Last week, I told you about my first car, a 1989 Camaro. I also told you that I was not the greatest driver as sixteen-year-old, in fact, quite the opposite. I have driven at speeds that would terrify anyone other than race car drivers and took chances that no one in their right mind should even consider. I can think of more than one occasion where my guardian angel should have gotten hazard pay.
In spite of my dad being insistent that I learn how to do basic auto maintenance like changing the oil, tires, filters, etc., and I did learn these things, I was not the best at remembering to do much more than put in gas or keep it washed. I might change the oil, or have it changed, or I might wait until it was convenient. Usually the tires were all but bald before I bothered to buy new ones. I mean, let’s be realistic here: that stuff costs money. I could spend that money on dates and hanging out with friends or I could keep my car running and in good shape. I’m sure you can guess which one I chose.
And it finally caught up with me one day as I was on my way how from work. I was driving down I-285 toward the I-20 interchange on the west side of Atlanta when the car started making weird noises. I though at first maybe it someone else around me but then I was passing people left and right and the sound was staying with me. The car shuddered and that was the first inkling that something was wrong. I slowed down thinking maybe, just maybe, I could get home and deal with it there. Surely, it wasn’t anything that bad, right?
No. Such. Luck.
About half a mile before the Bankhead Highway exit, something slammed into the hood of the car – from inside the engine compartment. Then, black smoke started pouring out of the car from what seemed like every direction. I managed to get off the interstate and coast up to the light at the end of the exit ramp. A few guys that were walking down the street noticed the smoke and saw me struggling with the steering wheel and ran up behind the car to push it into a nearby gas station parking lot before getting back on the sidewalk and going on their way. Apparently, I wasn’t the first person to do this.
I got out of the car to survey the damage. Streaks of black fluid ran over the hood and down the side of the car. I opened the hood and was greeted with a blast of heat and the sight of an engine covered in fluids and smoking like a chimney. I called my dad on an old school pay phone and he called up a tow company to bring the car to the house. When we finally go it to my dad’s cousin’s garage, we found out that because I had not been checking the oil, it had burnt up most of it. Without oil to lubricate the engine, it locked up and began to destroy itself from the inside. Brian, our fearless mechanic, handed me a handful of gears and bearings that had been chewed up and deposited in the oil strainer within the engine. In the end, I had to buy a new engine for a car I had not yet paid for and was without my car for the better part of two months. If I had gone on a few less dates or trips with friends, I might have bothered to maintain the car and might have spared myself several hundred dollars to buy a new engine.
Taking care of the broken
We have been talking for the past several weeks about what it means to get ready or get packed for the journey of faith and last week we talked about understanding who we are and what God has made us to be, our vehicle that transports us if you will. This week we will talk about the idea of spiritual wholeness.
In the passage today, there are a lot of broken people. Some of them have come to hear Jesus teach on the steps and in the porticos of the Temple. Others have been putting together a plot to trap Jesus and expose him for a fraud. While yet another is a person with a checkered past and wounded spirit who has been dragged into this situation as a pawn for powerful people playing a political game.
Everyone involved here has some sort of spiritual life; some are vibrant and growing and some are on life support and barely breathing. One of the things that you can see in some of the people in our passage is the idea of one-sided spirituality. One-sided spirituality means you have found your gift, your thing you are called to do based on who you are and who you were made to be but you have engrossed yourself so deeply into it that it has become harmful to you and to others.
The Pharisees are a good example of this. Pharisees were the teachers and interpreters of the law – all six hundred individual pieces of the law. Their knowledge of the law and ability to apply it was extensive enough that they could determine how people acted and what they believed. People trusted that knowledge and seldom questioned them. Unfortunately, that knowledge led to undernourished sense of grace and forgiveness and a dependence on strict adherence to law and strict penalties for breaking them. This is called legalism, the idea that the rules have to be enforced without thought or regard to the circumstances.
In the case of the scripture we read today, those laws and that legalism were what drove the Pharisees to try to trap Jesus. They brought a woman who was caught committing adultery and threw her before Jesus as he sat teaching near the Temple grounds. Two little asides I have wondered about – how did they know she was committing adultery unless they had been watching her or worse yet, had trapped her and second, where was the man who was committing adultery with her? Ah, patriarchy thy name is Pharisee in this case. Aside from all that, the point they wanted to make was that if Jesus was a good and just teacher and a true prophet, he would condemn her and join them in stoning the woman, the proper penalty for adultery. Jesus sees through their ruse and starts writing something on the ground. Maybe he is writing the sins they have committed. Maybe he is simply, doodling and waiting for his silence to unnerve them. In any case, he eventually looks up and says, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
Eventually, the Pharisees figure out that they have been had. The older ones, those with a little more awareness and a little less zeal, leave first followed by their younger counterparts until only Jesus and the crowd were left with the woman. He asks her where her accusers are, the men who were trying to stone her, and she says they are gone. No accusers, no crime. Yet, Jesus knows she has broken faith with God, her people, and her faith. He says to her,
“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
The one-sided spirituality of the Pharisees drove them to a place of most likely trapping or at least manipulating someone into a situation that nearly got her killed.
While our one-sided spirituality may not get other people killed, it may still harm us and others. When we embrace our gifts and use them in ways that are not balanced or in ways that are not healthy, we run the risk of harm to ourselves and others. In the same way a knife can used to cut vegetables or cut a person, our spiritual gifts can be used to bring healing and wholeness to ourselves and others or bring hurt and pain. Quite often we become Pharisees in our own way, choosing a single understanding of the faith or a single-minded idea of how to use our gifts and talents, even if it means we hurt people in the process.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Societies, had three rules for the people who studied and served in the group. First, do no harm. This was basically a simple restating of love God, love neighbor with the added idea of making sure that you did not do anything to hurt others in your zeal to love. Second, do good. It isn’t good enough to just avoid harming others, we are called to actively help them in their journey, whoever they are and wherever they are. And finally, attend to the ordinances of God. Practice the sacraments and the means of grace that draw you close to God and those around you who follow Jesus.
These three rules, all variations on scriptural ideas, if practiced, may well keep us from having a one-sided spirituality and may well lead us to wholeness. This wholeness, another word for salvation, is the goal of every follow of Jesus; to live into, to grow into a mature, complete or whole faith and relationship with God through Jesus. But this wholeness is dependent on keeping ourselves running right, on staying spiritually balanced and healthy. Otherwise, we may find ourselves broken down on the side of the path.