The readings chosen for Lent, as well as the Collects, are always the best. There is always such rich material with which the lectionary preacher may work. Today is no exception, as we have Jesus’ famous encounter with Nicodemus in the 3rd chapter of John. Most of us have heard of Jesus’ famous response in verse 16: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” That is one of the Prayer Books so called “comfortable words.”
But this morning I want to focus on the very next thing Jesus says. And I want to address a very delicate and difficult situation in light of John 3:17. Jesus says, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
The situation I’m talking about has been major headline news in our community this past month. But is also one in which I, and many others, have a deep personal connection. As most of us are aware, 4th grade Venable Elementary teacher Corey Schock was arrested on child pornography charges a little over a month ago. Those charges have now been swapped for even more serious Federal charges. If convicted, sentencing guidelines indicate a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life.
Obviously, I’m not going to go into any detail in this sermon of the very public nature of Mr. Schock’s affidavit, although I would like to reiterate that there is no suspicion of any actual physical contact with any minors. But, there is something important to say into the widespread distress and dismay felt by the many people directly affected by Mr. Schock’s arrest, as well as all who have read a newspaper or looked at a website in the past month. Not to mention, anyone concerned about children, education and community.
Like I said, my own connection is personal. Mr. Schock taught 2 of my children, most recently, my son 2 years ago. He was an excellent teacher – everyone’s favorite. Mr. Schock was rightly revered and honored for his presence in the classroom and his role in the community. Since his arrest, I have served as his pastor, visiting him in jail, trying to support his family, speaking out in public on his behalf. Of course, I will not say anything in this sermon that would compromise my pastoral relationship with him and his family or reveal any kind of inside information.
But, much like the George Huguely case a few years ago, it is important for us to consider this terrible thing in light of the gospel, particular today’s gospel reading -“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world.” What kind of sense, if any, can we make of Mr. Schock’s condemnatory charges? What kind of reaction are we to have?
Because I’m a human being and a father, my reaction is very similar to anyone else who has been directly affected. I’m deeply sad – sad about a world in which bad things happen. I’m especially sad about the local wreckage of Mr. Schock’s arrest. The fallout from these charges has left many feeling victimized. People are trying to cope with a massive breach of trust. As one parent said to me when the Federal charges were made public, “I can honestly say I hope you are still able to be there to support Corey and most especially, his family. They will certainly need all of the friends that they can get.”
They will need support because most of us are tempted to distance ourselves from such a situation – to run away from the reality that these things can and do happen in the world that God so loved. Moreover, we are tempted to judge and dismiss a person – to say to ourselves, “How could anyone do such a thing?” And, we are further tempted to believe that we ourselves are incapable of such wrong.
All of these natural human reactions have to be felt, recognized and expressed. And, if proven guilty of the charges, then an appropriate prison sentence should be meted out and served. We want and need a world in which the powerless are protected. The world has got to operate on a stable system of justice. Theologically, speaking, we call this the First Use of God’s Law. There is right and there is wrong, and everyone is happier when we do the right and avoid the wrong.
And, yet. If there is any word of hope or healing, if there is any “comfortable word” to be said, what would it be? Of course, the comfortable word is supplied by Jesus in the “randomly” chosen lectionary passage – “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Carl Jung once said, “Condemnation always isolates. Only understanding heals.” This is true in the routine interactions of life, and it is also true in the extreme cases. Condemnation isolates, understanding heals.
If understanding heals, then let’s try to understand. To understand Mr. Schock’s situation is to confront our own reactionary, distancing responses. To understand Mr. Schock in light of the Bible is to understand that you and I are 100% capable of similar wrongdoing. This should come as no surprise, especially during Lent’s heightened focus on our own sin. Remember what we prayed in our Collect from last week: “Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, as you know the weaknesses of each of us.”
To be clear, I am not making light of this terrible wrong, nor am I in any way justifying it. The suffering that results from this and any other sin is heartbreaking. Scripture says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
I am saying that we want to run away from the reality that not only do these things happen in the world, but they also could happen in us. We may not go astray from God’s ways in this particular form, but we all have gone astray in one way or another. To ask, “How could anyone do such a thing,” is to be deeply naïve or be in obstinate denial about our own heart. I understand the reluctance to “go there,” but to gain the understanding that heals, then go there we must.
Understanding heals, but condemnation isolates. What Jesus says is that He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. A few chapters after we read what He says, we see what He does. The situation is terrible. A person is caught in sexual sin. She is helpless and exposed. What had been a dark and private secret is now on parade for all to see.
People gather around her, wielding against he the Law of God in one hand and heavy stones in the other. “Teacher,” they say, “the Law commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?” Should we condemn her, Teacher? They had already condemned her with the Law, and are ready to finish the job with the stones.
Jesus, standing by the woman, in the middle of this clutch of angry judgment, bends down and writes something with his finger on the ground. What does he write? It’s not recorded – no one knows. Is he buying some time, gathering his thoughts, praying? Does he recall and write a snippet from his encounter with Nicodemus? Maybe he very clearly, very carefully, very slowly writes out, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Then Jesus stands up and says, “Let him who is without sin among you, be the first to throw a stone at her.” Beginning with the older ones, who have lived longer with the sin in their own hearts, they go away, one by one. The story says:
“Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”
God has not condemned Mr. Schock. That is not only good news for him; it is good news for all of us. In God’s eyes, we are all exposed in our sin. He is the One from whom “no secrets are hid.” Yet, God’s comfortable, understanding word is “neither do I condemn you.” That is good news you and me, for Mr. Schock and our community, and for the world that God so loved that He sent His only begotten Son.
I’d like to close by praying once again our Collect for 2nd Sunday in Lent.
“O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
- John 3:17