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The Broken Journey | A Sermon for Ash Wednesday from John 8:1-11

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Text: John 8:1-11

Have you ever been busted?

When I was in fourth grade we moved back to the Detroit area. It was our fourth move in four years. That was hard on all of us. I was shy, a little chunky, and not very athletic. I didn’t have very many friends, didn’t think I could make friends.

A kid down the street befriended me and invited me into his house. His house was the kind of house that had open liquor bottles sitting around, and cases of cigarettes stacked up on the kitchen table. He took me into his brother’s bedroom and it was literally wallpapered with pornography. You can guess what happened. I was pulled into a dark place.

There was a shed attached to the back of our garage My friend and I took all kinds of junk and built a little rat’s nest back there that we called a fort. This is the place where we would light up our cigarettes and look at our dirty magazines. We thought we were so cool.

We thought we were so smart, too, because after we had been smoking we would spray ourselves with cologne…so our parents would never know. Right.

Well, one day it happened. This moment has been burned into my memory. It replays in my mind in slow motion.

There I am, sucking on the cigarette, paging through my dirty magazine. The door to our fort was right next my head. Suddenly, time slowed down, and the door was ripped away. A beam of light shone down into our den of iniquity. I turned my head and looked up into the face of…my father. Beams of light were shining around his face.

He looked at my friend and said, “I think its time for you to go home.”

I’ve never seen anyone move so fast in my life. Swoosh. That kid was outta there!

My Dad moved back, and I slowly emerged from the pit. There he was, He was standing there with my older brother. Between them sat a large metal garbage can. It had flames rising from inside it.

I thought, “oh no, child sacrifice.”

Do know what my Dad did then? He didn’t yell at me. He didn’t belittle me. He didn’t throw me into the fire. He told me to get my trash–my cigarettes and my magazines–and throw them into the fire.

Do you know what I was that day? Busted.

I was guilty. I was so guilty. I was busted, but I was not burned.

My father set me free that day. I loved him so much and was so thankful that he restored me, that I honestly never wanted to let him down again.

You see, my Dad shined the light on me and exposed the fact that I was guilty. But he didn’t shame me over it. He liberated me from it.

In our gospel story today we see this play out.

A woman was caught in the act of adultery. She was guilty. She was surrounded by her accusers who could only see her as a sinner who deserved to be stoned to death.

What did Jesus do? Did he pick up a stone, along with all the other religious leaders, and call her terrible names, and then condemn her to death by stoning?

No, first–and I love this part–he bent down and wrote in the dirt. Do you know what I think he was writing? The names of all the women those men had slept with, or at least lusted over.

He told the one who had no sin to throw the first stone. They all walked away. Condemning people for their sin only leads to more sin.

Jesus drove away the shame. He looked at her and shined the light of truth into her life. She was busted, but not burned. Yes, what she did was wrong and destructive, and she needed to be set free.

He said, “Go and sin no more.”

That’s the difference between guilt and shame.

The woman was guilty, but Jesus did not shame her. He forgave her and sent her out to live a new life for God.

The Holy Spirit’s job is to convict us of guilt; to shine truth into the dark corners of our life where we are hiding in shame, and to say, “Guilty.”

Then God lifts us up, reminds us that we are God’s child, and tells us, “Go, and sin no more.” No shame, just freedom from sin.

What are the dark places in your life right now?

Lent is a time to clean out the darkness.

The ELW Invitation to Lent says this. I invite you to read this out loud with me.

“we are created to experience joy in communion with God, to love one another, and to live in harmony with creation. But our sinful rebellion separates us from God, our neighbors, and creation, so that we do not enjoy the life our creator intended.”

Lent is a journey.

It is a Broken Journey, where we are invited to let God shine truth into our lives so that we can burn away the sin and shame and know the freedom of new life in Christ.

I want you to notice our table up here.

We changed some things. Usually, we have it out here, and think of this as the family table where we share in communion together with God. During Lent, we are going to use a different metaphor. We’ve pushed it back against the wall, like it is an altar. This is the place where we want to bring our sins before God to sacrifice them. This is ultimately the place where, on Good Friday, Jesus will lay down his life as the ultimate sacrifice, so that we might now ultimate life and freedom.

The ELW invitation to Lent goes on to say: Lets’ read it together:

“As disciples of Jesus we are called to a discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from the love of God and neighbor.

These disciplines are:

  • self-examination
  • repentance
  • prayer
  • fasting
  • sacrificial giving
  • works of love”

self-examination: it begins tonight. Are you willing to let the light of truth shine into your life? We all have dark corners, or closets that we aren’t willing to let anyone look into, not even God. I’ll tell you right now, those are the cancer zones in your spirit. You will not know true freedom until you are willing to speak the truth about them. Your addictions, your fears, your hidden sins about which you are convinced that, if it came out into the light, everyone would throw stones.

repentance: the word repentance means “change the way you think about things–the way you see the world.” I think that most of us need to learn how to see ourselves that way God looked at that woman. Guilty, yes. Busted, but not burned. God loves you, and God wants the best for you. When we can start to see ourselves the way God does, then the bondage on our heart will start to break free.

prayer and fasting: This is a discipline of focusing our hearts on God. This takes discipline. Fasting is a way to clear out some of the fat in our life and clear time to focus on God. Many of you are parents with children in your home. We have been talking in the family ministries about the Faith 5. This is a discipline of taking a few minutes, either at dinner or just before bed, to share your highs an lows as a family, to read scripture, to connect the scripture to your highs and lows and talk about God in a real-life way, to pray together, out loud, as a family, and to bless each other. Whether you do this as a family, or as a group of friends, the challenge is to set aside time the Lent to pray, fast, and focus on God as an active part of your everyday life. There is a daily reading chart in the Lenten Brochure and it is also accessible on our website.

Sacrificial giving and works of love:

These often work together. We just finished a five-week series on living generously. Lent is a great time to kick-start a life of generosity. We have some very exciting opportunities this Lent to come together as a community and practice these disciplines of giving and acts of love:~

The Noisy Offerings during Lent will all go to Nutritional Farming Initiative in Rakai Uganda, to supply farmers with seed & plants, tools, and education… this ministry is through RODI (Rakai Orphans Development Initiative)

We’ll ask people to donate non-perishable food items every time they come to church during Lent

  • We will highlight a different food item to donate each week (see list below)
  • We’ll hand out Grocery bags after Ash Wed. service and after all services this weekend, March 8/9.
  • We’ll collect all the food items in the northwest corner of the Narthex during Lent, then bring some of it to the altar on Palm Sunday.

March 8/9           Canned Soups, Peanut Butter

March 15/16       Tuna and Hamburger Helper

March 22/23       Cereal & Crackers

March 29/30       Spaghetti & Sauce

April 5/6               Canned Fruits & Vegetables

April 12/13          Pancake Mix & Syrup

And these other opportunities to SERVE also fall within the Lenten time frame –

  • We’ll pack meals at FMSC on Sat. March 29 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm
  • We’ll host Family Promise at our church, March 30 – April 6

This has been a difficult sermon for me, because I really need to hear it.

There is so much going on in my life right now. I’m in the intense part of my dissertation research project. My four kids each have their own issues that they’re dealing with. Multiply that times the 200 hundred students at Grace, and their families, and all the pain and hurt.

Yesterday, I thought I was going to break. I didn’t sleep well last night. I went for my walk this morning and was wrestling with God about all of this. I said, “God, I just can’t do this.”

Do you know what I heard?

“Duh. Of course you can’t. Why don’t you let me do it and stop thinking it’s up to you.”

Are you broken, like me? Are you ready to take this journey together? Let’s go.

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