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"Neither do I condemn you!" Great Lent at St Mary Magdalen Church

We were thrilled to welcome 42 adults to Church on Ash Wednesday, as we began the penitential season of Lent. What follows is The Vicar's sermon for the day, based on the Gospel Passage in John, where Jesus is confronted by the Scribes and Pharisees with the woman caught in adultery.


"This Gospel scene into which we’ve been invited, must have been the most remarkable encounter. It arrests the senses and demands our sincere attention.

 

Scholars tell us that this scene is not found in the earliest manuscripts of John’s Gospel, but the account was added later to demonstrate the reality and power of who Jesus is, which is the central question of this Gospel.

 

In my favourite film, The Two Popes starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Price, there are moments where Pope Benedict and Francis disagree, on most things, but in this story, Francis says something that I’d like to share with you, with reference to our collective human nature, and our innate brokenness.

 

“Confession cleans the sinners’ soul” says Francis, “It does not help the victim.” “Sin is a wound, not a stain, it needs to be healed, to be treated. Forgiveness is not enough.”

 

Today is Ash Wednesday, where we begin our 40-day sojourn with the Lord on the way to Calvary, on the way to the cross. Christians mark this occasion be being confronted with our own frailty, and the reality of our death, and our need for healing and reconciliation.

 

We are marked with ash on our foreheads, and we are encouraged to have a greater devotion and focus in prayer, to fast from some of the things we enjoy, and to give of ourselves for others.

 

The bottom line is that we are invited to radical self-examination; to pay close attention to our conduct as human beings, to be more aware of the loving presence of God in the world around us, and within one another.

 

I also wonder whether Francis’ words ought to be taken very seriously too. Sin is indeed a wound that needs to be treated and to be healed, but perhaps this treatment and healing can only ever be found through our communion with Jesus Christ.

 

This is the truth of trying to Christian. This is the truth of our Gospel passage today.

 

In similar circumstances to being questioned as to whether it was lawful for Jews to pay taxes… the Scribes and Pharisees once again attempt to trap Jesus into saying something unlawful.

 

This is not a genuine enquiry from the Pharisees, Jesus is being asked to condone the killing of this woman, or into condoning the breaking of the law of Moses.

 

Remember, under Roman Law only Roman authorities could commend the death sentence. So, either Jesus is teaching others to break Roman Law, or Jewish Law.

 

Much is made of what Jesus was writing in the sand, as he paused for thought, but writing in the sand is a really common practice even today in the Middle East.

 

Instead, Jesus turns the tables, and moves the focus away from the woman and onto the hypocrites. ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’

 

Jesus demands radical self-examination, and never the judgement of another. Jesus, if you like, holds up a mirror into which these men see just how wounded and broken they themselves are, and yet delight in condemning another.

 

Trying to be Christian is hard, Lent is hard because Jesus demands this same self-examination of you and me. He demands we acknowledge our woundedness and brokenness before all else, and invite in his love and healing.

 

The Lord says to you and me today… ‘Has no one condemned you?’ ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’?

 

Jesus was not sent to condemn the world, but to save world.

 

‘Go your way’, says Jesus, ‘and from now on do not sin again.’?

 

How likely is this though? When I’ve been to confession, the priest says things very similar, and yet I always do. We cannot help but constantly fall short, we cannot help but constantly fail.

 

What then is the answer for this woman caught in adultery, what then is the answer for us.

 

It is not ‘what’ the answer is, but ‘who’!

 

“Behold the Lamb of God” says John the Baptist, “Who takes away the sin of the world!”

 

Sin is a wound, not a stain, that need to be healed, to be treated. This healing will only ever come through our union with Christ.

 

What of your humanity is bruised, what of your human experience needs to be healed?

 

Friends I urge us all to use this time in Lent to invite that healing of God into our bodies, and into our souls.

Let us together witness, what message of love, the Lord will write in the ash of our own hearts."



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