Life Together: Accountability - John 8:2-11
Let’s play a game…Same or Different? I’ll ask you first if you think the two words are the same and if you think so, raise your hand. Then I’ll ask if you think they are different, and if you think so, you can lift your hand. Ready?
Let’s start with a simple one…
Cat and Dog…Same? Different?
Lunch and Dinner… Same? Different?
Let me try this way…
Supper and Dinner… Same? Different?
Interstate and Highway… Same? Different?
Sea and Ocean… Same? Different?
Pink and Fuchsia… Same? Different?
Being Judgmental and Holding Accountable… Same? Different?
We are well into our journey through our Life Together series. In fact, if you were wondering, we passed the half-way mark in the sermon series last week. We began by simply affirming that we are called to a “Life Together” and asserted with the words of Dietrich Bonheoffer that living in a Christian Community is a gift from God...being able to be here with our brothers and sisters is pure evidence of grace. Then we talked about the importance of humility…remember that we are called to serve on another and that none of us are better than one another. With humility we recognized how essential forgiveness is to our “Life Together.” All of us are sinners…all of us have fallen short…all of us are in need of forgiveness…and the forgiveness we need from God is tied directly to the forgiveness that we are willing to offer one another and others with whom we come in contact. Last week we touched on the key that holds it all together…it is what enables humility and forgiveness and becomes the springboard for everything else…Love…the greatest commandments are that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves…and that anyone who says they love God but not their brother or sister is a liar because if we don’t’ love our brother and sister who we have seen then we cannot love God who we have not seen…
This morning we gather to discuss accountability. Some of us may have trouble with accountability. “We’re not supposed to hold one another accountable, are we? We’d have to be judgmental to do that and we are not suppose to be judgmental, right?” It’s easy to get confused.
Jesus says…“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven…” And that verse has become a key verse that has told Christians that they should not tell anyone else what to do…because if you tell someone they are doing wrong, then you’re judging them. Right? I know that’s what I’ve been told.
However, we turn to the writings of Paul as he deals with the Church in Corinth and feeling that since sin has no hold on the Christian, they have tended to let an “anything goes” atmosphere take place, and Paul comes in to hold them accountable telling them that they cannot ignore the sin of a member of the Body of Christ…it must be addressed.
So what is the difference…do we judge or not judge…do we hold one another accountable for our actions or not hold one another accountable…is there a difference between the two? I would say to you that the answer is yes…there is a difference between passing judgment and holding someone accountable…and the difference can be seen in this morning’s reading.
The Pharisees and the scribes brought a woman who had been caught in adultery before Jesus, and in an attempt to trap Jesus once again, using the woman as the instrument of that trap, they say to Jesus, “The Law of Moses says that since this woman is an adulteress then she is to be stoned. What do you say? What should be done with her?” They wanted Jesus to either side with them and condemn the woman, or negate the Law of Moses, which would discredit Jesus among the Hebrew people. Jesus refused to answer them. He bent over and started writing in the sand. We don’t know what he was writing…he could have just been doodling…some folks have suggested he began writing the sins of the Pharisees and scribes in the sand…maybe he was writing the words, “Humility, Forgiveness, and Love” in Aramaic…we could postulate on it all day long…but it really doesn’t matter…what matters is that Jesus was ignoring their questions, refusing to engage in their argument…because as the Scriptures tell us, they continued to badger Jesus to try and get him to answer their direct question. You can hear them now, “Come on Jesus, we asked you a question. What should we do with her? Gotta stone her, right? You do know the Law, don’t you?” They pushed and pushed and pushed. Finally Jesus stood up, looked at them, and said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin throw the first stone at her,” then he went back to writing in the sand. When he looked back up, everyone was gone…not a single stone had been thrown. All that remained were Jesus and the adulterous woman. “Where’d they go,” Jesus asked. “Is there no one left to condemn you?” “No,” the woman replied, we can imagine the trembling in her voice, “they have all gone.” “Well then,” Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go on your way, and sin no more.”
I would suggest that in this scene we see the difference between being judgmental and holding accountable. The Pharisees and scribes easily fulfill the role of being judgmental. They look upon the woman and see a person that needs to be condemned for her past. They respond to her sin with a holier-than-thou attitude, placing themselves above her, ready to see her put to death (maybe before she writes a tell-all book naming some of them as her lovers). Theirs is an attitude of meanness, bitterness, and a desire to hurt. Jesus’ response to them is to offer them a lesson in humility. In saying, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus says to them, “which ever one of you who does not deserve punishment or even death for your own failings be the first one to condemn this woman.” Then, after their self-examination, there is no one left to pass judgment on the woman.
Well, there is almost no one…there is one left who was without sin…Jesus, standing there with this woman. Yet Jesus does not pass judgment, yet he does address her sin…the one who did not come into the world condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him…said, “Neither do I condemn you, go your way and from now on, do not sin again.” Jesus did not condemn the woman, yet he holds her accountable. He does not ignore the sin, but He responds to the sin with forgiveness and love, that does not condemn her past, but lifts her forward toward the future. Jesus’ response is one of love, compassion, and a desire to heal.
My brothers and sisters, we are called to not judge, to not condemn, to not cast stones…but we are called to hold one another accountable. We begin by learning humility…Jesus teaches us that elsewhere, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? … first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” As we take the log out of our own eye…as we remember that we are just as much a sinner as our brother and sister, we learn the humility with which we address our brother and sister’s sin. Once we have hold of the humility, then we remember that just as we have been forgiven, we are to forgive…and we address our fellow Christian with the saving love of Christ in our hearts. Even in this passage Jesus encourages us to hold our brother or sister accountable, for Jesus does not tell us to ignore the speck in our brother’s or sister’s eye, but after we get our log out, then we go to them.
How does this accountability play out? It can only be truly handled in a community of love and compassion…a community in which trust and respect for one another is lived out…a community in which we live a “Life Together” and not a “Life Apart”…a community in which we remember that we are connected to one another. We handle it by confessing our own sins and shortcomings to our brothers and sisters, and allowing their guidance, and humbly and lovingly offering our guidance and support to them overcoming their sins. It is about “being our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.” It is about meeting together, provoking one another to love and good deeds and encouraging one another. It is not about bringing out someone’s sins in a worship service or a church meeting. It is about spending time together with brothers and sisters in small group settings, building levels of trust, and enabling the confession of sin before God and one another…it means being able to say “I have a problem with gambling,” “I have been looking at pornography,” “I am addicted to drugs,” or “I have been stealing from my employer” and rather than having someone stand over you and condemn you to Hell for your sins, you find your brother or sister in Christ say to you, “Is there no one left to condemn you, then neither do I, let us both go forth in our “Life Together,” and sin no more.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.