March 18 Lent 5 Sermon Truth with a capital “T”

TSunday, March 18, 2018 Fifth Sunday in Lent


John 12:20-33

I want to applaud defiance today.


I want to cast my lot with those who for me have a singular devotion to truth, truth with a capital “T,” the kind of truth that Jesus says sets us free.


Maybe you’re a student who in confronting the strength of the gun industry and recalcitrant legislators and walked out of school last week, or are planning to March this Saturday in Hartford for the lives of children.


Maybe you’ve decided to do something about the piles of consumer trash and are ready to get Bethesda to use its abundant ceramicware.


Maybe you’d like to really explore how faith informs your decision-making, and are looking to meet with others to explore resources in a new group.


Maybe you have found your mojo and decided no longer to live for other’s expectations, acceptance, or praise, but for something bigger and more important and even what we would call transcendent. 


These and others that you are being drawn into might be pursuits that get us closer to Truth, with a capital “T.”


A thoughtful and faithful teacher from McGill University in Montreal, Douglas John Hall, once wrote a book as if he were writing to those, like his students, who wonder what it really means to follow Christ, in a kind of conversational format.  The title is Why Christian? For those on the edge of faith. This is what Prof. Hall says about the kind of truth that Christ talks about:


The transforming truth to which Jesus wanted to introduce his disciples….truth that both convicts and liberates—such truth could not and cannot be reduced to dogmas, propositions, and systems that can be written down, memorized, and regurgitated. When this happens, it is no longer the lively, life-altering truth that was originally intended. Truth, if it is gripping enough to deserve that high name, always transcends “truth.” Such truth must always emerge out of its unpossessible, living source, and it can only be received by human beings who themselves are made ready and willing to hear and be changed by it.


Professor Hall goes on:

The truth into which Jesus intends his disciples to be “led”…is just this living truth, which, in order to achieve a foothold in the lives of those who hear it, must radically alter their lives. For theirs (and ours!) are lives that manifest an abiding resistance to truth. Truth makes all human beings uncomfortable; it calls us into question; it makes demands of us that are beyond our ordinary capacities, not to speak of our habitual intentions and preferences.

(Minneapolis, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, ©1998), p 70


I am realizing the power this gives me only gradually, and in fits and starts.  I live with doubt about my own ability to carry through the multiple commitments that I have, thinking that any day now someone will see how little I actually know, realize how incapable I really am.  I remember asking someone for a reference during the call process to Bethesda almost eight years ago, and she asked me what to say.  And I said, “Tell them that I am competent.”


I have been ingrained with a deferential spirit, so indelible it was into my early adulthood, that I struggled to have a thought to myself, only reading and listening and agreeing with so much that I was able to see five sides to an argument, which you might say is a blessing but it also can be too late when you are so far into your head, demanding theological precision, worrying about how someone will take what you say.


“What do you think, pastor?”  “Should we do this, pastor?” 


So today I want to speak from the heart.


I invite you as the community of Jesus to follow Jesus, not only in spirit, but in spirit and in truth.


I gain my power not just from individual and hidden strength but through those who with me are drawn to the paschal mystery of the cross and resurrection.


I am reminded that more than anything it is the baptismal community that sparks faith, hope, and lives of commitment, that shares the Spirit, that confesses its failures and frailties openly and truthfully, but at the same time strides into forgiveness as if the state of being claimed by the holy as beloved, as called, as ultimately alive is the most important truth.


We are not competent!  We are not correct!  We are not perfect!  We are alive in Christ.  We are drawn to act on behalf of those who cannot.  We are like Jesus, constantly begin lifted up, and constantly and with all that we have and with full conviction lift others up, and bring those around us to know that God is all about that.


Jesus in today’s Gospel uses the heightened language that John is famous for.  When we hear of “glory” today, or “glorified,” it is always about Jesus radiating the truth of God’s love on the cross.  It’s like the cross will mark a singular break from its association with defeat and cruelty and be flipped to spotlight God’s passionate activity in bringing life from death.  So death is not like the end of a sentence, like a period, but an ellipsis, a to be continued.  Death is a seedlike activity, bringing potentiality and purpose and something that God has in store for those drawn into life and light and truth.


With rich metaphoric language Jesus begs the community that follows him to reject the powers and currents that denigrate and pull people inward.  The hating of your life that Jesus speaks of is not meant for us to beat up on ourselves or retreat from engagement with the world.  It really means that we are called to stand up against the alluring messages that reward power mongering, and material success, and instead to build a community that faces injustice, and rejection.  We are to expose all the corrupt and insidious barriers that we and others create that foster lies and loathing, and wade into something altogether new that is built on love and service. 


This is the baptismal calling of the community, to be drawn out of the waters into a pattern of dying and rising, of putting sins away and receiving forgiveness, to discover God planting the seed within us that is the Christ light.


This puts us into an altered state, or as Prof. Hall calls the outcome of hearing the living truth, leading to altered lives, redeemed lives, lifted up defiant lives.  Won’t you rejoice in this state of being, looking to the Christ in one another?  Won’t you applaud defiance that participates in drawing others to new life? 


Won’t you weave your story into God’s story and like a seed that is sown in a field, join in the wonder of today, where Christ comes close to all, like it is written on our hearts, and shown in our faces, and declared in our walking, and singing, and loving, from the least to the greatest?

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