RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES: 3 OVERCOMING ISOLATION
SCRIPTURE: John 8:2-11; Matthew 5:27-30
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
Do you ever grow weary of reading the paper or hearing the news because so many stories deal with kidnappings, rape, shootings, lobbyists and incompetent politicians, defrauding schemes especially of senior citizens, mob or gang beatings. The Bible says our sin is ever before us. (Psalm 51:3). Is it ever, especially in the news.
Today the Christian doctrine we are considering is “Sin” and the story ripped from the headlines is this: Three Florida teenagers have been arrested in the beating and murder of homeless men in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The beatings, which took place early in the morning on Thursday, January 12, 2008, resulted in the hospitalization of two men, and the death of a third. Video surveillance cameras on the campus of the Florida Atlantic University caught the first of the attacks against Jacques Pierre. The other two attacks were committed at the Performing Arts Center, and at Church-by-the-Sea nearby. The suspects were identified when the surveillance video of the first attack was broadcast, which helped bring about the surrender of the first two suspects.
Three youth were charged with murder in the death of Norris Gaynor. Under Florida law, all three were tried separately for this crime, and all three can be found guilty, even though only one may have struck the blows that led to Gaynor’s death.
The AP reported that the forty-five year old victim was buried in Fort Lauderdale after a short funeral service attended by about twenty-five relatives and strangers. His family described him as restless, and as an adult, he drifted around the country working in various jobs. “This needs to be stopped,” his mother, Georgia Gaynor, 72, told The Miami Herald. “I don’t want there to be another Norris Gaynor.”
As the community responded to this heinous crime, many raised questions about what might have caused these young men to choose this violence. Police said that teens close to those charged have told them the beatings were “just for fun”. Sadly, this violence is not restricted to these three teenagers in Florida. This violence has been repeated many times since this one was reported in January 2008.
There are many definitions of sin as there are theologians, if not all kinds of people in the world. In other words we all have our own ideas of sin.
One definition of sin is “missing the mark”. The theological world borrowed the term from the sport of archery where a sin is to miss the bulls-eye. This is a helpful definition, but we need to be clear, what is the mark we are supposed to hit?
A second definition is “Sin is life turned in upon itself.” Meaning, the basis of all sin is selfishness. We sin when we are concerned only about ourselves and not about God or those around us.
A third definition is that sin is separation from God and each other. Consider this: sin (singular) is a state of being separated from God and others. Sins (plural) are the acts and attitudes which separate us from God and each other.
Fredrick Buechner, a Christian author, writes in book, Wishful Thinking, “The power of sin is centrifugal. When at work in a human life, it tends to push everything out toward the periphery. Bits and pieces go flying off until only the core is left. Eventually bits and pieces of the core itself go flying off until in the end nothing at all is left.” (p. 88)
“The wages of sin is death,” is the Apostle Paul’s way of saying the same thing. Another writer observed sin wouldn’t be so attractive if the wages were paid immediately. This is what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 5. They lied to the church about property they sold, and they died on the spot.
Sin kills. Sometimes it kills the body; always it kills the spirit. Our news story today, which involves murder, is obviously a story of sin.
Sin is also described as a perversion of God’s order, the order, which for Jews and Christians, is outlined in Genesis 1, and unfolds throughout much of scripture. It is an order which reflects creativity, nurturing, and interrelationship with God and all creation.
Genesis 3 contains the first sin in the Bible, the story of the fall. It is a story of an attack on order and human dignity which separates the two humans from and each other. The Ten Commandments ratify God’s order. Much of the Penteteuch (first 5 books of the Bible) is given to detailing order and disorder in our lives.
For example, Leviticus 20:10, states a man and woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death. It was believed such actions were a sufficient violation of order, life, and God’s will, that it constituted a capital crime.
These thoughts lead us to the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. This is a strange story and one which bears careful scrutiny. First those who bring the woman to Jesus are the scribes and Pharisees, the religious lawyers and law enthusiasts of the day. They claim they caught her in the “very act of adultery.”
One cannot help but ask where were they during this very act of adultery? The reader is also told they are seeking to test Jesus. Their testing is skewed, for though they make reference to Leviticus 20, they didn’t also bring the man for judgment. They are hypocritical. They are testing another and perverting justice shows their spirits are dead.
There has been a lot of debate about what Jesus wrote in the dust. Since the accusers made reference to Leviticus 20, Jesus probably wrote the word “Death,” or some other acknowledgement of their reference. However, when he speaks he points to another hypocrisy. He says, “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” He calls them from spying on others to examining their own behavior.
Their hypocrisy is double in that they didn’t follow the law in not bringing the man, and they were pointing at the sin of another without self-examination first. In Middle Eastern cultural tradition the group of accusers would be guided by the actions of the eldest in their midst. When the eldest slinks away, so do all the others.
Anything we do, from attitudes to actions, which harm our own life or the life of another, physically or spiritually, is sin. In the sermon the Mount, Jesus states a number of times, “You have heard it said, do not murder, do not commit adultery, but I say to you, do not be angry, do not lust.” Jesus makes these statements because attitudes and feelings are the initial phases of isolation, separation and sin.
We separate ourselves from God, from others, and fracture our own lives. We have acted against the will of God and the direction and order of all creation from its beginning. We are isolated and isolation is a violation of creation since life is interrelated.
The story of Jesus and the woman ends with two statements by Jesus. If the accusation of adultery is accurate, the woman has already separated and isolated herself from he values and people of the community. Jesus did not want to make the situation worse by condoning the actions of her accusers. Jesus overcame separation and isolation in two ways. First, since he was designated as “the judge” in this situation by the actions of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus overcomes her isolation by saying, “I do not condemn you.” Her relationship with God is restored.
Second, he calls her to cease isolating herself by calling her to change her ways by not sinning anymore. She is to work to be a part of the community again. Jesus has not shamed, blamed, nor defamed. He has acted to restore spiritual health to the individual and the community.
Sin is to be taken seriously. It almost always is extremely damaging physically and spiritually. Yet as followers of Christ we are to be careful yet bold in the way we address sin. Our goal is for isolation and separation to be overcome.
Our sin is ever before us. What shall we do? In the case of the three teenagers arrested in Fort Lauderdale it is easy to name and point fingers at these boys as evil. Certainly justice needs to be sought.
Thus as Christians a case such as this Fort Lauderdale can call us to see how we have treated others as less-than-human. In a video clip of the three boys’ arrest in Fort Lauderdale, one of the mothers could be seen telling her son, repeatedly, that she loved him.
The Apostle Paul writes at the end of the 8th chapter of the Book of Romans, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. As a mother stands with her son even in the face of overwhelming evidence that he has done terrible wrong, so God stands with us as we seek against overwhelming odds to overcome isolation and separation and help create God’s Kingdom of peace, goodness, and health.
May we examine our own hearts and lives, and seek to do God’s will.
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH