“Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” --Jesus
One of the great joys of our houseboat vacation on Lake Ouachita, Arkansas was having nature walks in the evening with my son, niece, and nephew. We were anchored on a large secluded island that offered great opportunities for swimming, fishing, bird and animal watching, and (of course), digging, and gathering leaves, pinecones, and rocks. The kids were fascinated with the rocks, especially the sparkly white quartz that is a prominent geological feature of this area.
On one of our evening rock gathering expeditions, the boys (who are roughly the same age) got into a fascinating argument about relationships. Clivie was emphatic that Nora was his cousin. And Silas was equally sure that Nora was his sister. And this conversation went on for a while and began to escalate. As they stood there screaming at each other as only 3 year olds can, they started to take the quartz rocks out of their gathering bags and prepare for battle. I separated them, sat down, and said. “Boys! Boys! You are both right! But let’s put down the rocks!”
Lately, especially on social media, many of us have been acting like three year old cousins. We are not listening to each other. We are so sure that we are right that relationships are going by the wayside. (And sometimes that is ok, particularly if those relationships are abusive. Here, I am talking more about relationships that are worth staying in for the long term, or that teach us, change us, ask us to listen and sit with our discomfort instead of talk, and are calling spiritually for our deeper attention). Like the boys, we are driven by fear that someone else might make us look at the world differently, and we are so offended by that, that we are planning our rebuttals, tuning out, or even picking up the rocks and getting ready for battle. Holding on to those rocks so tightly also renders us unable to drop them so we can gather up something new and life-giving.
As I sipped my tea and watched the sun sink into the Ozarks after the kids were in bed, the story of the woman that the Jewish authorities brought to Jesus (with rocks in hand) kept popping into my mind. The authorities in the story just knew they were right. They had the law on their side. Even if it was a law that was driven by misogyny, by patriarchy, by privilege, by legalism, and more importantly, by fear. The woman’s experience didn’t matter. Her story didn’t matter. Her life didn't matter. All that mattered was that the (unjust) law was upheld because her accusers were “right.”
Jesus upended the situation when he invited the privileged authorities “who were without sin to cast the first stone.” He was pointing out that we all sin, screw up, and “miss the mark.” He was pointing out that "all lives matter" only when this woman's life matters. And because of that, we are all called to deep self-reflection - not to focus on the marks that everyone else is missing- but to take responsibility for ourselves, and to invite those without voice to share their stories while listening very carefully. If we don’t do this work the result is compicity, stagnation, self-righteousness, and at worst violence. But by undertaking this journey of repentance and self-reflection intentionally, we can learn to live the way Jesus did, and become justice-seeking, relationship focused, compassionate, world healing, fearless, resurrection people.
I invite you into more conversation about these complexities in worship. I have had a wonderful summer vacation - even and especially in my capacity as nature guide and referee of three year olds. (If we listen carefully, they can be our greatest teachers).
I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday. I have missed you.
Love and Blessings, Rev. Jeanne