October 23, 2016 / THROWING COMPASSION / Sara Wolbrecht / John 8:1-11
This past week, all day Monday and Tuesday, our sanctuary was filled with tables filled with students from LWHS, our neighbors across the street. They were going through a Safe Schools Ambassadors training. Fifty students equipped to do the hard work on the front lines at school, the eyes and ears who know how to respond when they see bullying. Exclusion. Shaming. Violence. I am so grateful they could do that here in our space and we could host them. I am so glad and pray for the hard, important work they’ll do this year to change the culture at Lake Washington High School. Wonderful, yes? And yet. I am also so sad that a training like this even has to happen. Right? Are you with me? And the high school certainly isn’t the only place where shaming and stone-throwing is happening. Did anyone watch the third presidential debate from Wednesday? Riiiiiight.
For us to have this conversation that we are having on Sundays this fall, a conversation we’re calling Becoming We, about this radical act of loving our neighbor, looking at how the most important thing we do is loving – loving God, loving ourselves, and yes, loving our neighbor. In this conversation, today, we’re diving into the culture of shame and humiliation and stone-throwing that we witness – in politics, in our schools, in our communities, online – it is becoming part of the air we breathe. And there are a lot of directions we could go with this conversation, but specifically we’re digging into the online world, worldwide web, the virtual ways in which we can love our neighbor well.
To get there, we always start with scripture, turning to the bible as a source of life, of wisdom. Seeing the story of Jesus as echoing throughout time with insight and patterns for us to follow. And today we turn to a place where stones are almost thrown. Literally. Visualize this story as it unfolds…
You probably know this story. The heading in our bibles name it as: A Woman Caught in Adultery. It is in John’s gospel, one of the four biographies of Jesus.
John 8:1-11 Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.
3-6 The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.
6-8 Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.
9-10 Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
11 “No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”
The religion scholars and the Pharisees bring this woman before Jesus. Had she sinned? Yes. Absolutely. But is what they did, bringing her publically before Jesus, ok? They suspected that Jesus would want to tell the woman that her sins were forgiven; but that would mean that he would be teaching people to ignore something in the Law of Moses – that said she should be stoned to death.
Already we can sense the temperature of the situation rising, and with it Jesus’ anger. And rightfully so: do you see how the Pharisees are using a woman, however guilty she might be of serious sin, simply as a tool in their attack on Jesus? And, in so doing, they are enjoying their sense of moral superiority over her, as well as their sense of having put Jesus in a corner that he cannot easily escape from. So much of this scene should make our blood boil.
And Jesus’ answer when it comes, though a risky response, because what if one of them had had the arrogance to go ahead and thrown? His response is devastating. I remember hearing a certain phrase when I was a kid, that I shouldn’t point at others: When you point your finger at someone else, what happens? There are three fingers pointing back at you. This is Jesus’ point. Jesus hasn’t said the Law of Moses was wrong; only that, if we’re going to get serious about it, we will find ourselves guilty. And one by one the Pharisees get the point and go away.
…Jesus, in good form, brings the Pharisees back to examining themselves and dropping the stones. It is this kind of honest looking at ourselves, that the story of Jesus always invites us into. Yes – to see our mistakes, sins, brokenness we always carry, and to hear again and again that invitation, as extended to this woman, “You’re forgiven. Go on your way, keep on living. From now on, sin no more.”
To step this into a modern reading of this story, we’re turning now to another story, one that made headlines in 1998. One that could also read: “A Woman Caught in Adultery.” In 2015 Monica Lewinsky spoke publically for the first time in 14 years. And her TED talk, most of which we will hear now, captures so many of the dynamics we’ve mentioned: the finger-pointing, the culture of shaming. As we watch this, we place ourselves in Jesus’ story as both the woman, like Monica, who yes, has sinned – we place ourselves there aware of how yes, this is us, too. And we place ourselves with honesty and curiosity in the story as the Pharisees who also play out our self-righteousness at the expense of others, and who yes, have three fingers pointing back at us when we do. We hold all of that as we watch.
I acknowledge that this is some heavy, challenging territory we’re covering – I know it is. And we choose to enter into it because here at Salt House: we try to do hard things, the authentic, real, vulnerable things. And so today, we hear Monica Lewinsky – she’ll speak first of her own story and experience in 1998 when she fell in love with President Bill Clinton, she’ll connect it to the online culture that exists today, and then leave us with an invitation into living differently and choosing a path that (though she doesn’t say it this way) very much resonates with the path of Jesus.
Filmed in March 2015, about 20 minutes long, already it’s been viewed over 9 million times. We’ll start about 2 minutes in. Monica Lewinsky, with her TED talk, The Price of Shame.
Matthew 14 says: “Jesus had compassion on them and healed the sick.” – Matthew 14:14
“Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people…’” –Matthew 15:32
“Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.” –Matthew 20:34
“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them…” -Mark 6:34
Jesus lead with, was moved by compassion, compassion drove his actions. I love hearing Monica’s words particularly near the end – this call to compassion, for yes, it absolutely echoes of the pattern, the life of Jesus. And I find it so provocative to consider what it means to let compassion lead us in how we engage online – for there is absolutely a compassion deficit. And yes, we can do something about it.
So what jumped out for you as you watched? What stirred you? What people or possibilities came up for you as you listened and wondered and held Jesus’ story along Monica’s?
To finish our time, I want to revisit three practices of compassion that Monica named as becoming Upstanders:
Communicate with compassion. With our comments, with our own posts.
Consume news with compassion. Imagine walking a mile with that person’ headline. They are an imperfect person, just like us. But yes, a person.
And this one is the most provocative for me: Click with compassion. The price of shame is absolutely the price paid for the things we click on. Advertisers literally banking on what we click and read. Those clicks feeding the future culture of the internet.
As we see this list, as we consider all we’ve heard, we ask what we always ask: what is God saying to us? For us in this modern technological landscape we’re living in, there is much we can do to not throw stones, but to throw compassion into the arena. To throw compassion as we insist on a different way. We all deserve compassion and to live online and offline in a more compassionate world. What can we do this week, to be moved with and respond with compassion?