May 17, 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter
EPISTLE READING 1 Peter 3:13-22 (The Message)
GOSPEL READING John 14:15-21 (NRSV)
SERMON “The Whole Truth…” Pastor Bill Dow
In December of 2018 Ruby and I were involved in a crash on I-90 by the belt line exit near Madison. The good news is that no blood was shed. The bad news was that our minivan was totaled. The AMAZING part was that all drivers from the four vehicles involved, including the young man who swerved in the middle lane to avoid debris, gave an accurate and truthful account of what happened. Maybe it was because each driver was doing their very best to drive safely. No one was speeding. No one was distracted. Everyone was registered and insured. No citations were issued.
I’m still amazed because we live in a culture of “spin.” You know, telling the story in a way that puts you in a more favorable light. It’s hard to know what to believe when pictures we see are Photo Shopped, the recordings we hear are edited, the videos we watch are often staged. So much of what we see and hear is lifted from the original context. Messages are twisted and distorted to feed the biases of the newest messenger.
Now you might be tempted to jump up on a soapbox and make the case that the world is going to hell on a hand cart with all this technology, but then there’s Pontius Pilate, caught in the web of power politics, with Jesus standing right in front of him, and Pilate lifts the question, “What is truth?”
This question is only raised in the Gospel of John, written by an unknown author who begins writing with the concept of “Word” an expression of perfection derived from Greek philosophy, a conversation and discipline that has been going on since the time of Socrates, who lived almost five hundred years before the writing of the Gospel of John. The question has always been with us. What is truth?
At the risk of offending any accountants that might be with us today, I lift the old joke. A firm was seeking the services of an accountant. Three candidates responded. During the interview, the owner of the firm asked the question, “What is 2 + 2?” The first candidate answered, “Four.” The second candidate answered, “Of course, it’s four.” The third candidate answered, “What do you want it to be?” Who got the job?
The gospel writer of John knows the struggle we face when we come to the conclusion that Jesus is Way of life intended by Creator God. We proclaim Jesus as Lord, but that does NOT end the struggle of embracing his perfect life with our imperfect one while living in a chaotic and dangerous world. We play ethical games with the question, “What would Jesus do?” only to discover that we are adapting 2 + 2 into something that affirms our personal idea of who we want Jesus to be.
The gospel writer shows us a better way. As Jesus is preparing to leave, he points to the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, a stranger to the ways of the world, yet forever present, indwelling in those who follow and devote their energies to the example of Christ.
I believe that everyone gathered here today has, at one time or another, felt the power and presence of Holy God. n joy, in sorrow, in times of suffering, in times of birth, in times of death, in times of fear and also in times of great courage, the presence of God is made known through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus promises his followers that we will not be orphans. The Apostle Paul affirms this with his theology of adoption and inheritance. But it’s the Holy Spirit that provides the parentage for our spirits to be nurtured in the ways of truth.
Parents, have noticed how much children loved to be told what to do and when to do it? Let’s not stop there! There is a significant group of older people who are fed up with the efforts to contain a deadly virus in our midst! Unless you are in the military, direct orders are doomed to fail. And this is why prayer is a two-way street. Yet how many of us offer God equal time?
The love of God is rarely directive. God’s love is inductive. It draws us in like a magnet yet never grabs us against our will. It invites us to draw near while at the same time listening for the pure message of our longing. Prayer is the way for us to listen to God as well as reveal the longings of our hearts. And one shapes the other. It’s a lifetime, dynamic, and respectful conversation when we yearn for closeness with God. Scripture and the Holy Spirit reveals that it’s God’s desire for creation to live abundantly and in peace. What is it that we long for? Have you shared with God your deepest desires? Remembering that it’s a two-way street, what is it that God desires of you?
Today’s epistle reading reminds us that following Jesus is about witness…both word AND deed, expressed with the utmost courtesy and RESPECT. Let’s always remember that it’s our job to share our first person witness to the greatness of God rather than tell them what they should be doing or how they should be spending their money. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and convert. Stay in your lane. It’s been proven beyond a doubt that political postings on social media only serve to entrench people. Epiphanies happen elsewhere. We should stop trying to manipulate others after junior high school.
One of my favorite movies of all time is “The Sandlot.” There’s a scene where the “haves,” you know, the kids with the cool bikes and baseball uniforms, show up at the sandlot to intimidate the “have nots,” the kids who have to scrounge empty soda bottles to get enough money to buy a baseball. And the confrontation boils down to creative name calling. We won’t share the scene here. You can check out the dvd from the library.
Somewhere along the way, attacking the person has taken the place of attacking the issue. The low road, the easy path, has become the path of choice. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is the means by which we roll up our sleeves and get to work attacking the ISSUES with methods that model the two-way street extended by God to humanity with the Holy Spirit. Those who claim Jesus as Lord are ambassadors to the high road of respect or they are engaged in disrespecting Jesus. We are called to raise the bar of civility, even as we endure the harsh reality of a virus infected world.
Yes! There is national pride and identity, but like it or not, we live in a global community. Is there anything other than a false sense of privilege that suggests the Holy Spirit is confined by a border established by humans? The writer of John reminds us that even before the creation of the world, Jesus, the Word, was with God and the Word was God. Perfection addresses chaos. Those who believe and follow Jesus, receive the Holy Spirit to restore dignity and purpose where there is abuse and exploitation, always with compassion and respect.
We are stewards and witnesses to God’s love. We are ambassadors to the high road of respect, that do the homework required and engage the work, providing resources to restore hope and dignity at the direction of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ words, we are called to serve as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Jesus does not proclaim the notion of dominance. Instead, he casts a vision of justice, healing, and jubilee inviting us to be participants in this holy act of restoration.
Just down the road from our house is a campaign sign that includes language you wouldn’t use in church. My friends, it’s time to move from the sandlot using the inductive power of the Spirit of Truth. If we dedicate our energies to seeking the whole truth with 80% honest listening and 20% honest witness, we will find that we have more in common with our neighbors than we ever could have imagined.
All hope comes from God, through the power of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s redeeming love.
Lately, we’ve been hearing the parting words of, “Be Safe!” Today we close with the words, “Be Easter People by the Power of the Holy Spirit!”