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Beautiful Things From The Dust

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A sermon delivered by Carra Hughes Greer, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on May 22, 2011.

John 8:1-11

It’s early in the morning and Jesus is teaching a group of people in the temple. Out of nowhere, an angry mob of scribes and Pharisees bring a half-naked woman and parade her in front of Jesus and his students. The woman is terribly frightened and disheveled. The men are angry and begin to tell how this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. “The law of Moses says she should be stoned!” They yell, “What do you say, Jesus?”

The next part of this story is very vague in scripture, but theologians and preachers for centuries have guessed at the details.

Jesus stooped down, wrote something in the dirt. Exactly what he wrote, we do not know. Some scholars say he wrote the sins of all those holding stones. A feminist theologian thinks he might have written, “Where is the man,” referring to the fact only she is being held accountable for this sinful act involving two individuals.

Dr. John Claypool, an Episcopal priest and preaching professor at McAfee School of Theology before he passed away, said this about Jesus writing in the dust,

I think it may have been an act of incredible, ingenious kindness that caused Jesus to stoop over and in writing, surprisingly, in the dust he was able to deflect the eyes of these men and, therefore, gave this woman a blessed chance to get herself together… Jesus never tried to add burdens to the already burdened.[1]  

A powerful theory by Dr. Claypool, one I find most interesting.

After years of pondering over the lost details of this story, I made some connections last week I’ve never seen before.

Let’s go back to the story. It’s early in the morning and Jesus is teaching a group of people in the temple. An angry mob brings a half-naked woman and parades her in front of Jesus and the others. The woman is frightened and disheveled. The men are angry and begin to tell how this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. They yell, “The law of Moses says she should be stoned! What do you say, Jesus?”

Jesus hesitates. Like a destructive tornado, the power and force of this violent mob was so quickly upon him, he had little time to think. What would he do? What would he do?

This poor woman, sinful she may be, but not worthy of this type of torture and at the hands of her own community. Jesus, out of ideas, stoops to the ground, almost defeated by their whirling violence. He searches for the words to say to ease the frantic group of men, now gripping stones in their angry fists. As he thinks, he unconsciously begins to draw and doodle in the dust.  He grabs the sand and as it falls through the cracks between his fingers he has a holy “Ah-ha” moment, “From dust we were created, and to dust we shall return.” He is instantly connected with humanity.

Humankind or “Ah-dam” in Hebrew was formed from the “Ah-domas” or the ground, the dirt, the dust. Jesus knew this, from dirt, from dust we were all created, no one person greater than the next, all of equal value and worth. Each of us equal parts muck and mystery, dirt and divinity. Beautiful things come from the dust.

Jesus now stands to face the mob and reverses the charge, “Let anyone of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” By this time, the woman, feeling certain these men will stone her, flings herself to the ground and covers her head with her arms. Jesus stoops down beside her. And stones begin to fall to the ground around them, not flung in violence, but dropped in defeat all around them as the angry mob retreats.

Jesus stands; he offers his hand to the woman now covered in dust and dirt. Jesus pulls her up and helps her stand. Beautiful things come from the dust. And as tears fall from her eyes, leaving little trails on her face through the dust, Jesus says, “Where are your accusers? They don’t condemn you and neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

I find it interesting the Greek word for “go” also means “come in.” Jesus is challenging this woman to “Go and sin no more,” to enter (to come) into a new life, to come into a new way of thinking and living.

This act of kindness and grace by Jesus is a lesson for us all about the nature of God, but an especially good one for our graduates to hear as they go out into the world.

Many of us here today can vouch for the fact that at some point in your lives you will find yourself as broken and hopeless as the woman in our story. It matters not what mistakes you’ve made or what angry person or people are after you, it is that brokenness, that hopelessness that will leave you face down in the dirt, alone, defeated, powerless to start again.

It’s this type of hopelessness that can defeat someone for years. It’s this type of hopelessness and grieving over mistakes made, promises broken, families torn apart, divorce, death, addiction. It’s this grieving and hopelessness that holds us captive, freezes us in time, unable to move on, stuck in the guilt, in the anguish.

And that’s when Jesus comes along, our redeemer, our friend. He reaches out his hand of grace, pulls us from the grime and grief we’ve been living in, and offers us a new chance at life. Our God is a God of second chances. Not to be taken advantage of. But new life is given to those who find themselves in hopeless situations desperately seeking to be pulled from the dust and dirt of despair. Believe it or not, at some point, you… me… we all will find ourselves there.

Walk from this place, with the assurance that God is a God of second chances, making beautiful things from the dust and dirt of our lives. This community, this church, this family is a refuge for you and place where you can begin again, start over, get a redo, enter into a new life with Christ.

I wish so badly that we had more details about this story in John 8. I often ponder on the life the woman went on to live after this incident. What a gift to be given, what a gift to be given life when others thought she deserved death. What did she do with this new life she was given? Maybe she took in other single women deemed sinful or unclean, gave them a place to live, food to eat, a family to be a part of. Maybe she cared for her children. Maybe she picked up and moved to another community. We don’t know what happened to her, but one thing is certain… she was pulled from the dust by the hand of God, given a second chance, and took it. She didn’t hang around and wallow in the dust of her mistakes; she rose, and walked on. What will you do when you find yourself stooped down in dust and despair?

Amen.  

[1] John Claypool, “The Creative Power of Kindness.”