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Traditional – The Good Fight: Rules of Engagement | Rev. Mike Holly

Scripture Reference – John 8:1-11 (NRSV):

while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and, making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

 Something you need to know is that Jesus was teaching with such authority. He was attracting such crowds that folks who used to run things like the scribes and the Pharisees were threatened by his popularity, people following him and feeling like they were losing control of their grasp upon the religious life of the people.

So the Pharisees and scribes in our Scripture for today set a trap for Jesus. They came to him with a woman who was caught in adultery and asked him to make a decision about her fate. They say to him, essentially, this is what the law says. This is what the Old Testament says. This is what God told Moses to write down.

And are you going to follow it or are you not? Now, like any trap, they have set the trap in such a way that it’s a no win scenario for Jesus, at least when we look at it at first, you see he has the choice to either follow the law and pronounce that this woman should be stoned and get in trouble, or he has the choice to say that they shouldn’t follow the law of Moses, and he could be called out as a heretic for saying that the Old Testament laws don’t matter anymore.

Now, why are all those choices bad moves for Jesus? Number one, the Old Testament has about three different laws concerning adultery. The main two that are sort of referenced, it would seem, by the Pharisees and scribes call for the death penalty. It doesn’t literally say stoning in the Old Testament for the man and the woman, the man and the woman, not just one.

And so they have already sort of skirted over one of the readings, the important readings of that. The second reason that it would get Jesus in trouble is that the Roman leadership, the Roman occupying force, had taken away the ability of the Jewish leaders to follow through with capital punishment, meaning that it would only be Rome’s authority that can allow them to do that.

If Jesus had said to carry that out, he could have been arrested immediately by any one of the Roman guards and soldiers that were on the Temple Mount, and they were normally there to keep the peace because the Jews had a way of every now and then sort of rising up and trying to get these pagan Romans out of God’s holy temple.

So this would have been automatically a difficult thing for Jesus to do. The other is that he would be seen as a heretic, and if he called out as being someone who did not stand firmly on the Word of God. So Jesus finds a different way of dealing with it by setting rules of engagement. And one of the first things that Jesus does is to say that these people and this woman should be treated more fairly.

He says, Let them let him, who has no sin or has not sinned, cast the first stone and one by one the people left. Now, what’s interesting is, is that before and after Jesus says this, what does he do? He bends over and starts writing on the ground. Now, it may have not been a dirt floor, so he was literally riding in the dirt.

It was most likely a nice, beautiful floor made out of stonework. And yet this was a very arid, dry place. There was probably a lot of dust that was trapped out through the area and blew into the area. I almost imagine that he’s writing on these beautiful stones and wiping away the dust like somebody might go to a dirty car window and writing “Wash Me” on it. It seems like Jesus is doing that and we don’t know what Jesus wrote. But there are some ideas from some scholars that believe that Jesus was writing the Ten Commandments or some other commandment like love thy neighbor on the ground. We don’t know that some other scholars believe that they have a better idea, because John tells us that the Pharisees and scribes left one by one.

They didn’t leave as a group, they left one by one. And so the theory there is, is that Jesus, in sort of a a sort of show of hypocrisy, wrote down the names of the scribes and the Pharisees and then wrote their sins next to them. And once they revealed their sin, they walked away realizing that they could not throw the stone.

That just seems too good to be true, right? That seems like a gotcha moment that we don’t know. We don’t know. But we do know is that Jesus changed the rules of engagement. He tried not to have the people casting judgment upon this woman feel holier than thou, or they were somehow above sinfulness. And she alone was to be cast as a person with no worth.

The second rule of engagement is that Jesus tried to treat her as a human being instead of being a pawn in a game and a trap. Just some person being used as bait to trap Jesus. So rules of engagement. We’re talking about fighting. We’re talking about how we can deal with conflict. Well, as Christians now, if we look at what rules of engagement might look like in the world, we might point to the military.

The military has rules of engagement. The world is supposed to have rules of engagement that are followed through because we’re trying to do the right thing in the right way to save as many lives. And this is sort of come up recently in the news as we’ve seen Iraq excuse me, Iran and Israel trade attacks, missiles and drones and things like that.

But notice that even though there’s a big display, normally these attacks are very, very targeted on small things that would send a message but not create a lot of damage. The rules of engagement are essentially slapping somebody in the wrist and saying, stop it because we’ve got bigger missiles if we need them. The rules of engagement, trying to keep it small, to stop anything from getting to dangerous.

Now think about what would happen if countries went nuclear from the very beginning. We wouldn’t be around longer Now. Why is it that that makes sense in military rules of engagement? But what we’re dealing with a spouse or a family member or a person in our community, we go nuclear in step one. Why is that the case? Why do we let our anger force us to just go with guns blazing, as we said from last week, shooting from the lip without thinking about what we are going to accomplish.

So really quickly, I want to show you couple of slides that deal with rules of engagement that some of them come straight from Scripture that would help us in our relationships to make sure that we are finding a way forward together rather than just simply causing arguments and strife. So first, we will speak the truth and love straight out of Scripture, right?

We will speak the truth and love we talked about last week how first, second, Timothy said Paul was telling Timothy, You should teach people the truth, but do so with gentleness and kindness. Love them as you’re showing them something. You’re right. And if we if we just spout the truth off with daggers in our eyes, in our hearts, it’s not really going to convert anyone.

And yet, if we speak the truth and love that love part is important, then the other person can feel safe enough to speak their truth to us. And we can, in a sense, create a an environment where the truth is accepted and heard rather than when it comes with daggers in our eyes and in our hearts. People immediately tune that out and see it as coming from anger and not truth.

Right? Secondly, there be no name calling and no shaming no sticking your tongue out at someone. This is really important when we’re talking about dealing with people and wanting to achieve something together. The second that we name, call or shame, we end up showing that our objective is not to move people towards some positive end.

We’re essentially trying to stomp our feet until we get noticed as right.

Next, we have number three. We will assume that we both want the same things, even if we have different opinions or approaches, meaning that I’m going to assume the best out of you, that you want the same thing I want. This goes back to what we talked about two weeks ago when we discussed how fighting in a relationship, whether it be at home or our community should be about fighting for something that benefits all of us.

If we’re truly fighting for the right thing, it should be a good thing. Some people may not see it that way, but at least we’re fighting for something. And if we’re fighting for something that benefits all of us, why in that, why in the world would we stomp on our neighbors to achieve that end? And then finally, we will take the stance.

It’s you and me against the problem, not you versus me. When we have a you versus me, there are going to be winners and losers. And the losers don’t always want to play ball. After the arguments done, we can win an argument, but we might lose the relationship. So these are rules of engagement. You may take the back of your bulletin and write some of these down.

You may add some new ones. These are the kind of rules of engagement that as Christians we might need to practice. Jesus says clearly several times that if we are going to be going out into the world to represent him, we’ve got to be servants, right? We’ve got to be missionaries. We’ve got to take the truth. But to do so in love, there are times Jesus says, we should shake off the dust and leave town.

But that’s not after going and being in that town for a little while and doing our best. An example of what this might look like came from a training that I went to last year, and it’s a training about how to deal with conflict within a community. They’ve got three practices that they recommend. We’re going to see them on the screen here.

The very first is I will be unusual interested in others. Well, that just sounds very sweet at first, doesn’t it? I will be unusually interested in others. But what that really means is others think so.

They got people on stage sitting up on stage and they were going to argue about something. And I was one of those people that I want to see what they’re arguing about before I become a guinea pig in something.

So I did not raise my hand. I sat in the audience and watched and what they did was they had one person who was able to, of their own accord bring up an opinion. And I think the opinion that he brought up was why Auburn is superior to Alabama, which is, you know, already this was going to be a dangerous conversation in the group here in Alabama anyway.

And some of you are already just getting fists together. I know it. I know it. All right. Some of you are getting your reasons why and reasons why not ready. But this was what they were going to talk about. And the person got two whole minutes to give their spiel to talk about why they believe that. And then we were told that people could respond.

They had one minute to respond, but they could not fight back. Instead, they had to be unusually curious. They had to start their response by saying, “I’d be curious to know. ..” And then they started asking questions about why they felt that way. Now, some people got creative and tried to say. I’d be curious to know why you’re wrong, you know.

You know, that didn’t work out really well. They were stopped in their tracks, said, “No, no, that’s not how we play ball here. There’s rules

of engagement.” And what’s interesting is, is that the person who led off in this conversation was really sort of throwing a lot of rocks in, their opinion. But as they started asking probing questions and they got more polite along the way, the person who spoke at first, their heart kind of softened and they started really having conversations with people.

And that went over and over and over again until nobody had any more curiosity questions. And all of a sudden people were human beings again instead of phones. It was amazing how just being curious about what somebody believes can make a difference why they believe it, what’s going on in their minds, Why does this make sense to them when you may disagree with them and all of a sudden they might be humanized?

It doesn’t say that you have to change your opinion. It just says that you can treat them with respect. Secondly, I will stay in the room with difference, meaning that I’m not going to stop my feet and walk out of the room. This may be the hardest one. Sometimes we think we’re making a stand when we do this, but are we?

Isn’t it more of making a stand if we stay at the room and talk about why we believe what we believe? Making a difference sometimes means taking a stand while you’re in a relationship, not simply walking out of the room feeling right. This is difficult. And like I said, sometimes Jesus tells us that we do have to shake the dust off our feet and walk out knowing when and how to do that is part of Christian maturity.

But at least staying with the difference for a while might help. And then lastly, I will stop comparing my best with your worst. Now, I want to say to you that Jesus does all three of these things in John 8. He is curious as to why these people have brought this woman. He’s curious what’s going on in their lives now.

He’s the son of God. He knows what is going on, and yet he tries to show them why they should think differently, because they have their own sense. Next, he stays with them. And the difference? He does not walk away. He stays there and he allows them to try to bring opportunities for feedback or for a challenge to him.

But they don’t. They walk away. He sort of wins the argument, so to speak, by not even arguing. And then he doesn’t allow their best to be compared to her first. Isn’t it interesting somehow that we think about other people’s worst when we think about our best? Jesus talks about that. He says, Why do you judge someone with a speck in their eye when you have a log sticking out of your eye?

That’s one reason why we have umpires and baseball. And the batter does not call balls and strikes because it look like a strike to me, right? It looks like a ball. It looks like four balls. Actually. I’m going to take my base. We are not always the right people to call balls and strikes. And so therefore, friends, we’ve got to understand that sometimes our worst is just as worst as theirs in different ways.

It’s not always, but at least we need to be more humble about that. We won’t always consider other people’s worst according to our best. And that’s exactly what Jesus does. He says, Let him without sin, cast the first stone, opening the door to at least seeing that this is a human being in front of them. One of the things that I think is beautiful about this too, is the opportunity for mercy and restoration.

If they had carried out the law, she would have no ability change her heart and her mind by Jesus offering her this moment and dispelling the crowd. He’s able to offer her a restored life, a more righteous way of living as she goes on. He doesn’t condemn her, but he doesn’t bless her. He sends her off to live a more righteous life, maybe somehow staying at the table and listening to people allows us the opportunity for Mercy to do its work.

And I want to tell you that this is sometimes the most difficult thing that you can do, the most patient you have ever been in your life, to wait for God’s work, to restore people and to see from your point of view. But when it happens, it really can make a difference. To be a Christian means to fight for God’s way and God’s mercy to change the situation, not us and our own agendas.

But it doesn’t mean that we somehow stop being who God has created us to be, either. Maybe those rules of engagement can be ways that you can make a better way of dealing with conflict in your own home or work. Maybe it’s a better way of dealing with conflict. In the conversations that you have with neighbors, allow yourself the ideas will help you define what it is that will make the best impact in dealing with conflict by following the way of Jesus that we see in John Chapter 8.

Would you pray with me? God, We thank you for your model in your son, Jesus, who perfectly showed the desires of your own heart. Help us to follow Him, to serve you, and to bless others as we figure out how to best stand firmly on your truth. But to serve as we kneel and love others, it is in your holy name we pray. Amen.