SERMON from 1-6-13: “A Fresh Start: Taking God With You”

John 8.1-11 (CEB)

8And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. 3The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, 4they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery.5In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?”6They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. 7They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn't sinned should throw the first stone.”8Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. 9Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd. 10Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don't sin anymore.”

 

A Fresh Start: Taking God With You

 

Recently, a television personality – and former preacher – went on national television in response to national tragedy. It was his belief that the tragedy had happened because – and I quote – “we've escorted [God] right out the door.” Of course, this is a reference to the great court battles of the last century, which asked schools to remove prayer and the teaching of scripture from the classroom. To this television personality, that action was enough keep God out of the classroom – and to allow innocent children to die in his absence.

 

I don't know what god it is he worships, but that's not the God with which I am familiar.

 

You wanna know where in the world the church is growing the fastest? Africa. Latin America. Asia. You wanna know why it's growing so fast? China has announced it's intention to recognize Christianity as the official state religion. The church in Panama is thriving because of it's multi-century history of Christian community, and not corporate raiding and guerrilla army rule. Africa? Well, the church has always had a history of treating the peoples of Africa with respect and dignity – and definitely not as some sort of second-class citizenry. Their three-fifths of an opinion has always been recognized.

 

In case you didn't notice it, that was sarcasm – and the last paragraph was a fabrication. Asia has a long history of persecution of Christians. Latin America is a violent place, run by drug cartels. Africa – as well as having a history of slavery that runs up into the current day – is a tribal place where Christianity has long traded food for profession of faith.

 

If these places are all in areas that have – at one time or another – been unfriendly to Christianity, why are these places home to the most infectious, modern-day growth of the church?

 

I don't know. I can speculate. I took a seminary class dedicated to reading all the books by all the people who think they have placed their finger on the one thing different about the growth of the church in the developing world. As I said, though, it would only be speculation.

 

My point is that a court ruling that schools shouldn't teach religious practice isn't the reason why – or why not – bad things happen. It's also not the reason the church dying.

 

The point is that God cannot be removed from a situation God chooses to be in. We human beings just don't have it in us to play bouncer to God. We can ignore God, but we cannot keep him out of a place he wishes to be.

 

As the created, we do not hold so much sway over the creator.

 

What we do have is the opportunity to take God with us wherever we go. While that's certainly something you would expect to see stitched on a pillow or printed on a t-shirt, it also happens to be the truth – an important one. A significant one. A valuable one.

 

There may be other problems with the first Sunday of the year being so late – on the 6th, rather than the 2nd or 1st – is that you have had plenty of time to make your New Year's resolutions. You've also had plenty of time to break them already. While it depends upon who you are and how badly it is you wanted to change that behavior or learn that hobby, it's pretty discouraging when you break that resolution, right?

 

So, you show up here – already having had the disappointment of breaking your resolution – and there's a good chance that my sermon is going to have something to do with new beginnings and resolutions for the new year. I see you aren't responding, so I'm disappointed. Before too long, we are just a large ball of disappointed sad – just ready to get home to finish the last of the holiday leftovers. You know, really kill off that resolution. All the while, you have a phrase in the back of your mind, “If you're going to sin, sin boldly.”

 

Maybe, instead of dealing in resolutions, we should look at the possibility of…a fresh start. I think “fresh start” is much better. A fresh start implies a more faithful approach to the process of sanctification, or becoming the person God desires you to be. Think of a chalk board. A chalk board has just about as good a memory as we human beings should have.

 

Think about the different ways to clean a chalk board. If you make a mistake while writing a longer portion of information, there's a good chance you will just take your fingers and wipe the error away. It wasn't a big mistake, and there's a bigger picture you are drawing. That bigger drawing is much more important than that tiny mistake, so just wipe it away.

 

Say, then, that you want to change directions – or that the mistake you've made is a bit bigger than drawing a lopsided “o” – you just take the eraser and make bigger motions to clean the surface. This way, you can start another thought or topic and you aren't having to compete with things you've already covered. You are focused on moving forward.

 

There are sometimes, however, that the chalk board is just too dirty. So much writing has been done on it, that the eraser isn't doing anything but pushing old chalk around. The dust is so heavy that your hand turns whiter with every stroke of your hand. At that point, you decide to call in the janitor. The janitor comes in with his special spray and cloth – and with a few swipes of his hand – the blackboard is as good as new. You are ready to move forward more cleanly and clearly, because that board is as good as new.

 

You may want to get that janitor a Christmas present next year. Or, at the very least, you send him a Christmas card to show your appreciation.

 

Jesus plays the janitor for the adulterous woman. Notice, however, that his cleaning approach isn't necessarily “wipe the board clean” approach. He reminds others that they, too, are sinners. It's like you are at the chalk board. You make a mistake and use your fingers. The mistake is technically gone, but you have the chalk on your fingers to prove that you have – indeed – made some mistakes of your own. Jesus says that everyone has made those mistakes, so maybe we remember them for ourselves before going and calling out others for theirs.

 

When Jesus has dispatched with the real “haters,” he turns back to the woman. Notice he doesn't overlook the woman, but confronts her. He tells her to “Go, and from now on, don't sin anymore.” Essentially, God is the janitor and her life is a great big chalk board.

 

Hopefully, that she doesn't forget the janitor.

 

To be sure, any time is a good time for a fresh start with God. He is not limited by our conception of time – and how the calendar has been divvied up and labeled – nor is he limited by where we say it is he can or cannot go. The only limitations placed on this relationship are whether or not we choose to ignore the very real presence of God in our lives.

 

We can certainly ignore it, but it doesn't mean God isn't there.

 

So, instead of making it more difficult on ourselves, let's begin all the new things we are beginning in our lives by taking God with us. Even if you aren't starting something new, anything we do is going to be – in some measure – better if we take God with us. He's already there – whether we like it or not – why not bring him in on the journey.

 

AMEN.

 

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