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We Can Handle the Truth--the Rev. Cathy Schuyler, Duluth Congregational Church, May 18, 2014

(Lectionary texts for Sunday, May 18,  2014, are found at the end of this file. The principal text referenced in this sermon is John 14:1-14.)

 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. So begins the words from Jesus to his disciples in today’s text from John’s gospel.

 

I’ll begin with a story. This morning I lost my sermon on the computer at 9 am. Truly. All that I had written. Only the texts were left. So I began again, quickly, starting where I knew I had started before. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Earlier, I had appreciated the meaning of those words. At 9 am, I believed them, trusted them as best I could, because I didn’t have much else. Then we sang them as a choir, just to make sure I really heard them.

 

That’s the hope of any sermon, actually. That my words bring you back to the scripture text itself. Perhaps with a little more insight, a little more wisdom, a little more context. But the words of scripture are always the point, not my words. But I do have a few thoughts to share nonetheless.

 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. Trust me. That's really what Jesus is saying to his friends on this last night before his death. Trust me. You know me, ergo, you know all you need to know. If you know me, you know the Father. Since you have seen me, you have seen the Father. I know our time together seems short, but you know me. Trust me. I am not abandoning you. I will send the Spirit who will keep on teaching you, keep on guiding you, keep on being with you. This isn't, in fact, the end. And you know the way where I am going.


They tried to listen. They tried to let his comforting words in behind their fear, inside their hurting hearts. But this last statement was too much. Thomas calls him on it. I don't have that map in my notes, he says. You never told us the way beyond death. 'How can we know the way you are going?' And Jesus responds, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Follow me, just as you have been following me. I am the way.


There are seven I am statements in John, echoing the core of scripture, God's words to Moses at the burning bush: I am who I am, I will be who I will be. There are mountains of books about exactly what God meant by YAHWEH, but the basic meaning can’t be ignored. God is. God is being itself.


In John’s gospel, Jesus uses the phrase ‘I am’ to declare: I am the light of the world; I am the bread of life; I am the vine; I am the gate I am the Good Shepherd; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth, and the life. It’s that last declaration, central to today’s reading, that intrigues me today.


We get way. We commit to following Jesus the Way weekly, we covenant to walk together in all his ways. We get that faith is not simply about the goal of arriving in heaven, but it’s the walk, the way, the manner in which we live to get there, to be there.

We get life – Jesus said last week, 'I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.' Jesus’ gift of life is for now and forever. We can grasp Jesus as the life.


But I am the truth? We shy away from anyone who tells us they have the truth. Too often their truths lack wholeness or compassion. And without compassion, and without an inclusiveness that welcomes all people, we are wary. Too often we are offered truth, in fact, by people who say they follow Jesus, but their truth is rigid while Jesus is gentle, and their truth is closed tightly while Jesus is open to all. It doesn't ring true, and so we are wary.


I don't have a complete and seamless theology of truth to offer you here. But I will share a few thoughts. There's a difference between having truth and being truth. Jesus is truth. That is, the truth isn’t an idea, it’s a person. John’s gospel begins with the incarnation. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is the truth and we can know the truth because we can know him. Not know about him, but know him. Jesus is fully God, here among us, and worthy of our trust. That's what he means when he says believe in me. Believe and trust and faith are all inadequate English translations of the Greek word ‘pistis.’ Jesus is saying to his disciples, his friends, that they should keep trusting him, as they have trusted him. They know him. They have shared life and bread and tears with him. They can trust him, even after his death. And because they know him, they know God. And they can trust God, just as they trust him. Jesus, whom they know, has loved them, accepted them, forgiven them, and taught them of God in ways that rang true like nothing they’d ever known. So trusting him wasn’t difficult. Trusting beyond death was asking more. That was the challenge of this conversation.


Jesus the truth is also Jesus the way. That is, a key part of walking the way with Jesus is walking in truth. Yes, that means truth in our public being – honesty on our taxes, returning incorrect change in our favor at the check-out counter, integrity in our business dealings. I hope you heard the story of the roommates who bought a couch at a Salvation Army store, found $40,000 dollars under the cushions, and returned it. They were living truth. They would have been richer, but couldn't have lived with themselves. So they returned the cash. That's the kind of life we're called to in Jesus, following Jesus the way. But trusting Jesus the truth also allows us to be truthful with ourselves, in our deepest heart and soul. Truthful about pain and sorrow, truthful about anger and resentment. Truthful about feeling compassion for others, letting their pain become our pain. No shame is necessary, because it is Jesus, love incarnate, who is the truth that we speak. So we can dare to admit to ourselves that we are sad. We can dare to speak aloud our anger, even our confession of mean things we've done. Only by claiming the truth, all of the truth in our lives, can we begin to forgive, let go, and move forward. That's what the abundant life is, a life lived in grace and forgiveness.


Desmond Tutu, who with Nelson Mandela brought South Africa through the transition from the horrors of apartheid to the true democracy they live in today, names forgiveness as the key to life. He and his daughter have written a new book on forgiveness, addressing not only why we must forgive one another, but how. And it all begins with telling the truth.


Owning the truth, speaking it to ourselves, is the only way we can begin to forgive. It’s important to name that what was wrong really was wrong. We tend to say quickly, “Oh, it’s all right.” But it isn’t all right. It's wrong, it hurt, and the truth of it needs to be told. Only then can we decide that, although the pain and hurt are real, we can choose to let them go and forgive. It works the same way when we ourselves are the malefactor. We can forgive ourselves only when we're willing to speak the truth that our deeds were wrong. And we can bear to speak the truth and bear to hear the truth because Jesus' love undergirds us all. Because Jesus is the truth, Jesus is the way that leads to life.


Follow the way, claim the truth, live the abundant life of grace and forgiveness. Amen. And amen.


Acts 7:55-60

55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

 

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;

do not let me ever be put to shame;

in your righteousness deliver me.

Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily.

Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

You are indeed my rock and my fortress;

for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,

take me out of the net that is hidden for me,

for you are my refuge.

Into your hand I commit my spirit;

you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

My times are in your hand;

deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

Let your face shine upon your servant;

save me in your steadfast love.

 

1 Peter 2:2-10

2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

John 14:1-14

14“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 

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