Summary: Our salvation depends upon a piece of "bad grammer".
Sermon: Saved by Bad Grammar
Text: John 8:46-59
Occasion: Lent V
Who: Mark Woolsey
When: Sunday, Mar 9, 2008
Where: Providence Reformed Episcopal Church
John 8:46-59, NKJV: "Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God." Then the Jews answered and said to Him, "Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?" Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death." Then the Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ’If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?" Jesus answered, "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ’I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are a multitude of significant themes in today’s lessons. A good preacher could take any of them and turn it into a series that would last for weeks. I hope you won’t mind if I only take a few hours for this sermon!
Today’s gospel passage starts, as the Latin phrase goes, "In medias res", or "in the middle of things". It’s almost as if you turned the TV on and the first thing you hear is an actor caught in mid-sentence. Our Lord is in the midst of a debate with the Pharisees and it’s anything but civil. Think of our service today - we were proceeding along as always in our liturgy today, smoothly transitioning from one prayer to the next, when all of a sudden two parties, a man on one side and a group of men on the other, stood up and started yelling at each other. Ad hominem arguments - that is, arguments against a person rather than against the opposing point - are flung in each other’s face. Name calling, accusations of insincerity, and unsubstantiated assertions abound. At the climax of the shouting match, the speaker tries to make his point, but ends up with a garbled sentence. And finally, a fight breaks out. All in all, quite a stimulating religious discussion - we need more of them today! Seriously, we do need more of these conversations today. At least the Pharisees cared about these matters, even if they were wrong. In fact, their wrong-headedness sunk them eternally, and it would have us, too, if it hadn’t been for a piece of bad grammar.
II. First Context: Adultery
In order to understand the text appointed for today, it is helpful to step back a bit and understand something of the context in which it is set. When we do, we find some rather surprising and unsettling things. Let’s say, for example, that you, as a presbyter, are in your study, minding your own business, when suddenly group of people burst in. It’s quite a ruckus, but you finally understand they are accusing a woman in their midst of sexual immorality - not just the internet kind, but full-blown, caught-in-the-act infidelity against her husband. All the people involved are members of your church. The woman hasn’t darkened the church doors too often, but the accusers are to a man faithful workers and financial contributors. Furthermore, you know the accusation is true. What do you do? According to the text that immediately precedes the verses from the Gospel read today, you pardon the woman who doesn’t even ask for it, and you damn the believers. At least, that’s what Jesus did. And yes, I did say that He condemned the believers and pardoned the sinner. This just does not seem right, yet here it is in Scripture, plain as day. Jesus just will not stay put in our little box that we build for Him.