Stones that Make Us Feel Good
Sermon by Pastor Doug Stratton
Lev. 24:10-23, John 8:2-11 — March 15, 2020
Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.) They put him in custody until the will of the Lord should be made clear to them.
Then the Lord said to Moses: “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.
“‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.’”
Then Moses spoke to the Israelites, and they took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him. The Israelites did as the Lord commanded Moses.
More than 1000 years later, Jesus was in Jerusalem.
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
CCI: Self-righteousness stones block the power of the Resurrection Life.
Intro: Last week I shared with you my struggle with feelings of rejection. And we recognized that we all share that struggle and carry many weights as we relive our times of rejection. The opportunity to trust Christ bring healing is central to our being free to live a life of resurrection power.
Once again today, I am sharing with you a personal struggle that many of us carry. I want us to think about stones that make us feel good about ourselves, or Stones of Self-righteousness.
Self Righteousness is one of the most insidious sins we encounter in our Christian life. It inflames our pride, it builds walls between believers, it invites justification for our sins, it looks down on those around us. One definition I found is a feeling or display of moral superiority derived from a sense that one’s beliefs, actions, or affiliations are of greater virtue than those of the average person. Self-righteousness often leads to intolerance of the opinions and behaviors of others. Self-righteousness blocks resurrection power in our lives because it makes us believe we do not need it.
As I was thinking about the stones we carry in our lives…
I kept going back to the practice in ancient Israel of stoning people to death. Stoning has been used as a form of community justice throughout history in various religious and cultural traditions in the Middle East. Unlike beheading, which is performed by a single executioner, stoning is carried out by a group. The practice has been documented among the Ancient Greeks to punish people judged to be prostitutes, adulterers or murderers. It is also mentioned in the Jewish Torah, the Bible and the Talmud. In the passage we read from Leviticus, “All those who heard him blaspheme are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.” This was not an isolated act, it was punishment by the community for an act that was seen to disrupt the fabric of society. Stoning was the sanctioned punishment for blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, not honoring the Sabbath, murder and even lying to your father and disobeying your parents. This punishment was to be carried out by the community.
It seems that in very little time, however, stoning became reserved for adulterous women. Adultery was not to be tolerated. The stoning of an adulterous woman reminded the community who was in charge. Rather than being an act of justice, it became a heinous act of brutal vengeance designed to cause pain and humiliation.
Why would they do this? Why such brutality? Why did the practice continue? Why 1000 years later were communities stoning people to death? In the language of sociology, what was the function of stoning?
As I have read these passages there are a couple things that strike me. First, stoning brought the community together to carry out a sentence that was considered appropriate. In ancient Israel, a sentence of death was not carried out by an individual, like an executioner, it was carried out by the community. This drew the community together around a common enemy.
Second, stoning put people in the category of wicked and righteous. The wicked would die, the righteous would live. It was to be a lesson to others. So there may have been a social benefit.
But, I think there was something else. When the community came together to take vengeance on an individual who did not live up the community’s standards, they felt better about themselves. In fact, there was a certain self-righteousness in stoning the perpetrator. Both because they were doing what was right and because they know they were not guilty of such trespass. They were eliminating the disgusting sin from their midst. They were exacting divine vengeance, they were God’s hammer of judgement, and it made them feel good about themselves.
Clearly that is what was going on when the Pharisees brought the accused adulterous woman to Jesus. We caught in the very act! It is interesting to note that they did not bring her partner, but they caught her. This was not something they would ever do. The law of Moses was clear, she should be stoned. And so they brought her to Jesus to carry out the punishment. The stones were in hand, they were warming up for the spectacle, and they threw the woman before Jesus and said, “What should we do, the Law says she should be stoned. Now, what do you say?”
The stone in their life was their self-righteousness and it was an ugly stone. Oh, it looked good to those who were carrying the stone, but all who looked on saw it for what it was. Earlier Jesus had addressed the stone of self-righteousness when he said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This is the fruit of self-righteousness.
It feels good when we see the sins and diseases and weaknesses in others. We often take a secret pleasure when we see someone else stumble. The stones of self-righteousness can make us feel good about ourselves.
But they are deadly to our witness and our walk with Christ. When we carry the stones of vengeance and self-righteousness, the weight will wear us down.
When I was in High School, I went to a Christian school from 8th grade to 11th. Because of changes in the area, I spent my Senior year at the local public school. I was a good Christian and I knew how I should act and how others should act and think as well. My father was a preacher, I was a leader in the Christian Student group, I sang in choirs, I carried my bible and I told others what they needed to do be right with God. I had my act together.
But I also was very judgmental. I looked down on the small Buddhist community in town, I felt sorry for the Catholics in my acquaintance, I kept my distance from the girls who got pregnant and avoided people who swore too much. And none of that struck me as wrong because I had my devotions and I said my prayers. Disdain is probably the best description of the way I felt about others. I was among those who caught the woman and was eager to do the right thing and stone her. I was “Log Eye”. Even today, that log appears when I find encounter people who I know are wrong. I am eager to show them the speck in their eyes, but I ignore my log.
When Jesus was confronted by the angry mob, what did he do? He challenged them to see the log in their own eyes. “You who are without sin, you can throw the first stone,” and then he doodled. We don’t know what Jesus was writing, but it had an effect and slowly, from the oldest to the youngest, the mob left.
Jesus solved the problem of self-righteousness by calling upon the mob to look at themselves.
Jesus could do that, he is the one who was without sin, there was no log in Jesus’ eye. But there is a log, or a rock in the eyes of each of us. The stone of self-righteousness is a universal burden. We need the mirror of the Word of God to reveal the truth. The mirror of the word will reveal the stones in our eyes, it will shine a light on our lies, it will turn over the stones that are hiding our lust, it will break the grip of pride. Because the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The word will wash out the stones in our eyes.
And after we have become aware of our own self-righteousness, there really is only one thing that will keep self-righteousness at bay. “By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” You see, where love is central, there is no room for self-righteousness. When we focus on loving one another, rather seeing faults – we see people. When we love one another, instead of judgment, there is grace. When we love one another, instead of revenge, there is forgiveness. When we love one another, self-righteousness dies. When we love one another the stones of revenge and self-righteousness fall into the sea of mercy.
We are called to live lives of righteousness, but the only righteousness that God will accept is the righteousness of Christ. The Apostle Paul, in I Cor 1:30 wrote: “you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” May we exchange our self-righteousness for Christ’s righteousness by humbly confessing our sin, and embracing the love and grace of God that has been poured out upon us through Christ.