The truth has been taking quite a beating lately, or at least that’s the way it feels.
Maybe it’s just the political season and the incessant negative advertising.
Claims and counter-claims are made.
Half-truths are disguised as facts.
Cleverly edited video and audio clips are quoted which seem to imply one thing when another was meant altogether in the longer argument.
Claims are made that cannot be substantiated, but that become manipulation points to drive agendas.
Stories change as facts become unavoidable, or as details are revealed that are indisputable.
It feels like the truth is taking a beating.
I’m captivated this Reformation Sunday by Jesus’ words here. “you will know the truth, and truth will make you free.”
Oh, to know the truth at last!
I think that’s what we tell ourselves in the midst of confusing and mixed messages. There is a “truth” to be found, and it can be distilled down to a single one, and once we have that answer the ambiguity and the anxiety we feel will melt away.
That’s how we pursue questions for understanding, is it not?
The Bomb packages show up on doorsteps and we backtrack trying to find out the single “truth” behind them.
Who is the perpetrator?
What are his motives?
We want a neat answer, perhaps a straight line that can be drawn from words spoken to actions taken, and once we discover the “truth” about the cause, specific actions can be taken.
The mass shooting takes place in a house of worship… again.
We want to know the truth about it.
Who is this perpetrator?
What were his motivations?
What thoughts, beliefs, ideologies may have contributed to his action?
Truth is reduced to a set of cause and effects that were set in motion. If we could get to the central “truth” about what motivated these people, perhaps we could address it, stop it in its tracks, make sure it never happens again.
But like all searches for the truth, the attempt to distill, discover, isolate and finally point to ONE truth is often frustrated, largely because the looking into the “one” thing simply promulgates more complexity.
You discover more and more things that could be contributing factors, and often every succeeding complexity brings with it a potential for greater distraction from the central point.
Searching for one truth pretty much derails or sidelines the very truth for which the search began in the first place.
Searching for a single “truth” raises the specter of competing truth claims, which often simply raises the heat of the argumentation all the more.
Even in this Gospel, the claim to truth is met with an insistence in what we might well call the very first “alternative fact” comment.
“We are children of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone!”
It’s curious that Jesus does not meet that statement with a fact check.
He does not remind his fellow Jews about Pharaoh and Egypt, or about Assyria and the fall of the Northern Kingdom, or about Babylon and the captivity for 70 years, or about the conquest of Alexander the Great and the Ptolomy and Selucid dynasty occupations that followed. He does not even speak about Rome who occupies the land at the time of Jesus’ speaking.
Fact checking will not, (in the end,) convince anyone of the truth, and Jesus knows that well, better than we do it seems.
No, “truth” as Jesus offers it resides much deeper.
It resides in the area of relationship, and more specifically in the area of discipleship, following Jesus in word and action, and that ends up being about how we treat one another.
This is what will set you free. Love one another.
Following Jesus, becoming his disciple takes you out of the area of opinions held, or competing interests to be defended, or politically charged debates to be won or lost and places you instead squarely into the matter of doing for the sake of the other.
To be a disciple is to engage in the actions and philosophies of your teacher.
This is what makes us most uncomfortable, because it means we cannot engage in something that we have not seen modeled or spoken of by Jesus.
“If you continue in my word,” Jesus says, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
That drives us back to looking at what Jesus’ word has been, and the actions connected to that Word.
And when you are driven back to following the words and actions of Jesus, you find that you have very little room for argumentation, or for exclusion, or for judgmentalism, or for rejecting others… anyone really.
When you are driven back to the word of Jesus and following as his disciple you will find encouragement after encouragement to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked, to care for the widow and the orphan, to welcome the stranger, to engage with those whom you might disagree, not to make points or to “win them over” but to bring and find understanding and reconciliation with them.
You will find very little in the way of protecting your own interests, but much in the way of giving your life away for the sake of the other.
“For what does it profit a person to gain the whole world, and to lose his soul?”
I defy you to find a teaching or action of Jesus that says, “defend yourself and look out for your own interests first.” That is a pathway to complexity, because suddenly we’re all pitted against each other for our competing interests.
But “love one another and pray for your persecutors.” Now that’s a simplifier. Who do I pray for? Anyone who rubs up against me wrong.
Who do I love? Whoever I happen to run into today, whoever is in front of me, whoever is there.
Jesus almost never talked about others, outsiders, “those people.” Instead, even here, as he confronts his own people there is an overwhelming impulse not to divide, but to include, and to find ways to speak that draw people in instead of naming outsiders as threats to be avoided, excluded, or “dealt with.”
It is Jesus who gives us the words of the beatitudes, which remind us that “blessed are the poor,” “blessed are those who mourn,” “blessed are the peacemakers,” and even paradoxically, “blessed are you when others persecute you, and revile you, and utter all manner of evil against you falsely….”
Blessed because you are doing the work of the Kingdom. It is work which the kingdom of this world does not understand or appreciate, because it upsets the scarcity thinking that currently makes the world go round.
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
The truth is we are all children of Abraham, and we have all sinned, and we are all slaves to the passions that threaten to divide and to drive us to find simple answers to complex questions.
We are all slaves to the predominant thinking of this world, and of its rulers, that there is not enough, and that for some to have, others must be denied.
“They are coming to take away…” is the rallying cry of this world. It sets in motion the need to build walls, and to raise defenses, and to hoard, and to prep for the zombie apocalypse, the ultimate in labeling “the other” as something that can be killed or disposed of without regard for their worth.
But when you follow Jesus, the first point of order is seeing the worth and the value of the other.
When you follow Jesus, you discover the truth. There is no distinction between us, and there are no simple answers to the complex questions in life.
There are only those who are loved, and those whom love has not yet found, and as disciples we are now to be the agents of that love.
As disciples, we dwell in the word that Jesus came to give, the living word which says that everyone is worth dying for.
“If you are truly my disciples, you will continue in my word, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
The truth it seems, does takes a beating, and it does so willingly because the truth is, insisting on one’s own way and following the passions of this world and its rulers will always brings in its wake suffering of one kind or another.
Truth takes a beating, because that is what the Master models in both word and deed.
The way of the cross is the way of love that this world does not understand.
It is ultimately being willing to suffer for the sake of the other that wins the other over. Walls can never protect. Those who have must share with those who do not, and there is plenty to go around, because God provides and you can’t out-give God.
This is the truth, and this is what the world hungers to hear and to experience.
This is the ongoing Reformation to which we are called, a reformation of the heart brought by trusting in God’s word revealed in Jesus. The call to learn how to trust in a gracious God and to continue to live into following the living word that God has sent