I’m not even sure where I was introduced to it, within Quaker circles there is a practice known as “the threefold sieve.” Do you know what that is? Have you heard of that? Basically it has to do with what you do with information you have received, particularly information about someone else. Before you dump this into the “Rumor Mill,” have you passed this piece of information through the “threefold sieve?” The “sieve” revolves around three questions. Before any words pass through the gateway of your lips, ask these three questions:
“Is this true?”
“Is this kind?”
“Is this necessary?”
The first question, “Is this true?” is the one that I connected with the Gospel lesson today because Jesus makes an implicit statement. “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free…”
Now truth can be a little bit slippery. It is hard to fact check everything that comes your way. But ascertaining the truthfulness about something is important, and for Jesus the test of the truth about him resides in the matter of “continuing in his Word.”
Believing in Jesus is one thing. Continuing in his word is quite another. That act of “continuing” pushes the matter of following and putting one’s actions in alignment with what Jesus calls us to do and to be.
It’s relatively easy to believe in Jesus.
Shoot, I can believe in Santa Claus on Christmas Day when the packages appear under the tree as if by magic.
I can believe in the Tooth Fairy when I find the dime under my pillow, (yes, I really am that old that the going rate was a dime!)
I can believe in the Easter Bunny when the basket of chocolate and peeps is set outside my door.
I can even “believe” in the Royals… so long as they keep winning. Okay, some will continue to believe even if they lose but there is that element of “jumping on the bandwagon” of the moment isn’t there? There are Royals fans now during the Series who will probably care less 6 months from now as we start to wonder who will be in the Series in 2015.
The question begged is: “Will you continue beyond that momentary belief you may experience into a life re-ordering existence? Will your believing result in following?” Does believing in something today change what you will do not just today, but tomorrow, and the next day and for the rest of your life?
This is where believing in Jesus becomes quite a different matter than believing in other things. There is no expectation to “believe in Santa Clause” beyond Christmas or the Royals beyond this current season and series.
But Jesus implicitly promises that if you “continue in his Word” you will know the truth, and that truth will set you free.
It’s significant for us to question whether we understand that, because that is the heart of the Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus is talking to his own people here, “The Jews” as identified in John’s Gospel. These are people who don’t question God, or the existence of the Law, or community, or the importance of the Temple, they simply aren’t too sure about Jesus. Is he another “flash in the pan” prophet from the sticks out of Nazareth, or is he the real deal, who he claims to be, the one sent from God?
So the first question I have for you today to pass through the sieve is this. “Is it true?” You’ve heard the stories about Jesus. You’ve heard the teachings, the parables, the challenges. Is it true? Is this the Son of God or not?
Careful how you answer that, because if that passes through that sieve of being true then the next question you’re going to have to struggle with is the one about “continuing in his Word.” Just fair warning, I’m going to come back to that in a minute.
The second question in the sieve is “Is it Kind?” What you’ve heard about someone, about something, is that something that would be helpful or kind to be repeated or disclosed?
Kindness, of course, comes in a variety of forms. It is not always the measure of what would just be “kind” to a particular individual.
The Sieve of “kindness” is a little tricky. Sometimes we confuse our thinking about this sieve. “If you can’t something nice, don’t say anything at all.” You’ve heard that, maybe practiced it, but there are times when being “nice” doesn’t end up being really “kind” in the end.
“Is it kind” has to do in the end with telling the truth in such a way that both our neighbor and our community’s best interest is involved. I may find myself having to say some things, disclose some things that are unpleasant out of “kindness” to either another individual or to my community.
The final Sieve is “Is this Necessary?” and I’ve already started to tip my hand here because you can’t answer the matter of kindness without it already starting to spill over into the matter of necessary.
All of this has a little bit to do with the events of 1517 and the Reformation. In nailing of the 95 Theses to the chapel door in Wittenburg, Luther no doubt deemed that while he did not have necessarily “kind” things to say about the matter of indulgences and abuses of forgiveness in the church, he did have some necessary things to say.
But quite apart from this being Reformation Day, it is also Confirmation day many places, and so we will get a reminder of what happens to us all as we affirm our baptism today. It’s a pretty big deal, actually. It’s the difference between believing in Jesus for a day, or for a time, or because your parents think it is important to grappling with that for yourself.
It is true that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he has a claim on your life? A claim initiated by Water and the Word so many years ago? Is it true that you owe your very life and eternal salvation to this Jesus who was crucified?
Is what Jesus shows you how to do, in loving your neighbor, caring for the poor, healing the broken going to become the pattern for your life? It was a big enough deal for Jesus that he was willing to die for it, even death on a cross. Will that way of life, will “Continuing in the the Word of God” be that big a deal for you as well? Does it inform and change what I choose to do for the rest of the day, and every day that follows. Does it re-order my life?
See, I think (and Jesus thinks so too) that it’s really pretty easy to say you believe in something. I believe that I should get more exercise, but will I get up every morning and hit my treadmill?
I believe that we should all give more to the work of the Kingdom through the church, but will I pull out my checkbook and make it happen?
I believe that daily bible reading would help me grow in my faith life, but do I carve out the time for that or does my bible continue to gather dust?
It’s easy to believe. It’s really hard to continue, but here is the thing. You won’t be able to believe if you don’t continue.
That is the paradox of the Christian faith. I can’t prove that Jesus is who he claims to be empirically, But if I find that if I continue in his Word, the truth of the power of Jesus becomes clearer, and it does set me free.
The more I follow, the more I trust.
The more I give, the easier I find it is to give, and the more joyful my giving becomes.
The more I follow and trust the more clear it becomes to me what is indeed “kind” in this situation or that.
The more I follow and trust, continue in Jesus’ Word, the more clear it becomes to me just what truly is “necessary” for the sake of the other or for the sake the community. What I am compelled to do because I follow the crucified and Risen one.
The more I follow and trust, the more “free” I become. I discover that I am not bound by my own limitations. I am not bound by own wondering how someone will take this, or what someone will say to that, or what someone else will do to me.
The only consideration becomes what will Jesus think of this? Am I acting in accordance with his Word, with his intention, with his Kingdom’s goal in mind?
So, I told you I would come back to this. “Is it true?” Is Jesus the Son of God, and does following him make a difference in this world? Be careful how you answer that, for it will require a re-ordering of your life when you ascent to it. But, it will also set you free.