard to trust as life when a loved one dies.
But the Triune God’s face looks at you through the eyes of Jesus, and says, “I can be life for you now, even in this world filled with death. I can fill you with morning light even in the darkness of your reality. Do you trust me, dear one?”
In the name of Jesus. Amen
Week 4: Thomas learns to follow Jesus
Vicar Bristol Reading
Texts: Romans 8:18-28; John 11:7-16, 14:1-6, 20:26-29
Today, we encounter Jesus through the experience of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples. We hear three different conversations from three chapters in John. It’s truly a gift to read these separate passages together because it gives a fuller sense of who Thomas was and what his relationship with Jesus was like.
In the first conversation, Jesus tells the disciples that he wants to go back to Judea because his beloved friend Lazarus has died.
The disciples are concerned about this plan because Jesus had recently been forced to flee from Judea after angry mobs attempted to arrest and stone him. Jesus would be risking his life to go back, so his disciples advise against it.
But not Thomas. Thomas is willing to go with Jesus. He is willing to face danger, even death, to follow his teacher, friend, and Lord. Thomas speaks up and declares that he wants to go where Jesus goes. So Jesus returns to Judea and the disciples go with him. And just as they’d feared, danger and death await Jesus. Powerful people in the region are plotting to kill Jesus.
This is the setting for the second conversation we hear.
In the midst of a tense and fearful time, Jesus speaks calmly and lovingly to his disciples. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” he says, “Trust me.” He tells them that soon he will have to go somewhere else, but that someday they can go there, too.
That makes Thomas worried. “How can we know the way?” he asks. He’s afraid that Jesus might go somewhere that he cannot follow. That, too, does come to pass. Jesus is arrested and executed and buried. The disciples, still under threat themselves, huddle together in fear, wondering what to do next, without their leader.
Then, one day, Jesus miraculously shows up – a living, breathing, speaking Jesus who wishes them peace, empowers them with the Holy Spirit, and sends them out to continue ministry. What an incredible moment!
Except Thomas wasn’t there. He happened to be somewhere else that day. When the disciples told him what he’d missed, he must have been devastated.
This is the part of Thomas’ story that most people know: how he insists on seeing Jesus himself before he’ll believe.
But maybe Thomas’ words aren’t defiance but grief. They aren’t doubt but commitment. Thomas – who loved Jesus, who would have faced any danger for Jesus, who would have died for Jesus – Thomas wants to be where Jesus is, to go where Jesus goes. How heartbroken he must have been to hear that the other disciples had somehow managed to be near Jesus, but he had not. He says, “I won’t be close enough to Jesus until I can to touch him with my own hands.”
And this leads to the third conversation.
Thomas may not be able to get close to Jesus, but Jesus comes to him – a living, breathing, speaking Jesus who wishes him peace. And just as he’d hoped, Thomas is near enough to Jesus that he can reach out and touch him. He can finally declare his faith in Jesus, in person: “My Lord and my God!”
In response to Thomas, Jesus offers this promise: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to trust.” Jesus speaks this promise to Thomas and the other disciples, who are trying to understand what his physical absence will mean for them. And Jesus speaks this promise to all future disciples, a reminder that it is faith, trust in God, that matters. This word of comfort is an answer to Thomas’ question: How will we know the way to follow Jesus? The answer is to trust Jesus, who is the way.
Of course, faith doesn’t protect you from danger or death, but it roots you in the peace of Christ, no matter what you face.
When you look to Jesus, who is the way, who is the resurrection and the life, you are reminded that even death does not bring an end to God’s promises.
The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not even worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed.
Living as a human, a finite being, entails waiting, longing, pain, and death. But that is not cause for hopelessness, because you can trust in God’s redemption of the whole creation, and that includes you, a beloved creature within that creation. Living with hope means trusting even when you cannot see, when you cannot fully understand, when you do not yet know the way.
You are still called to live for God’s purpose with every day of your life.
That’s what it means to “love God,” Paul writes. To love God is to be called according to God’s purpose, to reveal God through your words and actions, in any and all circumstances.
And when those circumstances involve suffering, even death – you can remember that you are never left to face that alone. God-in-Christ knows those experiences intimately, as we see in Jesus on the cross. And as Paul so eloquently expresses, God’s spirit knows your heart, upholds you when you’re weak, and sighs with your deepest longings.
Whatever your prayer is right now, God hears it. If your prayer is “How will we know the way?” Or “I desperately long to be closer to Jesus!” Or simply, “My Lord and My God!” God hears you, faithful disciple, and loves you right where you are.
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in the God who loves you and gives you peace.
When the man born blind receives sight from Jesus, his world is irreversibly changed, but not his isolation from his community. Jesus Christ draws close to him (even when no one else does), transforms him for new life, and sends him into the world to bear light.
Vicar Bristol Reading
The fourth Sunday in Lent, year A
Text: John 9:1-41
Beloved community, wherever you are at this moment, may the peace of Christ be yours.
What a time it is to hear this story from John’s Gospel. To hear about Jesus’ curative touch, when we are being told to stay 6 feet away from one another. To hear about an experience of physical restoration, when we are facing a pervasive virus and rising death tolls.
And yet there is so much in this ancient story that feels so relevant right now. This is a story about a man miraculously receiving sight, but it is also a story about stigma, judgment, fear, and isolation. The unnamed man at the center of this story had been blind since birth. His physical difference had always set him apart from others in his community. His whole life, he had been navigating a society that was set up for sighted people. He had been forced to beg in order to get by. This man already knew what it was to be isolated, and then this whole incident with Jesus happens.
Jesus gives him sight for the first time, but somehow this actually isolates him even more. People had been publicly accusing this man of being sinful because of his blindness, but even after he receives sight, they continue to accuse him of being sinful, because of his association with Jesus. His parents are so afraid of stigma that they won’t stand up for him. His neighbors are so caught up in their own bias that they don’t even recognize him, this person they’ve walked by how many times before. But they’ve only seen him as his blindness; they’ve only seen him as his begging. His community might have the literal, physical ability to see, but they certainly seem to lack the ability to see him as a person. They may have the literal, physical ability to hear, but they lack the ability to really listen to what he tells them. No one seems to hear him when he answers their incessant questions about what has happened to him.
In the end, their fear and judgment get the better of them, and they drive him out of the community. This man was isolated when he was blind. And he’s isolated when he can see.
He’s isolated, but he’s not alone, because Jesus meets him where he is.
While others pontificate about whose sin is responsible for this man’s condition, Jesus outright rejects all this moral condemnation and praises this man’s embodiment of God’s glory, just as he is. While others ignore and reject this man, Jesus reaches out to touch him, to put healing hands on him, even when the Sabbath laws forbid such action. While others distance themselves from this man, Jesus draws close to him. And when Jesus hears that the man has been isolated completely, driven out of the community, he goes out to find him. Everyone else questioned this man’s experience: Why were you blind? Who gave you sight? How did it happen? But Jesus simply asks him: Do you trust me? [The Greek word often translated “to believe” also means “to trust.”]
This man doesn’t have all the answers – actually, he repeatedly admits how much he does not know [see vv 12, 25, and 35.] But what he does know is his own experience. He knows that Jesus has changed him, and he knows that Jesus is trustworthy. When Jesus finds him in isolation, he says simply “Lord, I trust you.”
And that’s no small thing. Consider how significantly his life has been upended since he encountered Jesus.
Imagine what a radical change it would be to suddenly have a new sense that you’d never had before. This man is seeing everything for the very first time. That must have been confusing, overwhelming, and terrifying. The life he knew is gone, and now he is living in a completely different way. This new life will open up possibilities for him, and he seems grateful for his sense of sight. But, still, the loss that this transformation entails for him is unavoidable. He has lost the world he’d lived in since birth. His relationships with his family, his neighbors, his religious community have been damaged, perhaps permanently. And it is clear that declaring his faith in Jesus puts him at odds with both the Jewish officials and the Roman imperial powers.
Stating that he believes in Jesus is an enormous leap of faith. He takes that leap because he has encountered the light of the world – who could not be changed by that?
The pool where Jesus commanded him to wash was called Siloam, which means “sent,” and that is his fate now. He is “sent” into the world as bearer of the same light he has encountered in Christ. He can’t go back to the life he had before; he can only forward into the life God has called him into. Even when the way forward is difficult, grief-filled, or lonely. The God he trusts will go with him every step of the way, and the testimony he bears about how he has been changed will bring glory to God.
Beloved ones, know that this is true for you as well. When you are sent into a world so radically different than the one you have known, know that God goes with you; know that the testimony of your life, just as it is, is a treasure to God. These are times filled with fear, filled with questions, but you don’t have to have answers or explanations. Trust that your experience will be a reminder that Christ will meet you where you are, even in your isolation.
The light of the world shines even in the darkest of times. May it shine within you, around you, and through you.
Week 3: Mary of Bethany pours out her love for Jesus
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Romans 12:1-2, 9-13; John 12:1-8
It was easy to criticize Mary.
She took an astonishingly expensive thing and poured it out. If the value really was 300 denarii, that’s worth nearly a year’s wages for a common worker. Whatever you might think of Judas, he has a point. It’s doubtful the disciples’ common purse ever had three hundred denarii in it. Many could have been blessed with that.
It’s easy to criticize Jesus, too. He seems to devalue caring for those who are poor in favor of caring for him. “You always have the poor with you” sounds a little callous.
But the criticism is easy only if we don’t enter Mary’s heart and Jesus’ wisdom. Paul pleads with his Roman churches to live with transformed minds, being completely different people in the life in Christ that the Spirit gave them. Lives filled with genuine love, care for each other, patience, joy, generosity for each other and for strangers.
Mary is living such a transformed mind because her heart was re-made. This pouring out was the only response she could make from her heart. Jesus knows that, sees this new heart. And publicly gives thanks for it.
Mary’s heart and mind were transformed by her life with Jesus.
Transformed by her time sitting at his feet listening, soaking in his grace, the love of God he lived and proclaimed. Transformed by her life with him as his friend, hosting him in the home she shared with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus. Transformed by her profound experience at her brother’s death, when this beloved Master and Healer wept with her, shared her grief. Opened his heart to her, which she had come to know was the heart of God.
Mary lived in the abundant life Jesus came to bring all. She experienced new life when she was with him, the life in God’s reign Jesus said was now in the world. When she came to this moment, her heart was different and her understanding, her mind, was transformed.
Mary’s new heart gave her deep empathy.
This is a week before Jesus’ death. He’d warned the disciples, and John tells us they feared he’d be killed if he came to Jerusalem. But they seem oblivious to what Jesus is feeling.
Not Mary. Does she know he will die soon? Maybe. But she clearly senses his inner pain, his fear. Her new heart is drawn to his heart, and she feels his grief. She gets this costly perfume and pours out her empathy, her love, her heart, over his feet, and wipes them with her now-fragrant hair.
Living in Christ’s abundant life, with new heart and transformed mind, the only thing she knew to do was to love Jesus in the most abundant and gracious way she could. Little wonder others were confused and even critical. If they didn’t share her heart, how could they share her love?
Mary’s new heart also gave her new math, new values.
Seen logically, pouring nearly a year’s wages on the floor for any reason is criminally wasteful. These were not wealthy people. The math doesn’t work. If you care for those who are poor, and share your wealth with all so that all have enough, whether friend or stranger in need, this gift doesn’t add up.
But Mary’s new heart and transformed mind have a completely different value system, not driven by cost figures or rational argument. When you see differently, understand differently, feel in your heart differently, your priorities and values add up differently.
Far differently than some of her fellow disciples. It’s as if she was speaking a different language, acting according to a different set of cultural expectations. Not just marching to a different drummer, but singing with an entirely different set of musical rules and structures and voices.
This new heart and mind is your gift in the Spirit, too, if you want to live in it.
Meeting the heart of the Triune God in Christ, walking with Christ, transforms your mind, re-makes your heart.
In that new heart and mind, you share Mary’s empathy. Feeling not only God’s pain over the world’s suffering, but the suffering of all God’s children. That’s the wisdom Jesus has in his words about the poor. Mary only had that one week left to care for Jesus. But he made it clear that caring for all those in need, “the least of these,” as he said, from then on was where his followers would care for him. With transformed mind and re-made heart, you have Christ’s empathy, can pour yourself out in love for others whose needs will always be with you. Your Christ heart can feel that pain and offer healing perfume and loving abundant grace.
And in that new heart and mind, you have Mary’s new math and values. We’re learning that in this current health crisis. Suddenly doing things the way we want, the way we like, just isn’t good enough. We sacrifice things that are deeply important to us because we carry Christ’s heart for our neighbors and friends. But we’ve been learning this all along, too. That wealth we share for the sake of others is always a blessing, far beyond tax breaks or investment strategies. That helping someone might not make good business sense but always makes sense in our hearts. That seeing abundance instead of scarcity gives us courage to share in ways others might not understand, might criticize.
I appeal to you, Paul says, be transformed in Christ.
Let the Spirit open your mind to new possibilities, remake your heart into one like the Triune God’s. It’s a whole new world, but it’s life abundant, Mary reveals. And it’s what Christ longs for you to know and pour out into this frightened and broken world.
God’s peace be with you, beloved, in this time we are apart, but still together in God’s love.
It’s Sunday morning. Why am I not with the church?
Beloved in Christ,
This just feels wrong. Sunday morning and I’m drinking tea, and I am not with the body of Christ that surrounds and fills me and gives me life. I’m not at church at 6:00 a.m., greeting James, getting ready to greet you all. Pray with you. Eat and drink God’s life with you. Sing and talk and listen for God with you. Share peace with you. This happens on vacation, yes. But this is not vacation.
Sometimes the right decision doesn’t feel right in some important places of the heart. This is one of those times. It’s still the right decision. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel deep sadness at what we miss when we’re not together.
So here are some thoughts on the Third Sunday in Lent in year A. Not a sermon; those are preached words, they’re shaped differently, too. Not worship; that’s much more than words, and what we do together isn’t replicable online any more than preaching is. But your staff is already working on some creative and imaginative ways to connect online with song, proclaiming Word, prayer, in ways that might bless us all and keep us connected. Watch for that (and thanks for the ideas some of you have already sent.)
In the meantime, it is 3 Lent, and the Gospel for today is John 4:3-42. Go ahead and get out your Bible and read it. (Out loud would be really helpful.) I’ll wait.
Are you back? Good.
Here’s my question: is Jesus being a little mean to this poor woman?
She’s hot and tired, hauling water at noon. She has to be thirsty. Now she has to deal with a Jewish man breaking rules and interacting with her. As a man, he’s not supposed to talk with an unrelated woman in public. As a Jew, he’s not supposed to share vessels with a Samaritan. He’s a bother. And he asks her for a drink.
But here’s the strangest thing. He tells her that if she knew who he was and what he could give, he’d give her living water. A phrase that could be used to speak of a spring or a brook. Running water, maybe. She’s thrilled she might be able to avoid all this dragging of water in the heat of the day. Then he says, “No, I’m not talking about water like this. I’m talking about something inside you, connecting you to God’s life.”
Well, that’s just fine. But it’s not what this hot, tired, thirsty woman needs. And it seems a little unkind to tease her with the idea of helping her physical need and then saying he’s got spiritual help instead.
We like to spiritualize this story, but we can’t skip over the bodily needs so quickly.
Imagine if you or I were sitting on the steps of Mount Olive this morning, with the doors locked, sad that we are reduced to staying away from people we love so that we don’t make people we love sick. Imagine Jesus came and sat down, and said, “If you knew who I was, you’d ask, and I’d give you an anti-viral agent that would mean you’d never get sick again.”
Wouldn’t that be amazing? We’d say, “Yes, please, give us that. So we don’t have to worry about COVID-19 or anything else like it ever again.” And we’d even think how we’d share it with the world. But what if Jesus then said, “Well, I mean, I’m not talking about a real anti-virus to keep this or any other disease from you. I’m offering you an anti-virus for your spirit, for inside you, to keep you whole and healthy where it matters.”
I think we’d be at least as disappointed as that poor woman. It seems a little cruel to hint at a thing we desire deeply and then pull it away at the end.
But don’t mistake Jesus here: he cares deeply about her bodily, physical needs.
The Triune God came into our world and took on our human body. Incarnation means God cares about our bones and blood and cells and organs and breath and pain and sleep and all that makes us animals, bodies, cares enough about all that to put God’s own self into such a body.
There are people who are thirsty and have no access to water. People who are hungry and don’t know if they’ll eat today. People who are sick and cannot get health care. Even our neighbors in this city, to say nothing of the world. The Incarnate, Triune God cares deeply about them. About you.
Which is why Jesus sends us out, as his follower James wrote in his letter, as Jesus himself said often, to feed and clothe and care for God’s beloved. You, and I, and all in the Body, are asked to make sure this woman gets real water if she needs it. We are not sent out to tell people with real physical needs that they just need to know God’s love and they’ll be fine.
God in Christ cares deeply about this health crisis. About all the people infected, about the isolation that keeping safe imposes, and how that isolation might harm people. No one on this planet is outside of God’s care in this. And you and I, and billions more, are God’s agents to work to mitigate this crisis, help each other, care for the sick, pray for all. We’re not at worship together today because as Christ we need to make sure we don’t hurt each other or our neighbors by spreading this virus.
And here’s the truth: this woman has a lot of needs, and only one is that she’s thirsty for literal water.
She’s in grief of some kind, over the loss of five husbands. Whether by divorce or death, she had no choice in ending any of those relationships, and she must still feel that pain. She’s possibly an outsider in her village. We don’t know, but it’s odd that she’s getting water alone, at noon, instead of early morning and twilight with the other women. She’s theologically hopeful, longing for a day when God’s Messiah would come and answer her and others’ deep questions and hopes.
If Jesus had made running water possible in her home, she’d still have all those other unmet needs.
And you and I, this city, this world, have more needs than an anti-virus for COVID-19, as real as that need is. We, too, have grief that needs comfort, fear that needs assuaging (whether of this disease or many other things), hopes and dreams that need God’s guidance and answer, longing for community that needs God’s embrace in other people. If God would miraculously end this health crisis this moment, all those other needs you have would still be unmet.
So while we help each other with the physical needs, what Jesus says to you today is: I can actually fill you up inside.
I can give you a spiritual anti-virus that protects your heart with God’s love and fills you with trust that nothing can separate you from God’s love. I can fill you with the life of God’s reign that I long for you to have, abundant life, even when viruses or death or loss or suffering happen. Even then, you’ll have life in me, hope inside, trust in God.
One of the biggest reasons we’re sad when sitting at home right now and not getting together is that we know that we get this spiritual anti-virus, this living water, this abundant life, when God meets us in our worship together. We come into that space expecting to meet God wherever we are in our lives. We don’t expect to leave with all our problems solved. But we do expect, because God is faithful and has given us this so many times, that God will be there in Word and Sacrament, and in the body of Christ around us. We know we will meet God’s love. We will sing God’s love. We will be filled with God’s love.
We always still need lunch after. Water. Some of us will take our medicines. But God’s living water, abundant life, unceasing love, will fill us to our core. And we know we are well. This we know, because this God has given week after week after week.
That’s what we’re missing this morning. But Jesus has good news for you.
It is Sunday morning. But I am, you are, actually with the Church right now.
Just as Jesus doesn’t offer a quick and easy solution that means we all can go to Mount Olive right now, Jesus also doesn’t abandon us.
You are Christ’s Body. So am I. And you and I are together, right now, in that Body. I am with the Body of Christ after all. Not physically, of course. But we know all about that. We know already that our loved ones who have died still gather at God’s Table when we do, and that in the mystery of the Eucharist the whole Church of all times and places gathers in song and is fed. Every time we eat the body of Christ and drink the cup of God’s salvation, we know we’re not just doing it with those we can actually see and touch.
This is why Jesus needs you to trust this living water he offers. You are embedded in God’s resurrection love, always, and if God’s Spirit is moving in you, and God’s Spirit is moving in me, and God’s Spirit is moving in all of us, we can never be alone.
This water Christ gives is “gushing up to life” in you, in me. Life in God’s new reign and reality. We just can’t physically see or touch each other right now.
But we are together.
Beloved in Christ, trust that. You are filled with life in God’s Spirit. In the prayers each of us offers this morning, we sing and pray together. And until we get to physically gather together in worship, since nothing can separate us from God’s love, nothing can separate us from each other, either.
God’s peace and grace be with you all.
In Christ’s love,
Week 2: An unnamed woman is known, seen by Jesus
“Life From Death”
Vicar Bristol Reading
Texts: John 8:2-11; Romans 8:1, 11-17
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The stakes here are life and death.
This Gospel story does not present a moral quandary, or a theoretical scenario. This is a person facing the possibility of public execution. This ‘woman caught in adultery’ – who is presented as nothing more than the wrong she has done – is an individual. She has a name, a hometown, a family, a history. We don’t hear any of those things about her, though. She has an identity, but it has been reduced to nothing more than her guilt. For her, for this woman, this is a life and death situation.
And the obvious outcome is death.
The scribes and Pharisees have hauled her before Jesus because she has committed a sin that is punishable by death, according to Mosaic law [Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22-24]. The stoning they’re proposing isn’t an out-of-control mob killing. They’re talking about a sanctioned execution with a trial and eyewitnesses. But all the formalities seem to have already been taken care of.
She was ‘caught’ in the act. She’s guilty. She’s violated one of the ten commandments! Death by stoning is appropriate in this situation. And truthfully, they haven’t brought this woman to Jesus to ask permission to kill her. They’ve already decided to do that.
They’ve brought her to Jesus set a trap for him.
The Gospel writer tells us they’re testing Jesus, trying to manufacture a charge they can bring against him. Jesus can either condone her death, or he can challenge the law. Either response will be problematic for his authority. With such a huge crowd gathered to witness, that puts Jesus between a rock and a hard place.
So the woman is really just the bait in the trap they’ve set. The details of her life have been ignored, and now even her death won’t really be about her. She has already been erased from her own story, and that story ends here, in a painful, humiliating death.
Except her story doesn’t end that way because Jesus intervenes.
At first Jesus says nothing, at least not out loud. For a minute he’s just… silent, writing on the ground. Who knows what happened in that silence? Perhaps Jesus prayed. Perhaps the woman prayed. Perhaps the accusing Pharisees glared indignantly. Perhaps the crowd of onlookers squirmed uncomfortably.
But in that silence, something shifts. And when Jesus speaks, he chooses neither the rock nor the hard place. He doesn’t dismiss the law or condone her death. “Anyone who has no sin can throw the first stone,” Jesus says.
This reframes the requirement for her execution. In the face of this woman’s guilt, Jesus shines a spotlight on the guilt of others. In the question of whether this woman should be killed, Jesus asks who will actually kill her.
Jesus’ words remind the people that they are involved in what’s happening. They’re responsible for this woman, their neighbor. They can no longer see themselves as distant or different from her. They, too, are individuals with names, families, stories. They, too, have made mistakes, broken commandments. What will they be saying about themselves if they choose to throw that first stone?
Unable to bear Jesus’ scrutiny, the elders and the crowds leave, and at last the woman gets a role in her own story.
Jesus sees her as the individual person she is, a beloved child of God. He speaks directly to her, and says out loud what she has already seen become reality: she is not condemned. She will not die here.
But even more than that, she is invited into transformed life.
Jesus tells her, “Go on your way, and do not sin again.” This isn’t a threat; it is a reminder that renewed life is always possible. The transformation of true repentance is always available. God’s mercy is always overflowing, no matter what mistakes have been made.
“Go and do not sin again.” And so she goes: alive, forgiven, freed. The death that had seemed so certain, so unavoidable, has somehow been made into new life. The shame that seemed so overwhelming has been eclipsed by grace.
In Jesus, this woman has encountered the one who makes a way where there seems to be no way, who brings redemption to what has been completely broken, who heals even the deepest of wounds. It is because of who Jesus is that this has been made possible for her.
Because this is what God in Christ is all about: bringing life from death.
Certainly that’s what God in Christ will be about on the cross. But that’s also what God in Christ is about during Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ teachings, healings, feedings, miracles – these are continuous invitations to transformed, abundant life. These personal encounters we are hearing about this Lent – these are invitations to transformed, abundant life. This moment between Jesus and the woman freed from condemnation – is an invitation to transformed, abundant life.
Not just life in heaven but life here, on earth. God’s way is a way of goodness and fullness even in the midst of all the complications of what it means to be human.
This woman didn’t go from the temple and cease to make mistakes. She likely did sin again. And when she did, the invitation to come back to God’s way would still be waiting for her. Every time, in every mistake, she could find freedom in God’s endless mercies, made new every morning.
Avoiding this public execution didn’t mean that she would physically live forever. But when it did come time for her to face her own mortality, she could do so knowing that no death would have the final word on who she was: a beloved child, seen and known by God, always, in this life and the next.
The woman was not the only one who left the temple that day invited into transformed life. The Pharisees and scribes who had brought this woman before Jesus: they, too, have been offered a different way of living. Jesus’ words and actions call them to let go of their desire to control their religious tradition, to let go of their legalistic interpretation of what’s right and wrong, to let go of their tendency to use another person for their own gain.
It will be challenging and painful to give them up, but they can be freed from those burdens and welcomed into restored relationship. By letting those behaviors die, they can step into renewed life. That’s the kind of new life that’s possible through Christ!
The same transformation that was possible for the woman, for the Pharisees, is possible for you.
The power of God to bring new life is already in you! Paul writes in Romans that the very same spirit that raised Jesus from the grave is dwelling in you. The same spirit that breathes life into places of death where no life seems possible has set up residence in you. That spirit is already at work in your heart and your life: freeing you of your burdens and transforming you for renewed living; interceding for you, even in moments of silence when all seems lost; and bearing witness to your indelible identity as a beloved child of God. No death can ever change that.