When the planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11, Rowan Williams (soon to be Archbishop of Canterbury) was in Trinity Church, Wall St., just a couple of minutes’ walk from Ground Zero. He witnessed first-hand the destruction, death and dust all around. But, within hours of the attacks as George W. Bush was talking the language of “consequences” and a “war on terror,” Rowan Williams sensed the need for what he calls “breathing space.” I love the idea of “breathing space.” After all, don’t we all need some “breathing space” from time to time? “Breathing space” is that period of rest so that one can have more time to think about what to do next; it is a time of reflection and introspection.
This Sunday, our Brush With Greatness centers around a woman caught in adultery and the need for some “breathing space.” The story begins with an angry mob dragging the accused woman before Jesus. The leader of the mob reminds Jesus (as if He needed to be reminded) of the Law that requires this woman be stoned to death. Jesus knows they will seize on His response, whichever way He chooses to act. So, Jesus, rather than entering into the heat of the moment, bends down and writes in the dust. We don’t know what He writes, but we do know that in doing so he refuses the quick response; He creates a “breathing space,” a pause, which allows some of the heat of the moment to cool down. And then He responds to their demands with an invitation: “let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” The question shifts the focus of attention from the finger-pointing at the woman to the accusers themselves. And one by one, they all walk away.
Within a few moments the courtyard was empty. Jesus, the woman, her critics—they all left. The only thing that remained was the Writing in the Dust. You know, as I think about it, this was the only sermon Jesus ever wrote. I wonder what He wrote? What do you think?