Back to the Future

August 4, 2013

Back to the Future
So this was how it would end.  Public humiliation and possibly a public
death for a private act, an act that they had never been intended to be shared
with others and certainly not made public. 
It had all started out innocently enough, a shared glance, an innocent
touching of hands, a long conversation and it ended in with her doing what she
never thought she would do.  How often
had she heard her rabbi warn his congregation that “Sin will always take you further
than you want to go it will always keep you longer than you want to stay and
will always cost you more than you want to pay.”
But she thought she was in control, but she wasn’t and this
was how it would end.  Public humiliation
and possibly a public death, and the disgrace would not just be hers; it would be
shared by her parents and her children. 
We all know the story; we read a portion of it earlier from
John chapter 8.  There are people all the
time who use the phrase “Cast the first stone” and have no idea that it is part
of the Jesus story.  We also hear those
guilty of a variety of offences who try to escape judgment by invoking the same
phrase. 
This is week seven of our Summer series “A Red Letter Summer”.  From June to September members of the preaching
team here at Cornerstone are focusing their efforts on the Red Letter words in
the Bible.  And those are the words of
Christ.  The origins of Red Letter words
stretch back more than five hundred years when calendar makers decided it would
be cool to print Holy Days in Red so that people wouldn’t miss them.  They became Red Letter Days.  In 1899 an editor with the Christian Herald
magazine came up with the idea to print the words of Christ in red and as they
say, the rest is history. 
 This is one of the
great Jesus stories.  You are all
familiar with it and if not you heard it read a few minutes ago.  In an attempt to trap Jesus the religious
leaders bring a woman to him for judgment. 
Not sure they were really interested in justice as much as it was just
an opportunity to have Jesus either a) prove that he wasn’t all that interested
in extending grace or b) that he wasn’t all that interested in obeying the law
of the Old Testament.  Either way, the
woman was just a pawn. 
But instead of playing their game Jesus did what he did so
well and he turns the tables on those who were trying to trap him. 
When they demanded that he take part in the condemnation of
the woman he bends down and begins to doodle in the dust. We have no idea what
he was writing, there have been all kinds of theories but that is all they are,
theories, because we don’t know.  Maybe he
was writing names or sins or maybe he was just doodling but to guess would be
just that, a guess.  But then Jesus looks
up and extends one simple test, he tell them, “If you want to judge her that’s
fine, but first judge yourselves.  What
makes you so worthy of being her judge?” 
And they all walked away. 
There have been some who speculate that Jesus was writing the names of
girlfriends and indiscretions in the dust but there is no evidence of
that.  Maybe the religious leaders were
simply afraid of what he might be writing. 
Reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, where he said “I once sent a
dozen of my friends a telegram saying ‘flee at once – all is discovered.’ They
all left town immediately.”  Perhaps it was the religious leader’s guilty
conscience that caused them to leave, we will never know this side of
eternity.  But there are lessons to be
learned from the story.
John
8:3
As he (Jesus)  was speaking, the
teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught
in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
It
Started With Her Problematic Past. 
You ever get the impression that the woman here was an innocent
spectator? You kind of get the idea that she was just standing on the side of
the road minding her own business when  they grabbed her and dragged her to
Jesus. 
And maybe she was, crazy things
happen.  Don’t know if you read the story
recently of the 24 year old Norwegian woman who was working in the United Arab
Emirates.  One evening after dinner and a
few drinks she claims that she was raped by a colleague from work.  When she reported it to the police she was
charged and convicted with public intoxication and having sex outside of
marriage.
So maybe there is an outside chance that
this lady had been framed.  But we don’t
know that, all we know is that in the story the charge was that she had been
caught in the act of Adultery. 
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard
this message preached and I’ve always gone away feeling sorry for the
woman.  Hold it.  The woman was an adulteress.  The Bible says that she’d been caught in bed
with a man who wasn’t her husband.  Now I
don’t know for sure what she was doing in bed with the man who wasn’t her
husband but I’d be willing to bet they weren’t playing checkers. 
We immediately think that this woman
broke one of the Ten Commandments, but in reality she broke several.  It started when she broke commandment number
Ten when she wanted what wasn’t hers to have. 
Thou Shalt Not Covet.   We don’t
know what it is she wanted, maybe it was simply the physical, or maybe it was
deeper than that, maybe she was looking for an emotional connection that was
missing with her husband that she saw in someone else.  But either way she wanted what wasn’t hers to
have.    
And then if the man she was involved with
was married she broke commandment number eight, when she stole the affections
that belonged to someone else.  Thou
Shalt not steal.  And finally she broke
commandment number seven when she slept with a man who was not her
husband.  Thou Shalt not commit
adultery.    
And in 2013 some people may be thinking:
what’s the big deal, People have affairs all the time.  Notice how we have even sanitized the act,
from adultery to an affair.   But the reason adultery made the big ten is
because it is so destructive. 
Destructive to individuals, destructive to families and destructive to
society as a whole.  Adultery is not a
victimless sin and often those who are hurt go far beyond just the betrayed
spouse.  It was Natalia Ginzburg  who wrote “No adultery is bloodless.”  Partners are hurt, children are hurt,
relationships are damaged and trust is destroyed.
And because of her past, because of a
decision that she made she was brought to judgment.
Now understand that we all have a
past.  It may not have included breaking
commandment number seven but I would suspect that it involved breaking some of
the other the commandments.  And for
those who piously claim that they have never broken any of the Ten Commandments
Jesus takes it to an even higher level when he challenges people to not only
take responsibility for our physical actions, do not murder, do not commit
adultery and do not lie.  But to take responsibility
for our thought lives as well; do not even lust after someone who is not your
spouse, don’t even hate someone, don’t just be a person who doesn’t lie because
you’ve taken an oath, be a person of integrity who doesn’t lie, ever. 

But nobody should be defined by their worst moment.  To those who would judge this woman she was
an adulteress, but she was so much more than that. 
And it’s not just individuals who have a past; churches have a past as
well.  At Cornerstone we have done some
right things over the past 18 years and some wrong things.    There are things that I would do over again
and there are things that I wish I could do over and correct the mistakes I
made.  Mistakes in dealing with people,
mistakes concerning the direction we took and decisions that were made. 
In the same way that nobody should be defined by their worst moment churches
shouldn’t be defined by their worst moment. I’m sure there are some people who
have had a bad experience with Cornerstone, people who might say;  “Well I tried that church once and I didn’t
like it, nobody talked to me, the worship was terrible and the preaching stunk.”  Well maybe we were just having a bad day.
It was W. Somerset Maugham who said 
“Only
a mediocre person is always at his best.”
The great thing about the past is that it’s the past.  It’s gone and it’s finished.   

We can’t deny our past but we shouldn’t live
there.  The past makes a great classroom
but it shouldn’t be your living room. 
However it was this woman’s past that brought her to where she now stood.   
John
8:4-5
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of
adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

Which Brought Her to Her Present
Reality
And her present was defined by her past.  She was where she was because of choices that
she had made.  If she had not committed
adultery then she wouldn’t have been standing in front of Jesus while others
discussed her future. 

According to the religious law
the penalty for committing adultery was death. 
She was caught in adultery and was being sentenced.  There was no defense for her; she couldn’t
appeal to a higher court.  She had
started writing the story and her accusers would finish it for her.  As a Jewish woman, in a Jewish culture,
raised in a knowledge of the Jewish law she would have known the consequences
of her actions.  We might choose to ignore
the words of the law laid down in the Old Testament but for her that wouldn’t
have been an option and she would have known the words of  Leviticus 20:10 “If
a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who
have committed adultery must be put to death.
When she started down that path, she
would have known the ultimate destination if she got caught.  She may very well have thought that she
wouldn’t get caught but she knew what the law dictated would happen if she did
get caught.
We might feel sorry for her, we might
feel that the punishment didn’t fit the crime, after all what would happen
today if adulterers & adulteresses were put to death?  Other than the fact that it would solve the
overpopulation problem, the unemployment problem would be solved with all those
jobs opening up, Hollywood would be a virtual ghost town and most of us would
lose some friends.
And as much as we might feel that this
was extreme and unjust action, at that time, in her country, under her religion
according to her traditions and customs she was simply getting what she
deserved, no more no less.  And she knew
the consequences if she got caught, but like most of us she had no intention of
getting caught.
But understand this, it was the choices she had made
yesterday that determined where she was today. 
All of us are where we are in life today, for better or
worse, because of choices we made yesterday. 
The temptation in our life is to say “why me?”  The real question should be “Why not me?”  Each of us are where we are today because of
choices that we made somewhere along the line. 
The decision to study in school or slough off, the decision
about where we would further our education and what courses we would take, the
decision of who we would marry.  Some of
you may be thinking, well I didn’t want to get married, we had to.” Well that
involved another choice didn’t it?  Every
addiction began with a choice, you may be thinking “I don’t have a choice, I
have to do it.”  But you made the choice
at the beginning, the choice to try whatever it is you are addicted to.
Last week Angela and I watched “Back to the Future” for the
first time, and there is the pivotal scene were Dr. Brown tells Marty to be
careful who he interacts with because his actions in the past could affect the
way the future turns out. 
And he was absolutely right because our today is shaped by
our yesterdays.  The woman made a choice
in her past that led her to the present. 
A different choice would have led her to a different reality.  It was the French philosopher Henri L.
Bergson  who wrote “The present
contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was
already in the cause.”
In the church it is the same way, choices that we made
yesterday affect where we are and who we are today.  Sometimes we made the right choice, we had
our choice of four properties to choice from when we were building, this was
the bottom on my list but now it’s obvious the right choice in many ways.  And because of that decision that we made 9
years ago we are in a prime location today.  On the other hand if we had of bought it when
it first came on the market we probably could have bought five times the land
for half the price, oh well. 
There are issues that we have with the building today
because of choices we made when we were building.  Including only air conditioning the worship
centre.  I’m sorry.
Because of choices that we made about what our services
would look like and how I would preach there are people who made a decision to
not to come to Cornerstone, and that has coloured who we are.  On the other hand  because of choices that we made about what
our services would look like and how I would preach there are people who are
committed followers of Christ because we are what we are. 
It is when you accept the responsibility for where you are
that you acknowledge that not only what you did in yesterday has shaped the
today but what you do today will shape tomorrow.  God gave us the gift of our “free will”
because he knew that if we choose to that we will make the right decision. 
So you understand where we are in the story.  It had started with a decision she had made
in the past that led her to where she was in the present.  And sometimes we can’t get past that
point.   We look around and say “poor me”.  We look back and wish that we were able to go
back and redo whatever it was that we had done that brought us to where we
are. 
But you can’t change the past.  It was Dale Carnegie who cautioned us “Don’t try to
saw sawdust.”
And Jesus knew that he couldn’t change the woman’s past and regardless
of what the religious leaders were trying to get him to commit to, he refused
to alter her present, but what a gift he had for her.  Let’s go back to the story.
John
8:10-11
Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your
accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. In
that statement Jesus dealt with her past, “Where are your accusers?  Where are those who want to remind you of the
mistakes you made yesterday?”  And he
dealt with her present.  At that point in
time she was humiliated, shamed and possibly facing life or death.   And Jesus asked “Didn’t even one of them
condemn you?”
For her,
this was the greatest gift that she could have been given.  But the gift that Jesus had for the woman was
much greater than forgiving her past or saving her from her present.  Because Jesus goes on to say  And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin
no more.”

Jesus not only forgave her past sins and changed her present reality the greatest
gift he offered was Jesus Offered Her a Preferred
future 
When counselling folks I often challenge them first to
describe their present reality, where they are now and then ask them to
describe their preferred future, where they would like to be.  It’s only then that we can work on how to get
from point “A” to point “B”.

You understand that is the great thing about understanding that we are
responsible for where we are? 
When I talk to people about acknowledging that their choices have led them
to where they are today, what they first hear is that they have to accept the
blame.  Not at all, it’s not about blame it’s
simply about responsibility.  Your
choices are also responsible for all the good in your life as well.  Married to the love of your life?  That was a choice.  Love what you are doing for a living?  That was a choice. 
You buy a car and you have problems with it and you think “Well, I chose to
buy that car, I have to accept responsibility for my choices.”  But there’s the other side of the coin, if
you buy a car and it’s awesome you made that choice as well.
So once you acknowledge that what you did yesterday has shaped where you are
today then you will understand that what you do today has the power to shape
your tomorrows. 
Jesus was sending this woman back to the future.  He was giving her the chance to shape her
tomorrows without the baggage of yesterday. 
So often people are quite happy to quote the first part of what Jesus
told the woman while ignoring the second part. 
They love the “Neither do I (condemn you)”  but they seem to forget that Jesus
went on to say “Go and sin no more”. 
Jesus had wiped away her sins, he had given her a clean page to write her
future on, but she would have to be the one who would write it.
Today you have the opportunity to start over.  To say “I can’t change my past but I can
change my future.”  Are you willing to
let go of your past?  Are you willing to
define your future by your actions today? 
And it’s tough, if it was easy everybody would be doing it but just as
Jesus believed that the woman caught in adultery could make the right choice he
believes that you can make the right choice.
And that challenge is not just for us as individuals but also as a
church.  The biggest challenge we have at
Cornerstone today is looking past our success. 
To understand that, just because what we are doing worked yesterday and
today doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow.  Sometimes what works today won’t work
tomorrow.
We have reinvented ourselves several times since we began worship together
18 years ago, the message stays the same but we are not the same church we were
in 1996, or 2006 or 2011 for that matter and hopefully we aren’t the same
church we will be in 2015. 
What do you want your personal future to look like?  What choices will you have to make today to
make that happen?  What do you want the
future of Cornerstone to look like?  What
choices will you have to make today to make that reality? 

One of my favorite verses is Philippians
3:13
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not
achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking
forward to what lies ahead . . .
Today Jesus
is offering you a brand new future.  But
it’s up to you,  will you accept the gift
and the challenge?  And as I close let me
leave you with the word of Barbara Bush, who said, “May your future be worthy of your
dreams.”