Jesus said put the truth at the center of who he is. "I am the way, the truth and the life.&quo
I am going to begin this morning with a story that has nothing to do with my sermon. It is a story told by a Florida hospital chaplain on a Facebook page entitled “Things they didn’t teach you in seminary.” “So,” she wrote, “nothing prepares you at seminary to be a hospital chaplain who finds two parents weeping and wailing and cradling their 5 months old now dead baby with the tube still down her throat and heart monitor stickers all over the little naked body. The parents were Catholic and through her gasping sobs the mother asked, "Can you baptize my baby?" I always let my Catholic patients know I am not Catholic so they do not assume. She said, "I don't care, will you baptize my baby?" "Yes, I will baptize your baby."
No time for theological discussions about baptism. In the chaos of the moment. No time to call the substitute priest and I am not sure how he would have handled it. So, yes, I got a paper cup full of water and blessed it, read a scripture, baptized the baby, said a prayer and spent some time in silence with the parents admiring their baby girl who they would soon turn over to the medical examiner. So, this Quaker minister who went to a Baptist seminary emergency baptized a dead Catholic baby. Yeah, nothing prepares you in seminary for real world scenarios.
Well, maybe that story does have something to do with my sermon…as I think about it, isn’t that the kind of world we want? No barriers denying access to God’s love based on religious affiliation or any of the other cultural barriers humans erect. Yeah, this is the 2nd in a series of three sermons opening a dialogue about a vision for the world after this pandemic if we are sincere about bringing God’s kingdom to earth. I’d like it to be a world where no one questions it when a Quaker minister who went to a Baptist seminary comforts grieving parents by giving an emergency baptism to a Catholic baby.
I ran across another, far lighter story as I studied some of the quackery being suggested for treating Coronavirus. The world owes the invention of the “Graham Cracker” to the Reverend Sylvester Graham, an early 1800s Presbyterian minister. Rev. Graham invented the graham cracker as part of his ministry urging parishioners to dedicate themselves to diet and lifestyle to cure what he deemed to be the single greatest health scourge the world was facing, i.e. sexual desire.
Graham believed a vegetarian diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and his "cracker" would end lustful behavior. He preached that what he called the Graham Diet, would help his followers to abstain from sexual activity, and, in particular, from self-love, which Graham argued led to insanity and blindness. So, these times are not unique in drawing out the quackery, which is of course, a form of the denial of truth.
The moral cartographers can tell you that quackery infects religion as well as medicine. Last month, an Army chaplain distributed a book which claimed "some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a judgment from God" against same-sex relationships. The most damaging lies are told in the name of God.
”If you love me,” Jesus said in this morning’s reading from the Gospel of John, “you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This,” Jesus said, “is the Spirit of truth.”
This morning I want you to consider the critical need to restore truth as a common value if we are to come out of this crisis into a world that reflects the prayer that which we pray every Sunday morning, that thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth…as it is in heaven.
THAT DISCUSSION BEGINS with Jesus’s words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Notice how he put truth at the center of his identity, at the core of who Christ tells us he is.
We humans find ourselves settling comfortably into a post-factual world, losing the ability to recognize the truth and allowing it to be replaced by notions and prejudices and fabrication. This is far less a political problem than a spiritual one. Without truth, human knowledge collapses into conjecture. Without truth, our very belief in the God of our lives is devalued. No one can serve God without a commitment to truth. Serving God demands a level of truthfulness that our world increasingly sees, as Roger Rapp read in the Call to Worship, as arrogant, exclusive, intolerant, divisive, judgmental, and reactionary.
It’s not without great meaning that Pontius Pilate betrayed his own inability to recognize truth, asking “What is truth?” when it stood in front of him. Pilate knew the truth, but Pilate surrendered to that which was untrue because the loudest voices in the crowd didn’t want to know the truth. Because of the absence of truth, Jesus was executed.
In a fundamental way, the story of the crucifixion of Jesus is a parable of a world ruled by untruths. But, truth is the foundation of discipleship, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace. In these times, truth becomes rarer and odder each day. Making those who tell it rarer and odder.
Truth is a fundamental element to not only theology, but to politics, philosophy, history, art, science, business, journalism. Most human activities depend on its existence, especially Christian discipleship. Without truth, the gift of human reason and freedom dissolve into chaos and all human relationships lose the bonding element of trust.
An acceptance of that which is not true allows racism to flourish, allows poverty to consume lives, encourages homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny. The acceptance of that which is not true determines public policy and has led us into countless catastrophic wars and is leading us to let the planet die under the weight of climate change. Without widespread acceptance of that which is not true, 24/7 cable television news and talk radio could not exist.
Ignorance of truth led us into places of shame like Heart Mountain, sending refugees back to their homelands where they were killed by drug cartels that forced them to leave in the first place, locking children in cages at our southern border, and nearly 90,000 deaths from COVID-19. Without a commitment to that which is true, our nation can never have an honest conversation about slavery and the genocide perpetrated against Native Americans. Acceptance of that which is not true allows authoritarian governments to amass power and abuse it. Acceptance of that which is not true even corrupts religious institutions and renders the scripture meaningless.
If our nation seeks to become a Matthew 25 nation, it will take a reconciliation with that which is true. Where do you find the truth? In the scriptures, but that is tricky. People who read the Bible literally came to believe God approved of slavery, that God condemns gays to death, that the Coronavirus and Hurricane Katrina are God’s punishment for same sex marriage, and that God gave the New World into the hands of European settlers, enjoining them to kill Native Peoples as the Bible says the ancient Hebrews killed the Canaanites.
The Bible is one of the world’s greatest sources of misinformation and falsehoods unless you are willing to devote the time and effort and scholarship to get beyond a literal interpretation and seek to come closer to what the words meant when they were written and how that applies to our own times.
A deeper study of the word of God discloses the significance placed on truth telling. God called the ancient prophets to tell the truth to those who didn’t want to hear it. Wicked King Ahab called Elijah “the enemy of the state.” Hosea was dismissed as a madman, Jeremiah accused of treason, Amos told to love it or leave it, and John the Baptist was beheaded for telling the truth about the sexual immorality of the king.
Is there any wonder so few are willing to speak the truth? And then along comes Jesus. Before the Roman Empire executed him for truth telling, Jesus told us how to separate the truth about the scripture from that which is untrue. The key to unlocking the truth is the Great Commandment. Love God and love one another…and Jesus added that all the scripture depends on following those two commandments. That was his way of telling us that if your interpretation leads you to love God and to one another, it is true. If it leads you to hate or exploit or marginalize others, that interpretation is a lie. Not an easy pursuit but then the pursuit of the truth is not easy which is why so many of our fellow human beings accept that which is not true.
You can find the truth in Biblical poetry, metaphor, mythology and the parables, as well as in science, history, the arts, journalism, and an honest evaluation of your own life experiences and in the religious traditions of the truth tellers whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhists or others. Finding the truth is not easy. It takes work. But Jesus did say he would send an advocate, the spirit of truth, which means we have a moral compass to lead us in this journey. Summon the spirit of truth and embark on this existential journey.
The Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn included an old Russian proverb in his 1970 Nobel Lecture, he said, "One word of truth outweighs the whole world." I fear we are near the point where the whole world is weighted down by that which is not the truth. An Atlantic Magazine headline in a May 13 article about conspiracy theories reads, “America is losing its grip on Enlightenment values and reality itself.” Unless that changes, we will never see the kingdom of God on this earth.
If we seek a better world, we must tell the truth and demand it from podiums and pulpits. People are not poor because they are lazy. People of color are not created inferior to whites and whit privilege is real. Violence of all kinds is a product of lazy fear and God’s word says repeatedly, “Fear not.” God created no borders and if humans find them necessary, they must arise from justice and not prejudice. No one becomes truly wealthy without harming others.
God said it, I believe it, and we all should work for it.
”If you love me,” Jesus said, “you will keep my commandments. and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This,” Jesus said, “is the Spirit of truth.” Jesus connects the keeping of the Commandments with the spirit of truth because he knew those who follow him will be what theologian Stanley Hauerwas called, “agents of truth in a world of mendacity.”
People who accept lies and allow themselves to be led by those who lie are not free, whether their leaders are pastors or politicians. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Only free people will have the strength and moral resolve to rebuild this society in a way that serves the God of our lives.
Feel free to unmute yourself if you feel like giving that an AMEN