"Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children." Cory Booker, Trenton, New Jersey, mayor

The Creator looked down at the dusty ground, pausing in remembrance. Millennia ago He had plunged His hands into the earth to mold a new creature fashioned in His own image.

Now He stooped and pondered the dust once more. Sweaty, filthy feet had through countless months and years trod the dirt into fine powder. At the end of the day, a basin of water would sluice the stains from those feet. Such a simple thing, repeated day after day until no one gave it another thought.

But the Creator did. Arrogant accusers had brought Him a sinner and cast her at His feet, expecting justice. Stones in hand, with a cacophony of demands, they awaited His permission to begin the lawful cleansing. Kneeling there in the dust and dirt, He extended a finger and touched once again the base elements where it had all begun, methodically tracing secrets long suppressed.

"If there is someone here without sin," said the Creator, "let him throw the first stone."

In Seventh-day Adventist churches across the Northwest and beyond, this saga of sin and salvation is still a struggle. With satchels filled with stones, we often join that circle around the accused in the dust. There in the rarified air our standards are high, our expectations are lofty, and those who do not measure up are not welcome.

Yet the Creator with the loftiest of expectations is the same One who stands at the gate with tears in His eyes awaiting the prodigal. He is the same One who kneels, washing the filthy feet of His own disciples. And He's the One who asks the woman huddled there in the dust, "Who here is accusing you?" "No one," she sobs. "Neither do I," He answers. "Go and sin no more." And in that remarkable moment, justice and mercy find common ground.

What sort of sinners are welcome in our churches? What sins are allowed, and what sins are not? Is an obvious sin more egregious than one cultivated in secret? Is a Sabbath School leader aka secret adulterer or pastor aka pornography addict less of a challenge to us than someone who smells of smoke or admits to same-sex attraction?

Jesus' example should give us pause. Those who parse Scripture for definitions of right and wrong should ponder anew what the Almighty can do. We look in the dirt and see sin. Our Creator beholds the dirt and sees sinners in need of reclamation.

Our churches could be that place where righteousness meets redemption. We could be that place where expectations are high but grace, His grace, is sufficient.

For, in truth, we are that woman huddled in the dust, expecting the worst and receiving the best — a gift from the One who fashioned us from that dust and still sees all the potential He placed there in the beginning.

September 01, 2012 / Let's Talk