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Who doesn’t need a fresh start? Students know that a new school year is before them. And there is both excitement and anxieties around it. Your parents feel that too. New jobs are beginning and life changes for newlyweds and new parents. We sense fresh starts at election times. There is a change of seasons too. Oh, not summer to fall, I was thinking baseball to football...following the Braves this year will do that.
But when we think of fresh starts we rarely think of religion. In my friendships, most people associate religion with tradition and routine. We have come to think that changing the style of worship or preacher or church membership makes for a fresh start. In a way, it does. It may change our position on your GPS but it doesn’t change the condition of our soul.
When the condition of the soul is addressed, the position of your address matters little. Caught in the act of adultery, of breaking a commandment, this woman’s place on the map mattered, to the religious folks. She was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, participating in the wrong action. “The law says she has to die! Our principled-centered lives demand a verdict! What do you say Jesus?” The thing about fresh starts is when you’re on the verge, rocks may fly.
In the new Captain America movie, the doctor asks the scrawny little, Steve Rogers who is on the verge of his fresh start, “Do you want to kill nazis?” Steve responds, “I don’t want to kill anybody. I just don’t like bullies.” We know that God wrote once in the Old Testament and it was the law. Jesus wrote once in the New Testament and we have no idea what it was. Maybe it was “I just don’t like bullies.”
Jesus told them to cast their stone if they had no sin. The only one who could cast a stone was Jesus and he threw no stone. John Wesley said Jesus’ silent action..."signified that he was not then come to condemn but to save the world." Bullies condemn. Heroes save.
A hero is what Stacy Ballanger, a former inmate found when she met Karen Poore, a United Methodist mentor, through My Sister’s Keeper. Even when she relapsed she came to them. She says, “They didn’t judge me at all.”
What did Jesus do with Peter, the denier? How about Matthew, the tax collector? Paul, the executioner? The same thing he did with the woman, he slung, grace at her. He threw mercy all over her. We don’t know what happened to her but we know she walked away with a fresh start.
Jesus put things right with her and God. He addressed the condition of this woman’s soul and his desire is to address ours. But what happens to us when we walk away, when we come down off the mountain? When Sunday morning meets Monday morning or Friday night, how will this fresh start stay fresh? Jesus told a story to help us, a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both came to pray in the same synagogue. Pharisee, even in prayer, couldn’t resist throwing stones, words of insult at the tax collector. The tax collector simply hung his head, beat his chest and said, “Lord, have mercy on my a sinner.” And it is that prayer which has become known as the Jesus prayer.
It is a prayer that positions our soul in line with God - Jesus first, us second. “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.” It has been prayed for centuries by Christians as a way to take God with them. Pray it out loud or in your mind. It has been prayed to rhythm of a heart beat, the pattern of steps or the breaths one breathes. It is a prayer that will go with you.
God will be with us in our fresh starts but will we be with him? Whether we make our way to his presence by force or choice, he is waiting, not with stones but mercy. A fresh starts always awaits!