CHANCE ENCOUNTERS #6
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.”
I think that’s the best movie Joe Pesci ever made.
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 are the stones which Jesus said would break into song on Palm Sunday if the people didn’t sing about his Triumphal Entry. There were stones with which he was tempted to turn into bread while fasting for those 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.
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 stones used to build the Temple. There are the 12 stones (one for each tribe) from the Jordan River that adorn the Ephod or ceremonial vestment worn by the Temple’s High Priest.
And then there are the various stones used to build cairns or ebenezers or pillars or piles or altars of remembrance at those places where significant events took place or where God revealed Himself to various people in Scripture, theophanies. When Joshua and the people crossed the Jordan into the promised land for the first time, they celebrated and remembered by building an altar of stones as a place of remembrance.
And then there’s the stone in the passage of Scripture this morning. You might call it the First Stone. 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.”
THE FIRST THING I WANT YOU TO NOTICE IS THAT THERE IS NO MENTION OF THE MAN. EVEN THOUGH HE HAD BEEN CAUGHT, TOO. But then, they really weren’t concerned about the sin or the sinner, the scribes and Pharisees were simply using her to try and trap Jesus.
But notice Jesus. He never even mentions her sin. Jesus hated the sin without hating the sinner.
On the other hand, we usually hate the sinner and enjoy gossiping about the sin while we sit in judgment of the other person. Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves, that we’re not that bad. We might be bad but not as bad as that. The only problem is that we’re using the wrong measuring stick. Jesus is our measuring stick, not our neighbors. We’re called to love them not judge them.
Ever since the fall, we sort of relish in each other’s weaknesses and failures. It’s almost as if we can’t wait for someone to stumble so we can talk about it, embellish our part and pass it on until the truth is so far from reality that it doesn’t resemble the story at all. Look at reality TV.
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 with this woman, 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, A Chance To Start Over. When we mess up our lives through stupid choices we want A Chance To Start Over. When we mess up a relationship with someone, 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 piece of legal paper you hold in your hand. You see, in a few moments, it will become a metaphorical stone. And stones can symbolize a lot of things.
1. THE ONE WE THREW:
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 maybe even how guilty you still feel.
You know that guilt is meant to be redeemed, don’t you? Hold the piece of paper in hand this morning and think about the stone 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 piece of paper as if it were that stone in your hand. Now with your finger, I want you to write that person’s name or the event or the situation. Take a moment to remember and to write. (PAUSE) Now, turn the paper over.
2. THE ONE WE CAUGHT:
A. SECOND, those stones can also be the oneS WE caught. It could be the stone you caught when someone sat in judgment of you. That stone and others like it left you wounded and bruised. Some of those wounds and bruises haven’t healed and 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 that piece of paper in your hand, I want you to think about a time when someone 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 that day. But they sat in judgment of you.
Now take your finger and write that situation on that piece of legal paper. No one will see. This is between you and God. You see, judgment and being judged are two sides of the same stone. Remember what it felt like to be judged. (PAUSE)
Now, wad that piece of paper into a ball. Take your judgmental moment and those memories of when you were judged and wad them up into a little ball. That ball of paper is your metaphorical stone. Hold it in your hand and think about both the stone you threw and the ones thrown at you.
3. THE ONE WE CARRY:
A. Third, there’s 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 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 paper wad stone in your hand and think about your Eden. Hold the it 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. Through Jesus we know that God 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. However will we find it again?”
“Turn [the coin] 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.
4. LET GO:
Now, you’ve held onto that stone long enough. I wasn’t going let you leave with all that guilt and pain wrapped up that paper wad stone. No! Now you need to let all that stuff go. You’ve wrapped your stone in all those memories and it’s probably feeling pretty heavy right now. Some of them may have become 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 your paper wad stones 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 Jesus offers us the Chance To Start Over the woman in today’s passage. This morning I want you to rare back and throw that metaphorical stone as hard as you can at the basket or tub in front of the altar. And as you throw it, I want you mentally and spiritually let go of the memories and the pain that you have placed on that paper wad stone. Let it go. And don’t worry about the mess if you don’t make it. Sin and forgiveness is messy business sometimes.
But throw that hurt and pain away. These paper wad stones of pain and sin and regret will be transformed and nothing more that trash to be swept up and dumped out.
OK, are you ready? Throw those paper wad stones of pain and guilt and let go.
(EVERYONE STAND. TAKE TIME TO THROW)
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave Himself up for us while we were yet sinners. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
Turn to someone next to you and tell them, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”
Now turn the other direction and tell that person, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”
“Thanks be to God.” And all of God’s people said, AMEN.
(PLEASE BE SEATED.)
No you can go tell everyone that you got to throw paper wads at the preacher while you were in church to day.
In the story of the Prodigal Son and the Prodigal Father, when the father saw his son returning, he ran to him. He ran to him and he greeted his son with a kiss. This son, whom he thought he’d lost forever, returned and he was so overjoyed he not only ran to greet him but he did so with a Kiss.
That’s how God wants to greet you today as you free yourself from the burden of judging others, being judged and as you let go of the guilt of unforgiven sin.
So, as you leave the service this morning, I want you to come by and pick up a Candy Kiss.
Accept this Kiss of Greeting, Love and Forgiveness from God. Literally, taste and see how good and sweet forgiveness and the grace of God truly taste. Taste and feel the Kiss of God’s Forgiveness.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. “Geography Lesson,” HERALD OF HOLINESS, February 1996, p. 2.