Wednesday, December 12, 2012

First Stones

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 -- Week of 2 Advent, Year 1
John Horden, Bishop and Missionary in Canada, 1893
Robert McDonald, Priest, 1913

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 936)
Psalms 38 (morning)     //     119:25-48 (evening)
Isaiah 6:1-13    
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
John 7:53 - 8:11

We dive into John's gospel for a moment today to read the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery.  This fragment is from an unknown source -- it is not original to John -- and some ancient texts have it in Luke's gospel after 21:25 or 21:38.  Regardless of its origins, it is a compelling story.

Jesus halts the punishing sin-patrol with the stunning words, "Whoever hasn't sinned should throw the first stone." 

What if no one ever threw the first stone?  There would be no capital punishment.  Punitive measures toward gay people would disappear.  People would quit threatening others with hell.  What else?

Scholars debate over whether or not 2 Thessalonians is written by Paul or is a later composition written in his style and name.  In this opening section, we hear the author claiming that suffering is a sign of being chosen by God.  He expects that such suffering will be vindicated at the last judgment.  At that time God will right all wrongs and inflict "blazing fire to those who don't recognize God and don't obey the good news of our Lord Jesus.  They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the Lord's presence and away from his mighty glory."  (1:8-9, CEB)

The good news about passages such as these is that they leave vengeance in God's hands.  There is a strong Biblical tradition that says that revenge and vengeance is not a human prerogative.  Who is wise and pure enough to cast first stones of revenge?

The bad news about passages such as these is that they project our vengeful desires upon God.  I wonder, do we do God justice when we assume God will fulfill our darkest violent desires?  In the God that Jesus points us toward we do not see a God of vengeance.  The God of Jesus soaks up violence and injustice through his innocent suffering on the cross and returns only love, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."  God's answer to cruelty and violence is not revenge, but resurrection.

In the anti-Islamic fervor that swelled in the wake of the September 11 attacks, a local pastor made sweeping condemnations of Muslims and the entire Islamic faith by pulling from the Koran some ugly verses directing judgment and vengeance upon non-Muslims.  "See," he said to me, "they want to destroy us!" 

But we've got the same kind of ugly thoughts in our scriptures too.  This passage in 2 Thessalonians expects vengeance and "the penalty of eternal destruction" upon anyone who doesn't "obey the good news of our Lord Jesus."  There are Christians who are comfortable with a God who would wreak vengeance and eternal damnation upon Gandhi and the Dalai Lama.  But that doesn't sound like the God of Jesus Christ to me, nor does it sound like a god who is worthy of our worship.  That sounds like a tribal god, and history has had enough blood and condemnation spread in the name of its tribal deities.  In Jesus, the Holy God chooses not to throw the first stone.

What a morning.  I haven't commented on the incredible call of Isaiah.  Such a great passage.  We can feel the pathos of Isaiah's frustration that his message will not be heard and his warnings will not be heeded, that his nation will blindly pursue a path that will destroy all but a holy stump of their civilization.

What are the prophets telling us today, and how are we closing our ears?


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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:27 PM, Blogger Matt Gumm said...

Your reflection on John 7:53-8:11 is missing something important. Yes, Jesus gives it to the hypcritical Pharisees, but he turns back to the woman as well.

Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore." (John 8:11, CEB).

That passage isn't about "halting the sin patrol;" it is about Jesus calling on everyone to forsake their sin.

Isaiah 6 shows a God so holy that merely looking upon him causes Isaiah to be "ruined" (v. 5). 2 Thessalonians tells about a holy God who punishes sin.

The God of Jesus is not unjust; rather, He is perfectly just in all of his actions, including his punishment of sinners who are relying on their own righteousness instead of Jesus righteousness to save them from sins.

Isn't that the point of this week's collect?

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Blessings to you.


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