As Annie Dillard has beckoned us to consider The Writing Life so Barbara Brown Taylor has set forth the challenge to preachers to consider The Preaching Life. I only take up the matter because I always have believed we who preach walk past Sunday’s need and never see it. If we were more alert, would the paragraphs of next Sunday’s sermon begin to stack themselves all around the text we wanted to preach?
As I write these paragraphs, I am sitting in a small commuter airport in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. I have been thinking all day long about preaching about the woman in
There is only one other man in the waiting area, sitting in this sea of chairs, and he is even balder than I am. I secretly love meeting men with less hair than I have. It makes me feel virile and smug. “Poor devil,” I think to myself as I stare at him.
I’m feeling very good about myself when suddenly I think about the men who held the stones in John 8. They were well-dressed and felt very superior to the poor woman caught in adultery, who had no clothes on at all. I suddenly feel as though I have a stone in my hand and might have thrown it at the poor hairless man across from me. Did I just hear Jesus say, “Let him with a little hair not feel superior to those who have no hair?” No, Jesus never said that! Suddenly I don’t want to look at the man, because I for no reason have looked down on him, thinking about the poor woman in John 8.
What am I doing? Just living the preaching life.
Just to the right of the lonely man is a huge sign on a stainless steel easel that shows two eager children waiting for their father to get home from a business trip. The caption under the picture of these materialistic little waifs says, “Daddy, what did you bring me?” This small sign is set up just beside the entrance to the gift shop, which is filled with teddy bears, plastic model airplanes and a collection of coloring books and gaudy backpacks.
While these objects look like the makings of next spring’s garage sales, I can only imagine they would at least bring some delight to the sallow-eyed children who are looking up hopefully from the steel easel. Is it possible that each of us coming to God look up from the dust where we feel naked before the living God? Is it possible the woman taken in adultery really says as she looks at Jesus with such a countenance and says, “What did you bring me?”
“Just a dab of grace,” says Jesus. “Let him who is without sin first cast a stone at her.” Gradually they each drop their stones, and walk away until only Jesus and the woman are left. Now she knows what He has brought her: the treasures of the moment, the teddy bears, the coloring books, a backpack. There are always gifts, and when there is none left to throw a stone, she can see them. She is alone with Jesus.
So the bald man leaves me. In all this huge sea of chairs now, there is no one else besides me. I am alone. I know lots of people, but none of them are in the Fort Wayne airport. I am by myself. Now I can get honest. I am not as hairy as I thought I was. Whatever made me think I was all that special?
Those to pity in John 8 are the men who drop their stones, for they have left with an unconfessed guilt heavier than the rocks they have just dropped. There is only one free person; she squats in the dust, trying as hard as she can to hide her nakedness, because she doesn’t want to feel the weight of her uncovered soul.
“Woman, where are thine accusers,” says Jesus in his best King James voice, “Hath no man accused thee?”
“No man, Lord,” she replies.
“Neither do I condemn thee,” says Jesus.
How glorious it is to live free of condemnation! What a
My rapture would have been complete, but then I saw him again: the hairless man whom I so severely had judged, only this time I generously visualized him covered with hair, no baldness. Eden was back, all things were so completely perfect that I can see what it is that Jesus really does. He pulls all imperfection from the needy, and they are complete—so complete there is no condemnation.
The man I recently had felt so much better than is in the security line about to pass through the X-ray machine. He seems more real to me, even hairier somehow. I’m the one who seems so bald. “Dear God!” I think, “I wish I had my old ball cap so I could cover my thinly covered pate.”
No condemnation! How glorious!
For now, I have a plane to catch. So I must close my computer and go through security. What will happen when I do? Will the buzzer tell the security guards I have a container with more than three ounces of a deadly shampoo, out of which a terrorist might fashion a bomb? Can you do that? Will they take away my Speed Stick because I have violated a rule?
I hate these measurements, but the man with no hair now has gone through. Maybe I will make it; maybe the guard will say, as did the King on that final day, “You have made it! You are free! ‘Neither do I condemn thee!'”
Well, life is full of illustrations, proverbs, metaphors and Scripture exposition. All I’ve got to do is just be there, to be present in the world. So it doesn’t seem to fit. So there are commentaries that would go deeper. So what?
I enjoy the preaching life, so I’m closing up my computer for now. Who knows what sermons I shall meet once I am through security. Something from Leviticus could be lingering around Delta gate seven. I’ll just have to wait and see.