My reflection today concerns the story recounted in John's gospel chapter eight. It is the story about the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus to see what he would do. It just seems that these scribes and pharisees spent a lot of time and energy trying to build a case against Jesus. As I have read this story numerous times it occurs to me that these hyper-religious fellows probably used a certain amount of force to wrestle her away from her partner and forcefully put her in the midst of the crowd Jesus was teaching. I've often wondered why they didn't bring her partner too. At any rate, if I was a betting man I would lay you odds that each one of those religious fellows all stood there with stones in their hands ready to bring sentence and execution by stoning according to the law of Moses.
As I have become increasingly aware and familiar with the mimetic theory by Rene' Girard it is becoming consistently clear that violence begets violence. Now one might say that this is a trite statement but I'm becoming more and more convinced that we are indeed beings of reflection. This simply means that if we are the recipient of violence there is the strong tendency to reflect that violence back to the perpetrator.
As we consider the situation Jesus found himself in with the woman caught in adultery, John reports that he knelt down and began to write something in the dirt. When these religious fellows continued to interrogate him he stands up and faces them and says that famous quote, "Let he that is without sin cast the first stone." Then he kneels back down and continues to write in the dirt. One by one from the oldest to the youngest began to walk away leaving the woman and Jesus alone.
The first stone, as I understand it, has no model. In other words until the first stone is cast the others, with stones in their hands, have nothing to mimic. As we have witnessed the violence that seems to be running rampant in our nation these days, gun violence, just like casting stones, seems to become easier after the first trigger is pulled. And at the heart of our violence is the victim who becomes the scapegoat to satisfy our violent appetite until the vicious cycle comes back around again.
The word for "sin" in this passage is hamartia which means a distorted pattern- the root of sin is to believe a lie about yourself. Adam and Eve believed the lie that they needed to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so they could be like God when they were created in His image and likeness to start with. Sin consciousness is what empowers religion. To go and sin no more then means to believe the truth about yourself. And what is that truth? Jesus came to redeem our innocence and he accomplished that in his resurrection. I believe Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said "...he that is without sin cast the first stone." Once we discover our redeemed innocence in Christ Jesus we will be able to put down our violence for good. The only one within this story "without sin" chose not to cast the first stone.
Just the other day my wife and I and a couple of friends were looking for a restaurant in which to indulge our appetite. Because the friends who were with us were not from our state I had driven them to the downtown area to allow them to take in the sights and sounds of our fair city. After they had taken all the pictures so to remember their sightseeing experience we got back into the car to find that restaurant I mentioned earlier.
As we were proceeding to our destination I noticed a car a couple of blocks ahead of me had turned on to the road I was driving on and it was going in my same direction. The driver of this particular car stopped at a red light and of course when I arrived at this intersection I also stopped to wait for the light to change to green.
As we sat waiting for the traffic light to change to green we continued our conversation related to the sightseeing encounters we had experienced during our weekend visit. All of a sudden the traffic light changed to green and the car in front of me didn't move. I thought to myself that perhaps the driver had not noticed the traffic light changing to green so I waited. As I waited the thought occurred to me that perhaps the driver was looking at his cell phone and that was the reason he remained motionless.
I have had experiences where I was the motorist first in line at a red light and because I was not paying attention when the light changed to green someone in the line behind me honked their horn to wake me from my distractions so all of us could proceed through the intersection. After waiting, for what seemed an unusually long time for this motorist to move forward I simply tapped my horn to hopefully draw his attention to the fact that the light was now green. What I received from this driver I was not expecting. While the driver continued to remain motionless he raised both of his hands high enough for me to notice his crude and insulting gesture. In street speech the young man "flipped me off."
My first thought was, "you've got to be kidding!" After this young man's gesture he then proceeded through the intersection and on to where ever he was going. At first it was difficult for me to make sense of this encounter. I was angry and at the same time hurt. I wondered if he had done all of this on purpose. At any rate I began to offer prayers for him and for myself. Then after giving this incident some time to simmer I would like to share this reflection with you.
I've heard it said that the greatest desire Jesus has for us is to set us free. Being set free, it seems, only come by knowing and understanding the truth. Jesus said he was and is the truth. I thought to myself, "how many people are sitting at spiritual green lights not knowing they are free to move forward?" How many people are imprisoned by their own distractions? They often fail to see the light they already have within themselves. And the most amazing thing that occurred to me came as a result of this young man's reactions. Whether he was aware of the green light or not when I tried to point him to the fact that he had the freedom to move forward all he could do was bring insult.
Loving those who bring insult is one of the hardest things we are called to do. It is easy to love those who love us. The prayer I pray for you and for myself is that I will take my freedom seriously to love those who for whatever reason have not yet awakened to the love and the "green light" they have inside their being. I believe that once they are shown the love of Christ they will be forever changed and forever free!
This reflection is inspired by a dream I had in the spring of 2015. I really don't know how much I dream and to be honest with you, I'm not sure just how much of the dreams I've had I remember. That being said there are some dreams I have had that made quite an impression on me. I bet you can say the same thing. I've had nightmares that have frightened me so much that it was difficult to go back to sleep. I have had dreams where I was flying, looking down on buildings and roads and the wellbeing that such a dream gave me was very reassuring. But the dream I want to share with you is one like I've never had before and the impression it has made on me I will always remember. As a matter of fact this dream's impressions continue to grow.
My first recollection was that I was on the caboose of a train. It was at night and the train had stopped to take on a passenger. I recall walking out the back door of the caboose to give aid to the passenger that was boarding the train. As I looked down to the ground from my position on the rear of the caboose I noticed someone bending over with their back toward me picking up something to carry on to the train. It was dark but not so dark that I could not recognize the passenger. I recognized the passenger to be Jesus Christ. What he carried in his hands were two chairs. He had a chair for an adult and a chair for a child.
As he made his way on to the caboose I noticed that he seemed to be bubbling with enthusiasm. As I stood across the way from where he was he placed the adult size chair in the back corner of the caboose and then he placed the chair for the child next to his chair. Then he sat down in the adult chair. I thought to myself that he must really think a lot of children to have brought a chair just for them, and there were no children in the caboose. Once again I couldn't help but notice just how enthused he was as he tried to get comfortable in his chair.
While he shifted his weight from side to side I took the moment to examine his facial features. Its not everyday one gets to gaze upon the face of Jesus so I didn't want to miss the opportunity. In my dream his hair was curly and dark. It appeared as though he had just trimmed his beard. His robe was made of linen that was finely woven. I was impressed to think that he was such a handsome man.
After he finally got comfortable he looked over and said to me, "I'm just so excited!" To which I replied, "You're not the only one!" Then a young man walked up to his chair in a rather humble fashion and reached out to shake his hand. As they were shaking hands I ventured to look down at Jesus' feet thinking that if this is really Jesus he will have scars on his feet. When I did I noticed they were both covered with white gauze bandages and then I woke up weeping.
I've had a lot of time to think about this encounter with Jesus and what I would like to share with you has to do with the child's chair. The Apostle Paul indicated that due to the fact that we are all in Christ Jesus when he died on the cross we died with him. When he was buried we were buried with him. When he was resurrected from the grave we were resurrected with him and when he ascended to the Father we ascended with him. Finally, when he sat down at the right hand of his Father we sat down beside him. I can imagine the excitement of Jesus as he provides a place for each of us to sit. Have you ever gone to a place where there was standing room only? Jesus said he would prepare a place for us so that where he is we will be also. Where is he you ask? John 14: 20 answers that question. In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you!!!!
Supplement: December 2016
Since having this dream in the spring of 2015 a lot of things have occurred in my life that are related to it. I will attempt to share with you what those things are as they relate to my dream. Not long after having the dream I asked in prayer what was the meaning of the caboose. I did some research regarding the caboose and its history. As you may know cabooses are no longer in use in the United States but while they were, they served as a very important car because of its location in the train. It was where the Conductor managed the business of the train and it was also the vantage point to care for the cars and the engine ahead of it. Soon my prayer was answered as I heard in my spirit the following: "Though your life is nearing its end it will be significant." I'm sure everyone wants their life to be significant however, at the time I did not know what this message meant.
Soon Christmas 2015 arrived and my wife bought me a replica of a caboose to commemorate this extremely vivid dream. It looked like any other caboose and I proudly placed it on display to give remembrance to the dream. As 2016 commenced I had been serving as a chaplain at the Baptist Medical Center in Mississippi for over 23 years. During that year my vice president informed me that some changes were forthcoming in the pastoral care department. He informed me that a new director of pastoral care position was in the works and if I wanted to continue as the director of pastoral care, I would have to apply for it. As the director of the pastoral care department some thirteen years I had developed and supervised a clinical pastoral education program sponsored by the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. When I learned that if I was chosen I would no longer have the time to supervise clinical pastoral education. It was then that I withdrew my name from consideration.
To make a long story short during the late summer and early fall of 2016 I began looking on line to see if there were any pastoral care director positions available in the southeastern part of the United States. There were none. However, there was one position in Delaware that ironically had a clinical pastoral education supervisor component attached to it and this supervisory position was with the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. As I pondered this position I thought that Delaware was just too far away so I dismissed it. A week later I was looking on line once again and there was that position in Delaware I had previously dismissed. I asked my wife what she thought and her words to me, "you won't know unless you apply." So I applied.
This began what I have termed "a dance" between the Holy Spirit and my dream. While this dance continued I happened to look at the little caboose my wife had purchased for me back in 2015. The picture associated with this reflection is the picture I took of the caboose she gave me. You look at it and see if you see what I saw that day.
When I connected the dots of Jesus bringing the child's chair on to the caboose coupled with the bandages on his feet and the fact that the hospital in Delaware was a children's hospital all of a sudden it became very clear to me just how important children are to him and how this very vivid dream has served to enlighten my journey.
Finally, I was offered the position at the Nemours-Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and I accepted. By the way, in my dream there was a young man that crossed in front of me on his way to shake hands with Jesus. I have often wondered who this person was and why he was on the train. As I sat in the lobby of the children's hospital in Delaware I was relating this story to the human resources associate that had originally contacted me concerning this position. As I related this story to her all of a sudden her facial expressions brightened and she asked if I knew how much Alfred duPont loved trains. She went on to tell me that there are trains represented in various places throughout the hospital. Once again I became overwhelmed with wonder at this amazing journey. The thought occurred to me, "I wonder if the man that stepped up to shake the hand of Jesus was Alfred himself." With all the pieces of this story that have fallen into place it wouldn't surprise me.
I recommend that the reader locate the blog entry entitled "The Unfolding Dream" to learn how this dream continues to unflold and shape my journey at this children's hospital.
I used to live in a neighborhood located across the street from a cemetery. The highway separating my neighborhood from the cemetery was a four lane road complete with a turn lane in the center. Usually traffic flowed with a fair amount of ease both north and southbound along this thorough fare. I recall when it was a two lane road. One could almost hear the numerous sighs of relief once this country road was expanded to accommodate all the vehicles that utilized it due to the population growth of the area.
The cemetery looked like most I'd seen. The ground's keeper took very good care to cut the grass and trim the bushes. I remember attending a couple of graveside services there for friends that had died. I also recall a group of people lining the various paths that wind through the cemetery with luminaries so people could drive their cars through the cemetery at night during the Easter season to reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
One weekday morning I was late leaving home to get to work. As I approached the highway that passes between my neighborhood and the cemetery I noticed that the southbound side was backed up past the entrance to my neighborhood and it did not appear as though the traffic was moving at all. There is a two lane road just on the other side of the cemetery. I noticed an occasional automobile traveling along that two lane road. All of a sudden the Bible passage in Matthew chapter seven came rushing into my mind, you know, the one that speaks about the difference between the broad way and the narrow way.
The broad way is said to be the path that leads to destruction and because it is so accessible many enter that way. The narrow way, on the other hand, leads to life and because it is so narrow few find its path. As I observed the numerous cars backed up on this four lane highway I began to consider the difference between the two roadways that were set before me. I could fall in line with the other drivers on the major highway and wait for the traffic to clear or I could make my way to the two lane road. The only way that I was going to get to the two lane road was to pass through the cemetery.
As I made my way through the cemetery all of a sudden the reality of that scripture began to explode within me. It was as though a light came on in my understanding. The only way one will discover the narrow way is to leave the broad way behind. The only way to leave the broad way behind is to awaken to life that is already within you. The cemetery represented my awareness that a death needed to occur to bring about life.
I have traveled that major highway lots of times since then but I shall never forget what was shown to me that morning as I made my way through the cemetery to reach a new understanding and awareness of the narrow road and the cost to get there.