September 9, 2007
"A Chance To Start Over"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
In the movie, "With Honors," Joe Pesci plays Simon Wilder a homeless man slowly dying from asbestos poisoning. Brendan Fraser portrays Montgomery 'Monty' Kessler, who is a student at Harvard who has reluctantly befriended Simon. In one of their conversations Simon pulls out a leather pouch and says, "There it is. That's it, my life." He dumps a bunch of stones out in his hand, picks up one and says, "I got this one on a beach in Bali. Best night's sleep I ever had."
Monty asks, "You remember one night of sleep?"
Simon says, "Last good one I had."
Monty then asks, "What's that shiny white one?"
"A woman. The one. The one true love. Yep, each stone tells a story that I want to remember. All I do is put them in my hand and rub them and abracadabra, I'm back there."
They walk on and Monty asks, "Tell me about the woman."
Simon says, "I can't. I'm not holding the stone."
You know, there are a lot of stones and rocks in the Bible. There's Peter the Rock who sank like a rock when tried to walk on water. There's the stones which Jesus said would break into song on Palm Sunday if the people didn't sing.
There's the stone that sealed the tomb which was rolled away so we could see inside and see that no mere grave could hold the Son of God. There are the rocks and stone used to build the Temple.
And then there are the stones you're holding in your hand, the ones related to the passage for the day. You might call these stones, the First Stones. Let's look at the passage for today. John 8:3-11
 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them,
 they said to him, "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?"
 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."
 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
 Jesus straightened up and said to her, "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."]
Jesus hated the sin without hating the sinner. We, on the other hand, usually hate the sinner and enjoy gossiping about the sin. This mob who came with stones in hand, were like an old Western I saw where a couple of guys had been arrested for cattle rustling. When somebody mentioned giving them a fair trial, one of the men in the crowd hollered. "Let's give 'em a fair trial, and then hang em!" Their minds were already made up. So, were the minds of the crowd of accusers that day, because they came armed with weapons to carry out the sentence before the verdict had ever been reached.
I think it's interesting that the word translated here "without sin" can also mean "without a sinful desire." This woman was only a convenient opportunity for the Pharisees to try and trap Jesus and they knew it. No wonder this self-proclaimed mob of morality mongers who didn't care about the woman or her sin, dropped their stones.
And when they did, Jesus gave this woman A Chance To Start Over. That's all most of us want isn't it, when we mess up our lives and relationships? We want A Chance To Start Over. The Good News is that like this woman, Jesus gives each of us A Chance To Start Over, too. And today the symbol for that new start is the stone in your hand. You see, that stone can symbolize a lot of things.
FIRST, that stone can be THE ONE WE THREW. It can be the stone we threw when we sat in judgment of someone else. I know you've done it. And I don't want this to sound like a mark of condemnation mainly because I've done it, too. Sometimes I didn't even realize I was doing it until afterwards. But I've done it, inappropriate as it is for a minister of the Gospel. I've done it. We all have.
This morning I want you to think about a time when you sat in judgment of someone else. Maybe you didn't realize it at the time but you judged that person wrong. Maybe you didn't really feel like judging that person but you went along because of peer pressure. Think about the time you sat in judgment of somebody else and how guilty you felt or still feel.
You know that guilt was meant to be redeemed, don't you? Hold the stone in your hand this morning and think about the one you threw. The one you still haven't forgiven yourself for throwing. The one whose weight you still feel in your hand and in your heart. Hold on to the stone in your hand and wrap your memories and the pain of that memory around it. (Pause)
A. SECOND, that stone can be THE ONE WE CAUGHT. It could be the stone you caught when someone sat in judgment of you. That stone and others like it left wounds and bruises. Many of which still cause us pain. Those stones and the pain they caused have shaped a portion of our lives and sometimes even shaped our own self-image.
As you hold the stone this time, I want you to think about a time when somebody sat in judgment of you, for whatever reason. Maybe you weren't from the right side of town. Maybe your skin color or accent or ethnic background was wrong. Maybe you didn't meet somebody else's expectations. Maybe it was just because of how you looked or dressed.
Take the stone you're still holding and FLIP it over in your hand. You see, judgment and being judged are two sides of the same stone.
Now, remember what it felt like to be judged. Hold the stone in your hand and think about the one you caught that still hurts. Hold on to the stone in your hand and wrap your memories and the pain of that memory around it.
A. THIRD, the stone can be THE ONE WE CARRY. The stone can be the one we carry with us from unforgiven sins. Sins we think are too horrible for God to forgive, so we never ask.
Dr. Carlyle Marney was asked a question by one of his freshman students one day. The student asked, "Where was Eden?" Dr. Marney put down his pen, turned to the college freshman, and replied, "I can tell you exactly, in Tennessee."
"What?" gasped the student.
"Knoxville, Tennessee, 215 South Elm Street," Marney insisted. "It was there on Elm Street, when I was a boy, that I stole a quarter out of Mama's purse and ran to the store and bought a bag of peanut clusters and ate it as fast as I could. Afterward, I was so ashamed that I came back home to 215 Elm Street and hid in the closet. Mom found me and asked, 'Why are you hiding? What have you done?'" (1)
I personally don't think anybody needs help locating their own Eden, do you? That's the place where we first knowingly betrayed and disobeyed God. Our Eden is that situation or that place where we first discovered that we suffer from the same disease as Adam and Eve and every other human being in existence. We suffer from the debilitating symptoms of sin.
B. Hold the stone in your hand and think about your Eden. Hold the stone in your hand and wrap that thought, that memory, that time of Eden in your life around the stone. Those moments stick with us and weigh us down and drag us down and slow us down and bring us down.
But here's the Good News. We don't have to be weighed down by the weight of sin, God wants to lift us up. The God Jesus revealed to us is a God who patiently waits for His wayward children to come back home. And God even supplied the way to home, through Jesus and what He did on the cross.
John R. Aurelio, in his book COLORS!, gives us a beautiful portrayal of this side of God. He writes:
On the sixth day, God created Father Adam and Mother Eve.
On the seventh day, as God was resting, they asked Him if He would give them something special to commemorate their birthday. So, God reached into His treasure chest and took out a sacred coin. Written on it was the word "LOVE."
On the eighth day, Father Adam and Mother Eve sinned. As they left the Garden of Eden, they asked God for an assurance that He would not abandon them.
"You have the coin," He told them.
"But, the coin says LOVE," they answered. "We have lost love. How ever will we find it again?"
"Turn it over," God said.
On the other side of the coin was written the word "FORGIVENESS." (2)
There is great truth in that. There is no love without forgiveness and there is no forgiveness without love. They are the two sides of the same coin. And the Good News is that God loves you no matter. No matter what you've done or what you've thought of doing. God loves you. That's the bottom line God loves you. And wants God each of us to turn over the coin.
Now, you've held onto that stone long enough. I wasn't going let you leave with all that guilt and pain wrapped around that stone. No! Now you need to let all that stuff go. You've wrapped the stone in all those memories and it's probably feeling pretty heavy right now. Some of them have become pretty hot from the grip of your hands holding on so tightly. Some of them have become slippery from the sweaty palms caused by the memory of your hurt and pain and even regret. Some of the rocks are just plain cold because that's how sin reacts. It freezes our growth in the faith. It freezes us in a place we don't really want to be and certainly God doesn't want us to be.
So, what do we do. The only thing we CAN do IS LET GO.
This morning I want you to come forward and drop those stones right here at the foot of the altar. Toss those stones wrapped in all those bad memories and pain, in with the other stones surrounding this fountain of hope. This fountain symbolizes the hope and the Chance to Drink the woman at the well found. The same hope and Chance To Start Over the woman in today's passage found.
These stones of pain and sin and regret will be transformed and become symbols of hope around this water jug of hope. And, for a time at least, they will be with us in worship every Sunday reminding us of the hope and new life Christ offers.
As you drop your stone in the pile, I want you to come by pick up a Candy Kiss. You see in the story of the Prodigal Son when the father ran and greeted the returning son who he thought he'd lost forever, the Father Greeted him with a Kiss. That's how God wants to greet you today as you free yourself from the burden of judging and being judged and as you let go of the guilt of unforgiven sin.
Accept this Kiss of Greeting, Love and Forgiveness from God. Literally, taste and see how good and sweet forgiveness and grace truly taste. Drop those stones of pain and guilt then taste and feel the Kiss of God's Forgiveness.
1. "Geography Lesson," HERALD OF HOLINESS, February 1996, p. 2
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