Compassion and Challenge SafePlace1 (John 8:3-11)
Those of us who have gone to the Remmel Church (John 3:17’s base) have seen beautiful signs over their entryways that say, “You Are Entering A Safe Place.” They’re not beautiful because of their color or fancy letters, they’re beautiful because the people who put them up are determined to always make that message true. Our aim and goal today and in a later lesson will be to cover the bases to see if we can imitate them and become a “safe place” for all who enter here.
If Tracy Snell will forgive me, I want to use her love for her dogs to make a point… If you know anything about Tracy at all, you know she loves animals. Some of us know that she has at least one dog that is petrified of storms, thunder at least. Whenever a storm is brewing and it thunders, she becomes her dog’s safe place… I think she has a “thunderblanket” she wraps him in. Maybe not Tracy, I don’t know, but there are lots of pets whose safe places are in bed with their owners.
There’s a simple object lesson there. What people need most, when they’re over-whelmed by Satan or life – when life is “thundering” – is a “safe place.”
By now in our spiritual lives, most of us should have heard enough lessons, read enough Bible, and walked with the Lord long enough to know that He was always a Safe Place for anyone seeking refuge from sin or life’s troubles. People in pain came to Him… lepers, lame men, bling men. People in emotional strain came to Him… Jairus and a Roman centurion, both of whom had loved ones they feared they were about to lose to death. People in spiritual wildernesses came… like the Samaritan woman at the Sychar well. Really, throngs of His people came to Him seeking better lives, hoping the Prophet from Nazareth was the long-promised Messiah who could usher in the wonderful peaceable kingdom where lions will lay down with lambs. It follows, since He was/is the Great Safe Place, He wants His people and His churches now to offer a safe place to all who come.
I want to mention a few people who’ve come over the years looking for a safe place… people who’ve messed up their marriages, people who’ve messed up their kids, people who’ve messed up their lives with sin and bad habits, or silly mistakes, some who’ve messed-up reputations with silly deeds, sometimes crimes, that take a long time to pay for, if ever.
A man once came to me and asked if he could belong and be welcome if he had a drinking habit. A woman once asked if God and the church could ever accept her because she had had an abortion. She didn’t come to me, but I know of a 10 year-old girl responding to ask for prayers. It came out in time that her issue was that she wet her pants due to being physically abused by her dad. People have come confessing homosexuality, affairs – all kinds of addictions and hang-ups. Young unmarried women have come pregnant for help, begging churches to take them in. One, about 33 years ago, went in that condition to a parachurch organization not far from here. I know they gave her a safe place because Chase, our son, was born under their care and is ours because of care, love and advice they provided her.
Really, all kinds of people come to church looking to see if people in it are really committed to loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and their “neighbors” as themselves. They’re looking for a safe place and the space a safe place gives for change, healing, and growth. We have but one faithful course to follow: we follow Jesus’ example of loving, welcoming, and helping every hurting, messed-up person who shows up here. There have been hundreds already – us! A safe place is all about love, welcome, and help. Getting grace means giving it.
Let’s go to look at one New Testament story where Jesus offered a safe place:
Early next morning he returned to the Temple and the entire crowd came to him. So he sat down and began to teach them. But the scribes and Pharisees brought in to him a woman who had been caught in adultery. They made her stand in front, and then said to him, “Now, master, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. According to the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women to death. Now, what do you say about her?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some good grounds for an accusation. But Jesus stooped down and began to write with his finger in the dust on the ground. But as they persisted in their questioning, he straightened himself up and said to them, “Let the one among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing with his finger on the ground. And when they heard what he said, they were convicted by their own consciences and went out, one by one, beginning with the eldest until they had all gone. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing where they had put her. So he stood up and said to her, “Where are they all—did no one condemn you?” And she said, “No one, sir.” “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus, “Go home, and do not sin again.” (John 8:3-11 PH)
What did He do that provided this safe place? There are two things He did that we can see and imitate to make us a safe place for people to find Jesus and His healing touch.
But, first, for just a minute, let me remind you of the ways of the world:
Not for many years now, but in the past I have been loose about keeping up with my bank account. There were times that I wrote checks and didn’t have the money in my account I thought I had. You know what? The mean ol’ bank sent me overdraft notices. Overdraft notices are tough! You’re already embarrassed in by the mistake. Then, the bank adds to your grief by charging you money and penalizing you for your mistake.
Now, I understand banks doing that – but it helps illustrate the way the world treats people. The world’s rule is: make a mistake, get penalized. You know what? Most folks know when they’ve messed up. This woman caught in “the very act of adultery” didn’t need “moral police” to highlight her sin and rub salt onto her wound. We know this story – she was just a pawn in a game Jesus’ enemies were playing hoping He would disrespect Moses’ Law so they could condemn Him. So they judged her by the letter of that Law and wanted His agreement. What hypocrites… where’s the man? Takes two to do that tango. And they grabbed only her? She had to be ashamed, angry, afraid, and hurting.
And Safe Place Jesus first dealt with her accusers to bring justice first to them, then to her, but with great compassion! The compassion we give should be un-conditional… not based on our agreeing with the person’s actions, or them meeting our approval, or living up to our standard(s). Here’s an example from one protestant group’s revival long ago…
A prostitute came forward to accept Christ. Broken… crying… clear signs of repentance. Later, when she was “presented for membership,” one member suggested that they delay her request. He was struggling with accepting her because of her past. Samuel Colgate, an heir to the Colgate family fortune (toothpaste, etc.) stood up for her. He said with sarcasm, “I guess we blundered because, when we prayed that the Lord would save sinners, we didn’t specify what kind. The Holy Spirit has touched this woman and made her truly repentant, but He must not understand the type of sinner we want Him to rescue.” And she was welcomed.
Compassion clears the path for people to go forward and sees people’s potential. The man Saul was called to serve Jesus –though he was a murderer of Christians – because Jesus knew his potential. Young John Mark, the writer of the 2nd gospel, couldn’t cut it with Paul and Barnabas on their 1st mission journey and went home. Later, when he was ready to go again, Paul didn’t see his potential, but Barnabas did. And Mark went on to grow up in Jesus and bless the world.
The second thing He did was challenge her to change. What will eventually come out of the love and welcome a safe place gives is compassion and encouragement and then a challenge to live differently, to aim higher, to do better. Jesus told our “caught” woman to “Go and stop sinning.” Most of us have discovered a most amazing and blessed thing: our God is a compassionate God of second chances, and 490th chances if need be (see Matthew 18:22). I think the greatest lesson in the book of Jonah is found in the starting words of chapter 3 (v 1) which say, “And the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” God believed Jonah could do better. Jesus told Peter to forgive up to 490 times! Jesus believed this woman could stop sinning and live differently and better. Think about it…
If a superstar wide receiver drops a pass, does the coach decide never to throw to him again? If Riley Felkins misses a 3-pointer in the 1st quarter, will Coach Whitmire tell the other players to keep the ball out of his hands for the rest of the game? No, other opportunities will soon be given to the receiver to catch and to Riley to score. That’s how God treats us and calls our number again with forgiveness and a challenge to do better.
So Jesus gives other chances with challenges to us to take responsibility for our actions and change sinful behavior. He absolutely challenges sinners to change! When He tells her, “Go and sin no more,” she had a new responsibility. If you have an anger problem, confess it and then take responsibility for controlling it. If you have an alcohol problem, receive God’s forgiveness but take responsibility to stop drinking (to get yourself out of temptation’s way). If you have a pornography problem, you must take responsibility for blocking the outlets where you’re finding it. If you’re running with someone or some crowd that leads you into temptation, change your crowd. God will treat us with grace and forgive us for any sin. Still, we must admit our problem and go to work to overcome it.
The adulterous woman found Jesus was a safe place. We have people here today looking for a safe place. Jesus is the Safe Place. One of our old hymns says, “Sinners Jesus will receive; sound this word of grace to all… Sing it over and over again… Christ receives sinful men… make the message clear and plain… Christ receives sinful men.” If we sing it like it’s a wonderful thing, we have to do it, to be it. Jesus’ disciple must be like Him, a safe place where He can come in through us and make a difference.
Are you familiar with the poem The Touch of the Master’s Hand by Myra Brooks Welch? At an auction an old violin is going cheap until a great violinist comes from the back of the crowd to tune it and play it. I found a Christian song, written by John Kramp, sung by Wayne Watson that takes off on it:
Well it was battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer felt it was hardly worth his while,
To waste much time on the old violin but he held it up with a smile,
Well it sure ain't much but it’s all we got left; I guess we ought to sell it, too,
Oh, now who'll start the bid on this old violin?
Just one more and we’ll be through.
And then he cried, “One, give me one dollar,
Who'll make it two? Only two dollars, who'll make it three,
Three dollars twice, now that's a good price,
Now who's gonna’ bid for me?
Raise up your hand now, don't wait any longer, the auction’s about to end,
Who's got four? Just one dollar more to bid on this old violin?”
Well the air was hot and the people stood round as the sun was setting low,
From the back of the crowd, a gray haired man,
Came forward and picked up the bow,
He wiped the dust from the old violin, then he tightened up the strings,
Then he played out a melody pure and sweet, sweeter than the Angels sing.
And when the music stopped the old auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low said, “Now, what am I bid,
For this old violin?” and he held it up with the bow.
And then he cried out, “One, give me one thousand,
Who'll make it two? Only two thousand? Who'll make it three?
Three thousand twice, you know that's a good price,
C’mon who's gonna’ bid for me?
And the people cried out, “What made the change. We don't quite understand.”
Then the auctioneer stopped and he said with a smile,
“It was the touch of a Masters hand”.
You know there’s many a man with his life out of tune,
Battered and scarred with sin, and he's auctioned cheap,
To a thankless world, much like that old violin,
Oh, but then the Master comes,
And that old foolish crowd, they never understand,
The worth of a soul, and the change that’s wrought
By one touch of the Master’s hand.
Jesus displayed compassion: “neither do I condemn you.” He essentially tuned her strings to play God’s music and took her value from nothing at all to worth more than the whole world. We’re called to see the value people have to God and work to learn to judge them as He judges them. God never intended that faith be used as a sledgehammer. Jesus said “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (John 12:47) “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)