Tag Archives: Pharisee

Sermon on Mark 8:31-38 (Lesley)

Mark 8.31-38dali_christ_of_st_john

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

So we heard from the Roman’s passage Paul’s big message – you can be righteous, or right with God through faith.

I looked back to when I preached on this passage six years ago and at that time I was actually studying theology, indeed I was studying Paul, so that was quite helpful because I clearly seemed to know what Paul was on about at the time!

Although there was a line in the sermon that said that we skipped Romans 4 because our lecturer said it was too difficult for us to understand!

Anyway, the thing that Paul was so fabulously excited about was that we could be right with God through faith… this was his conversion experience…. He had been a Pharisee, and not just any Pharisee, but one that had zealously been persecuting Christians and having them stoned…. And the reason for that was that he thought that everyone, every Jew, had to be obeying the Law perfectly in order for them to be right with God. In order for God to bless Israel, in order for God to release Israel from captivity to the Romans, everyone had to follow every law in the utmost detail. And they weren’t doing it. Especially the Christians, they were being heretical proclaiming a man, this man Jesus to be God.

So you can imagine the migraine this gave poor old Saul as he was, trying to control EVERYONE. It is hard enough to control ourselves…. I have certainly caved in on some of my Lenten disciplines already and they are truly piffling compared the Jewish Laws.

And then Paul realised, and then Paul found the penny dropping, that we could be made right though FAITH. And what a relief that was.

So what is faith? For Paul it meant surrender to God. Giving in to God. Stopping trying to control, stopping trying to have things our way, stopping trying to understand, and falling into the loving arms of God. Stepping out perhaps

(Indiana Jones video)

Sometimes, in Bibles it is translated as “to believe” because we can’t say “to faith” in English like you can say it in Greek, but to believe is such a poor translation. It suggests intellectual assent rather than giving your whole body and soul to God. And anyway, I think sometimes we surrender to God even though in our mind we can’t believe, we “faith” anyway.

Hence, central to our faith is the image of Baptism – trusting others as they dunk you under the water, giving in, surrendering, submitting to God. And for Paul, he felt we had to die to the old ways, die to the Law and be resurrected as new people, people who surrendered to God.

In the Gospel we also hear of a similar idea – Jesus says we have to take up our cross and follow Jesus. It is a sort of surrender, but I don’t think it necessarily means that our lives will be nasty and painful… not at all. I think that the cross is a symbol of release of burdens.

Like the bit in the Pilgrim’s progress where Christian loses his burden:

Up this way, therefore, did burdened CHRISTIAN run; but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as CHRISTIAN came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Then was CHRISTIAN glad and lightsome, and said, with a merry heart,

“He hath given me rest by his sorrow,
And life by his death.”

My gran had a big, beautiful, illustrated version of the Pilgrim’s Progress, and I did once try to read it because my Gran told me to. Now I look at it again it is no wonder that I couldn’t – the language was so alien to me, but so was the content – I had no understanding of faith.

However, years later, I too had an experience similar to that of Christian. I was at Uni when I heard an evangelistic talk where the preacher was thinking about the words Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished”. I was convinced it wasn’t for me and so I let my guard down, and was enthusiastically agreeing with the speaker in my heart hoping that it would enable others to understand the truth of God’s love for them. The speaker was saying…

‘..when Jesus died on the cross he said the words ‘it is finished’. These words were often used on grocery bills when people paid their tab. In other words Jesus said ‘it is paid for in full’. Now, imagine all of your sins listed like a grocery bill. All your sins, the ones that you feel are forgivable and the ones that you are so ashamed of, all of them.’

I was so absorbed in what the speaker was saying that I did as I was told and listed all the things I was ashamed of, even the unmentionable, unforgivable ones.

The speaker continued..

‘..now, imagine Jesus stamping the bill with a seal and on the seal are the words ‘paid for in full’.

I could see all my sins listed, and a big red wax seal… paid for in full. I was amazed and tearful; I suddenly felt that Jesus’ death had mysteriously paid for all my sins. I had become crippled by shame and in those moments I felt able to walk again.

Of course, it needed surrender, it needed faith, but somehow, by doing so I gained a new life, I gained a sense of being right with God. The clouds cleared and I felt like I was dancing in the sunshine.

I pray that this Lent all of us might experience this realisation that Paul was so excited about, that surrendering to God mysteriously brings us close to God. Amen

Ash Wednesday Sermon (Lesley) John 1:1-8

Deutsch: Christus im Hause des Pharisäers, Jac...
Image via Wikipedia

John 8:1-11
but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about sin, in preparation for this sermon…. And a memory came back to me that characterises sin for me. I was eighteen and an engineering apprentice. We had to learn how to weld and used various techniques, and it all went pretty smoothly, but the final type of welding required very, very high electric currents. I was with my friend Audrey and we were in a booth that had a metal table and a metal cage around us. The idea being that the welding stick had a high voltage that was earthed when it touched anything metal. So we were wearing protective clothing with a visor that was so dark that you could literally see nothing – it was pitch black and I stood in the total blackness in the booth waiting for her to begin welding. I did see one flash on the table and then after that there were flashes of light from over my head, to the right, to the left, back on the table, then over in another corner… all over the place – accompanied by crashing and banging. I was terrified. I couldn’t run because I couldn’t see and I couldn’t take the visor off because of the flashing arcs of light that would blind me. When Audrey had finally stopped she told me what had happened. She had accidentally welded the welding stick to the specimen, and then she was trying to shake it free, in the process she managed to crash it into the cage in various places and everywhere it made contact with the metal it earthed and so the arcing started.

Why is this like sin? Well because I think what happens to me, and sometimes to others, is we have some issue that is perhaps unseen, a bit like getting the welding stick stuck to the specimen. Let’s say that issue is crushing unworthiness, or fear of the future, or a bad marriage, or a deep grief, or perhaps a desperate shame. But you don’t see any of that, you don’t know about it because it is hidden so deeply. What you perhaps see is me grumpy with my kids, super sensitive about certain things, you see me overworking, or eating too much, or you see me sullen in meetings… All these things are like sparks flying all over the place, and sometimes these are the things that we focus on as sins… but they aren’t ever going to be solved because they aren’t the real problem. The real problem is what happened in the darkness, the wrong thing got welded..!

Turning to the passage, I have struggled more and more with it as the years have gone on. I’ll try to explain why.
For a start Jewish Law says that people can only be accused of adultery if they were caught actually in the act. The law also said that both parties were guilty. So why is only the woman accused of it. Where is the man? It isn’t as if he wasn’t there when the Pharisees turned up. Why did he get away Scot free? Well presumably because being a man he was worth more than her. But what sort of betrayal is this? Betrayal of justice, betrayal of love….?

Or is it worse than this. Is this whole thing a set-up? After all it is only the Pharisees who accuse her… and it seems very convenient that a bunch of Pharisees catch a woman in the very act of adultery in close proximity to where Jesus is teaching so that they can publicly test him and force him to choose between obedience to the Law and the mercy that characterises him. Perhaps she was forced to commit adultery?

Then she was brought before Jesus. The text tells us that Jesus was sitting down and that she was forced to stand. My guess is that as they brought her straight from the act that she was naked, which is why Jesus mostly seems to be leaning forward, bowing his head, drawing in the sandy soil and protecting her modesty.

It is a horrible scene of betrayal and humiliation, all with the aim of catching Jesus out. As a woman and as a priest I have heard horrific stories of abuse and humiliation such that I don’t think I can be shocked any more. For me, these stories wash over my consciousness as I read this story and I am transfixed and appalled by the scene that has developed.

Perhaps you too know stories of shame and humiliation. I confess that as I read this story I have a growing anger towards the Pharisees. We don’t know whether the woman has transgressed in this way or not. But what about the sins of the Pharisees? What about the way they let injustice rule and they let the man go? What about the way they are publicly humiliating this woman just so they can continue their vendetta against Jesus? If they were concerned about her sin and thought Jesus could help then why not let her be clothed and go to him privately? Anger begins to burn in me.

But of course I am doing exactly the same thing as the Pharisees. They are drawing tighter and tighter circles of sinfulness around her and I am doing the same to them.

Jesus is different. He drew an expanded circle of sinfulness that included everyone present and then an even more expansive circle of forgiveness in the words “Neither do I condemn you”.

Once we judge someone then it is difficult to hear God over the clamour of our own ego. Once we have judged then it is difficult to change our minds without losing face. We are called to be open and expansive, not to judge, that we might be able to discern God in amongst our everyday lives. To do this we need a soul that is at peace, not one that is awash with judgement, anger and pride.

But two questions remain for me:

“Is the woman really guilty?” I find myself asking – I’m still struggling to get away from this judging mentality. Jesus said “Go and sin no more” – does he think she was caught doing something wrong? And how could he possibly know if he was clothed in the same humanity that we have, how could he know without asking more questions?

Well, the truth is of course that all of us sin, including her. All of us fall short, and we flail around creating sparks here and there… perhaps some of us have deeper hurts that drive these things and we need to find the courage to deal with them.

I heard a story about a woman who said to her Orthodox priest that she thought confession was useless for her – she didn’t do all those disgusting things that other people do. The priest replied that she should tell this to her husband and children and come back in the morning to tell the priest her decision on whether she wanted to confess. In the morning she came back a different person… and with a very long list.

It is easy to let pride get in the way of our relationship with God. This is why in every mosque, when they do those beautiful mosaics, they always have some flaw in the pattern somewhere – to remind them of their humanness, their brokenness, their incompleteness.

My second question is why the woman remains there once all her accusers have gone. Jesus is sitting down, the woman is standing there, possibly naked…. the text says that everyone goes – including the disciples and all the people who Jesus was teaching. They all slip away and the woman is alone with Jesus. What has happened to her? At the beginning of the story she was dragged along and forced to stand, now she is there voluntarily.

Somehow, in all her nakedness and vulnerability, being with Jesus is safe. Knowing that she was a sinner and an accused woman, she still remains.

I find this surprising, and then I wonder why.

I wonder whether I can be naked before God, real and vulnerable.

Is that an issue for all of us… and if so why?

I wonder whether this Lent we can hear the words of Jesus “Go and sin no more” but also hear the words “neither do I condemn you”..?