1while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
(John 8:1- 11, NRSV)
Have you ever needed a do-over? Well, I have. Before I explain, I give my word that the details and accounts of this story are all 100% historically accurate.
“All I want for my birthday is for everyone to get along and not yell at each other!”, Charlotte exclaims as the four of us engage in a family hug and make up moment, late on Halloween night. Children’s behavior on Halloween night is surely God’s punishment for something. Or so it seems. We are finally back at home after a very wet and soggy trick or treating hour on Ryder Road. The candy has been sorted and divided – and eaten. The sugar rush is real. And the parents in our home are ready to call it a night. After all, the next morning is Charlotte’s 9th birthday – a day which she has been excited about for at least three months. My mind is rushing with all the things I’ve yet to do in order to make her day special. As I plead with my children to get in the bed, my mind is racing. I’ll bake the cake in the early hours of the morning while the kids are still in bed. I’ll wrap the gifts while the cake is baking and make sure that her birthday plate is washed and ready for a special breakfast. Then I’ll pack the school lunches before waking up the kids. I am startled back to reality as I notice one of my children literally hanging upside down from an over-the-door pull up bar while the other is doing repetitive handstands in lieu of brushing teeth. Thus, ensues the yelling followed by the hug and makeup session. It is then Charlotte states her innocent request for a yell-free birthday where “everyone loves each other all day”, as she puts it. I turn out the light, hug her and say, “You got it baby girl. No one is allowed to yell tomorrow. It’s a love only day and it’s going to be a great birthday. Now I want to kiss that eight-year-old face one last time! Sweet dreams my lovies, good night.”
Around 11PM that evening, we lose power. Our family sleeps with white noise machines in each room for sounder sleeping. Well, when the white noise stops, the quiet becomes deafening and children wake up. And children get into our bed, where two adults are sleeping and a 100 pound dog. Did I mention Halloween night was exceptionally warm this year? With the power outage, the cool flowing air stops too. I lie in bed in the stagnant heat on my 6 inches of mattress; and I pray that the power comes back on before morning.
We wake at 5 AM and there is still no power. Jacob and I stumble our way to the kitchen where we discover we have only two candles and one working flashlight – a mini one at that. He gets ready for work and leaves. I pray that the kids stay in bed as late as possible. The kids wake up an hour earlier than usual. In my wearied state, I dig deep for all the birthday enthusiasm that I can muster. Happy birthday! I say to Charlotte as I shine my measly flashlight onto her birthday banner that I did manage to hang in the dark. Begging the kids to go back to bed, they refuse. Charlotte is ready for her birthday breakfast and Aaron doesn’t want to be alone in the dark. I leave them in the living room, with two Yankee candles a blaze and I escape to the kitchen to figure out breakfast by mini key chain flashlight.
Thankfully, our stove runs on gas. I crank up three burners and begin preparing a hot birthday breakfast to the best of my ability. I have eggs in one skillet, a croissant heating in another and bacon in a third. I’m monitoring it all closely, while remembering that I now can’t make Charlotte’s birthday cake. I feel like a loser mom, as I should have baked it earlier. And physically, I feel sleep deprived and angry at our power loss timing. I suddenly hear Aaron screaming in the living room. It is the kind of scream where you know something is very wrong. I envision that perhaps one of the candles has flipped over and he is on fire. I drop my spatula, and race to the living room. As I round the corner of the kitchen, I trip on the dining room rug and careen with full force into the corner of the dining room table. I am now rolling on the floor, holding my shoulder and my shin, trying not to cry. The screaming ensues in the next room. I limp into the living room and yell, “What’s the matter?” Aaron stands up from the chair and says, “It’s a spider!” At this moment I become devoid of any form of mindful or loving parenting. I lose it. “A spider! Really? A spider? Was it a poisonous Tarantula from the Amazon that crawled across the ceiling? Why in the world would you react like this? I almost killed myself! Never ever scream like that again unless you’re literally on fire.” At this moment, I remember, the actual fire that is on my stove. Before I can turn around to go back to the kitchen, Charlotte, stands up and screams, “All I wanted for my birthday was to have a day with no yelling and everyone to love each other.” She stops off to her room, slams the door and starts wailing into her unicorn pillow. Aaron, rightfully upset from my angry outrage begins to cry and lies on the couch. I go to the kitchen for a mom time out and to salvage any non-burned food.
After a few moments of reflection in the darkness of my kitchen, I decide we all need a major do-over. I gather Aaron from the couch. I pick up Charlotte off her bed. We walk into the master bedroom in front of the big full length mirror. The three of us stand in front ̶ our distraught faces reflecting back. “We’re going to have a do-over,” I say with spirit. “We’re going to spin around three times together. When we are done, we are going to start this day over. Deal?” All agree. So we do. And we did. We start over. It isn’t perfect. But it’s much better. And there’s calm. There’s intention. And there is love.
Some do-overs are easier than others. In some cases, we are able to correct a wrong before more damage is done. But there are other times when no amount of starting over will erase the cruel words we’ve spoken. No matter how many do-overs we wish for, we will never be able to take away the pain that we have caused another. But we can admit when we are wrong. We can ask for forgiveness. As Carl Bard reminds us, “although we can’t go back and make a brand new start, we can start from now and make a brand new ending.” Through repentance, we make intentional choices to walk the way of love next time.
Our scripture is filled with people in need of a do-over. In Genesis we see a son who makes terrible life choices and walks a path of total self-destruction. Hitting rock bottom and overcome with self-doubt, he seeks out a do-over with his family. We know the familiar story. The loving father accepts him with open arms, and a celebration. The do-over begins.
In our story this morning, we witness a woman who is given a do-over. Early one morning, Jesus is teaching in the temple. The service is interrupted by a group of men – scribes and Pharisees to be exact – who bring a woman before Jesus. The men explain to Jesus that this woman has been caught in adultery. They insist that proper punishment be administered for such a crime. According to the Law of Moses, public stoning is her fate. In an effort to test Jesus, the men look to him and proclaim, “What do you say?” Jesus does not respond. He simply bends down and writes something in sand with his finger. Jesus’ nonresponsive attitude is bothersome to the men. They press him more. In essence Jesus says to them, “Is there anyone here today who is perfect? Anyone? Well okay then. Let the one who has made no mistakes throw that first stone.” He bends back down and etches another message before those standing. The text tells us that one by one, beginning with the elders, people began to leave. After a few moments, Jesus and the woman are the only two remaining. Jesus says to her, “Where are they? No one is condemning you, are they? She responds, “No one.” He says to her, “Well I don’t condemn you either. Go and start over.”
I have always wondered what Jesus’ message in the sand said. It is powerful enough that it does not lead to any further questioning from the crowd. Author and theologian Ruth Everhart speculates that, “Perhaps [Jesus’] words are undisclosed because we are meant to supply them from our own experiences of grace…. Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you.” It’s a passage that calls [us] to a ministry of grace and compassion.” Do-overs begin in spirit of grace.
Maybe we need a do-over with someone we love? We’ve said something we didn’t mean or we did something out of our own selfish wants. We’ve not been there when we should have. We’ve not pulled our weight or given enough of our time. Maybe we’ve held a grudge for far too long. Maybe we’ve been too consumed with our own lives that we’ve neglected others. Do-overs with one another begin with grace. They take hold when we recognize our humanity and our weaknesses. Do-overs begin as we call attention to our flaws. We become more intentional, more mindful as we seek to redeem what we have lost along the way. Do-overs with each other require compassion and grace.
Maybe we need a do-over with ourselves? Maybe there are unhealthy patterns or behaviors that we want to change. Maybe we’ve let self-doubt and self-hatred call the shots in our life for far too long. Maybe we’ve allowed skepticism and criticism to alter our view of the world. Maybe we’ve been silent when we should have spoken up. Maybe we should have listened more instead of making assumptions. Maybe we could have tried the new thing or taken the opportunity. Internal do-overs require grace and compassion. They require an intentional re-set as we strive for wholeness, healing and authentic living.
Maybe we need a do-over with God. Maybe somewhere along the way, we stopped tuning in to God’s spirit of truth and love. Maybe we’ve neglected to see others as made in God’s image. Maybe we’ve ignored the least of these. Maybe we’ve neglected to appreciate God’s gifts. Maybe we’ve bought into greed over gratitude. Our communion confession prayer during the season of Lent resonates with me every time we say it aloud. Most Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Have mercy upon us and forgive us. Do-overs with God begin and end with grace and compassion. We see it in the eyes of a father who welcomes home his estranged son. We see it in Jesus’ face as he responds, not with disdain or judgement but with love. For the hymn writer reminds us, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea; There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty. For the love of God is broader than the measure of human minds, and the heart of the Eternal is more wonderfully kind.”
What kind of do-over do we need today? Is it an internal do-over? If so, be kind to yourself – begin again in grace. Do we need a do-over with someone we love? Start with compassion and intent to regain what has been lost along the way. Do we need a do-over with God? Embrace God’s wide mercy and eternal love. Whatever do-over we need, it begins in a place of grace. It begins in a space of compassion. It is rooted in intention and love. Thank God for do-overs. AMEN.
God of love, we gather in this sacred space seeking to find ways in which we might enrich and give meaning to our chaotic lives. We come from different backgrounds, geographic areas, and walks of life; but it is our faith in You that unites us as one on this journey.
Be with us O God as we confront the many issues with which we are faced every day of our lives. Give us guidance, so that our chosen paths might demonstrate wisdom, compassion, and a sense of our desire to share your message of love.
We thank you for this family of faith where we find sanctuary, friendship and encouragement. We ask that you would continue to build us together as a church family, helping us to see the greater needs both in our community and in our world.
We pray this morning for those members who are in need of our continued prayers.
May your spirit guide us and give evidence of the places in our lives that need mending. Open our hearts that we may see you with fresh vision and we might sense your presence in a new way.
We ask these things in the name of Christ, who came so that we might have life, Amen.
Adapted from a prayer by Bill Ahrens
 Everhart, Ruth; www.christiancentury.org.