So Much Winning!

by Feb 14, 2024Sermons

John 8:1-11

‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone’

When I was studying Engineering we had to do a work placement. The coordinator would provide us with advice and coaching as we applied for Engineering summer and vacation jobs. He would look through our CVs and help us to fine tune them. Among the paper route I’d done when I was 13 and various summer jobs I had done, I had included some of the volunteer work I had done with my church. He suggested I should remove it because, he said, in a church setting you will all agree with each other and it won’t be a real work-like setting where you have to deal with difference. I was younger than I am now, or else I might have said, those who have more in common have the potential to disagree more vehemently and that the church is full of its disagreements.

We all have a desire to be right and to win the argument, we see that in the church and in the world. Isaiah talks of how the people around him in Exile are fighting over who is the most holy, the most pious. They fast with the desire to be ‘better’ than somebody else. That desire to be a winner and to be winning is all to familiar – that Donald Trump line: ‘we’ll have so much winning’ but it is not only extremes like Donald Trump. We all like to win, to achieve, to come out on top. But we need to think about how we win or why we win. Do we set out to win for the sake of winning itself, or for the joy of competing?

In this evening’s Gospel, when the scribes and pharisees bring this woman before Jesus accusing her of adultery. They are set on the objective of winning. First as men in a society in which they have power they choose a battle that they think is an easy win, against a woman who is not even afforded the opportunity to give an account of her own. Then they use this first ‘win’ to try and win against Jesus. To catch him out and win – because they are afraid if they don’t he will win and they will lose their power and control. In this short passage Jesus subverts this desire to win. He doesn’t want to win, he has no interest in joining in their game, when he is forced to comment he challenges them, whether they are truly winning or just hiding their own failures by attacking somebody else.

Failure is not a word we like talking about. A bit like death, or real emotions. You see it in the way people respond to somebody who is sad or who is mourning a loved one. Avoiding them or the topic, afraid of making it worse. You see it in the way people use Social Media, only posting and sharing things about how life is good, or if it is bad, so as to make themselves look more resilient, more brave, more cutting, not speaking truthfully about the complexity or ambiguity of their emotions. But it isn’t only Social Media – we all do it in everyday life, Isaiah is calling out this very thing in our first reading.

Instead Isaiah, and Paul in his letter to the Corinthians call us to be truthful, honest and vulnerable. Lent is not about rejoicing in our own great piety. It isn’t about celebrating how much we can win, how we can better ourselves by giving things up. We start Lent as we should mean to go on – by recognising our own mortality – that we are but dust! It is God to breaths life into us – who sustains us and who will redeem us – nothing we can do on heaven or in earth can achieve those things. Lent is about being truthful and honest with ourselves, it is about recognising our dependence on God, and learning again to focus on God’s desires for us rather than our empty desire for winning. And in doing that we gain the perspective of humility which Isaiah talks about. And we learn what is meant by: ‘Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, 
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?’

So, this lent, as you take on whatever Lenten discipline you choose, remember your intention with it, to remember your mortality and your dependence on God, to give thanks for all that you have, and in so doing to seek for justice for all, that all may know the compassion, the mercy and the love of God revealed to us in the life and sacrificial death of Jesus, Christ our Lord.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

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