Anna's Hosannas!
Free Worship Resources for Use with the Lectionary
Based on John 8: 1-11
I am currently enrolled in a program for Spiritual Directors called Souljourners,  an ecumenical program run by the Benedictine Sisters at Atchison.  Today I share a lesson which came to me out of the work I’ve done there.  In Benedictine spirituality - and indeed any contemplative tradition - we are encouraged to recognize the importance of pausing – of stilling ourselves to receive guidance from God.  So as I read this passage what really grabs my attention is the pauses I see in the story, pauses which change the pattern of the entire story.
The first pause we see is one taken by Jesus.  The Pharisees and scribes are questioning Jesus, trying to get him to make an error. But this scene has one striking difference: here they’ve brought in a living object lesson, a woman whose life is on the line. When we look at other scripture passages we might note that Jesus is quick to respond to any challenges, either by quoting a prophet or telling a pithy saying or story. But not here.  Instead of responding right away to the question before him, Jesus pauses, bends down to the ground and starts writing. There have been many speculations as to what exactly Jesus is doing here.  My own perspective suggests that he’s taking a sacred pause, also known as centering prayer.  It is a deliberate act of stillness, of clearing out the mind, so one can hear God speak. Scribbling in the sand, then, is a form of meditation.
Why would Jesus choose to meditate right here?  As we discussed earlier, this particularly dangerous situation.  We can imagine that Jesus’ emotions are running high and – as is true with any human being – when emotions run high we are likely to behave in ways that are defensive and reactive.  Jesus is wisely guarding against speaking too soon, lest he make the situation worse. I invite you to think back for a moment to an argument you’ve had. In the middle of such an argument, have you noticed that you almost can’t stop yourself from talking, that the need to speak your mind is so great that it seems to overwhelm you? Or perhaps you simply couldn’t continue the conversation and withdrew altogether? In either case, any opportunity for real communication or emotional de-escalation is lost.  Now think about what other possibilities are available if – instead of speaking immediately – we take time to grow still, to listen to God.  When we commit ourselves not to winning an argument, but to communicating God’s peace and love to those we meet.  What might come of that encounter?
Well, let’s check in with our story and see what, in fact, did happen.  Here is Jesus, writing in the sand, seemingly oblivious to the waiting crowd.  When he’s good and ready, when he is sure he has a correct message from God he speaks.  And Jesus’ response is extraordinary and beautiful, so powerful that it is one of those sayings that even non-church-goers are likely to be familiar with: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Jesus’s response is even, measured, and is undoubtedly grounded in God’s own wisdom. It stops the entire theological debates in its tracks. And here’s where we see the second sacred pause – that of the crowd.
We can almost see it, can’t we?  The angry crowd yelling, pushing, shaking angry fists at this sinful woman.  But as Jesus bends down to write, they begin to lose their momentum.  They look at each other doubtfully.  They were expecting an answer – either an affirmation that they are right to condemn her or a challenge to their law that they can argue about.  What they don’t expect is Jesus’ silence.  And they certainly didn’t expect that he would end the silence with this challenge to search their own hearts.  
It is universally true that whenever any person decides to condemn another person it says more about the one doing the condemnation than the one being condemned. Why are we so provoked by those Democrats, Republicans, feminists, NRA enthusiasts, gays and lesbians, Latino immigrants?  Why do we feel justified in attacking someone from another religious or cultural background?  We can argue all day long that really and truly the problem lies with this other group of people, but we are misleading ourselves.  We are truly blessed if, when we begin to rage about another person, there is someone wise enough and committed enough to us to remind us to examine our own hearts.  Because the wound lies in ourselves, and it is only through bringing our brokenness to God that we can be free from this anger or fear. 
I will give the crowd its due: when Jesus issues the challenge, it lands.  They listen, and they begin to back off.  The first to leave, appropriately enough, are the elders – the wisest among the crowd, the ones most ready to receive and accept the correction.  With the elders serving as examples, the younger ones follow behind.  They head back to their lives, ready to do a little prayerful soul-searching.  And Jesus and the woman are left alone.
The crowd has gone away, and Jesus addresses the woman simply enough, asking her, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  I believe this question creates the room for the third pause,  that of the woman. Certainly Jesus can see that the crowd is gone, but he invites the woman to describe it for herself.  We can imagine the woman looking up, maybe for the first time since she was brought before Jesus. Only moments ago it was clear in her mind who she was – a sinner, and one who would undoubtedly be condemned. We don’t know her story, but we can guess it has already contained much sorrow and poverty, much degradation and isolation.  This is not a woman who would be welcome in any good Jewish home, nor in temple worship. She is likely a widow or an orphan, someone utterly worthless in her own society. And, up until this moment, that is probably how she saw herself: worthless, useless, one cast aside.
But the pause changes everything.  The crowd which had accused her have now retreated, and Jesus invites her to open her eyes to the truth.  Condemnation has passed her by, and not only doesn’t Jesus condemn her, he invites her to vision a new future, one in which she is free from sin.  How are we freed from our sin?  By being in relationship with a God who forgives.  This is what Jesus is offering her, a new identity as a beloved child of God.  His sister in faith, certainly not a castoff but a gifted, important member of his holy community. 
What a gift that pause is in our own lives as well, when we finally stop giving credence to an old narrative about what our culture tells us we are – not smart enough, not rich enough, not beautiful enough, we need to work harder to prove we’re worth something, need to be productive.  But in that sacred pause God whispers into our ear, “Look around. Where are those voices? That’s right – they’re nothing. Mine is the only voice that matters, and I call you beloved.” 
It’s in the moment between action and choice, in the moment of quiet anticipation when our hearts are the most fertile ground for God’s Word to be planted and to grow.  Sometimes the pause gives us clarity of purpose, so we can speak the word of peace to a frightened and angry world. Sometimes the pause calls us to do our own inner work, examining how our old wounds are defining us and calling them to healing.  Sometimes the moment is a chance for God to lift a mirror to us, to show us who we really are.  But in any case, making space for God to speak in our lives is a Christian’s greatest challenge, and greatest source of blessing.
"Quiet My Heart" - song written in correlation with the sermon.