Summary: The story of the adulterous woman helps us see that we should welcome sinners just as Jesus did
We have been preaching through the book of John. Early in the book we sense the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders that led up to Jesus’ death.
If there was anything that rankled those religious leaders, it was the way Jesus welcomed all kinds of people, especially those regarded as sinners: tax collectors, prostitutes, and adulterers. Jesus reached out and welcomed them all. John 8 helps us to see what we need to do if we are going to be like Jesus.
Billy Graham’s daughter Ruth writes in her new book, “Loving unbelievers the way Jesus did is the most overlooked key to growing a church. Without his passion for the lost, we will be unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to reach them.” (Ruth Graham. A Legacy of Faith: Things I Learned from My Father)
Jesus taught us to love the unlovely, to befriend the unfriendly, and to welcome those who would be unwelcome in other places. That was the work Jesus engaged in. It is our work today. And if we need a reminder, all we need to do is walk around the back of the building and see the motto of our denomination there: Continuing the Work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together. I hope it can be said that we are doing that, because it is out there for everyone to see.
Unfortunately, a lot of people outside the church have the impression that they are not welcome inside the church. I don’t know how often Sue and I have heard expressions like, “I don’t have the right clothes.” “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t have any money for the offering.” I’m afraid the church has not done a good job of letting people know they are welcome, especially those who are looked down on - jailbirds, thieves, alcoholics, addicts, and prostitutes.
Tony Campolo, professor of sociology and well-known Baptist preacher, tells the story of his visit to Honolulu for a conference. On his first night there, he awoke about three and left the hotel to find a place to get something to eat. He found a tiny coffee shop with one man behind the bar who served him coffee and a doughnut. Tony was the only customer until, quite suddenly, the coffee shop was filled with women. Some sat at tables, others at the counter near Tony. From their conversation he learned a great deal about Honolulu’s night life. These women were prostitutes.
He says: “I overheard the woman sitting beside me say, "Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m going to be 39."’
Her friend responded in a nasty tone, "So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing ’Happy Birthday?’"
"Come on!" said the woman. "Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that’s all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you it was my birthday. I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my life. Why should I have one now?"
When Tony heard that, he made a decision. After the women left he called over the fat guy behind the counter and asked, "Do they come here every night?”
"Yeah!" he answered.
"The one right next to me, does she come here every night?"
"Yeah," he said. "That’s Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why d’ya wanta know?"
"Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you say you and I do something about that? What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her right here tomorrow night?"
A cute smile slowly crossed his chubby cheeks and he answered with delight, "That’s great!..."
"Look." Tony said, "If it’s OK with you, I’ll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I’ll even get a birthday cake!"
"No way," said Harry. "The birthday cake’s my thing. I’ll make the cake.”
At 2:30 the next morning, Tony was back at the diner. He had picked up some paper decorations at the store and had made a sign out of big pieces of cardboard that read, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" He decorated the diner from one end to the other. He had that diner looking good.
The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes...and Tony!
At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend. Tony had everybody ready and when they came in they all screamed, "Happy birthday!" Tony says, “Never have I seen a person so flabbergasted...so stunned. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her.” As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter they all sang Happy Birthday to her. As they came to the end of their singing with "Happy birthday dear Agnes, happy birthday to you," her eyes moistened, and when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it, and just openly cried.