The fifth sermon in the Reclaiming Jesus Series preached by the Rev. Linda Harrison
August 19, 2018
Scripture texts: Exodus 20.1-17; John 8.27-32, 14.1-7
A reading from Reclaiming Jesus
IV. WE BELIEVE that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition, whose vocation includes speaking the Word of God into their societies and speaking the truth to power. A commitment to speaking truth, the ninth commandment of the Decalogue, “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16), is foundational to shared trust in society. Falsehood can enslave us, but Jesus promises, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). The search and respect for truth is crucial to anyone who follows Christ.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life. Politicians, like the rest of us, are human, fallible, sinful, and mortal. But when public lying becomes so persistent that it deliberately tries to change facts for ideological, political, or personal gain, the public accountability to truth is undermined. The regular purveying of falsehoods and consistent lying by the nation’s highest leaders can change the moral expectations within a culture, the accountability for a civil society, and even the behavior of families and children. The normalization of lying presents a profound moral danger to the fabric of society. In the face of lies that bring darkness, Jesus is our truth and our light.
John’s gospel. The trial of Jesus before Pilate.
Pilate asks, “Are you a king?”
Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate replies, “What is truth?” (18.37-38)
Indeed, What is truth?
John wrote this gospel for the community of Jewish believers. When hearing the gospel, by the time they got to Pilate’s question, I imagine them shouting the answer!
John wrote for a community in crisis – the Temple was destroyed, so what are they supposed to do if God isn’t where God should be or is thought to be? Where’s God to be found? And at the same time, John’s community is being thrown out of the synagogue for confessing Christ. They have lost the Temple and lost their community. Where do they belong? Nothing was as it should have been; their whole world was a topsy-turvy mess of chaos and anxiety.
Nothing is as it should be. And John wrote:
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and God was the Word … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld the glory of the Word, glory as of an only begotten from a parent, full of grace and of truth” (John 1.1, 14).
In a world full of lies, treachery, and deceit, God is still here, from all time, for all time, until the end of time.
They wonder, Where do we belong? And Jesus says:
I am the good shepherd (John 10.11, 14). I am the gate for the sheep (10.7, 9). I am the bread of life (6.35, 48, 51). I am the living water (4.10-11). I am the light of the world (8.12; 9.5). I am the true vine (15.1, 5).
Where do you belong? You belong in me.
I am the resurrection (11.25). I am the way, the truth, and the life (14.6). Yes, you belong in me. Come. Believe in me; abide in me.
For this gospel writer, believing is a state of being. John does not write about belief as an abstract concept – the writer never uses it as a noun – believing is a way of life. John’s Jesus invites us into active believing. It is heart knowledge, not head knowledge – it is not right interpretation or orthodoxy. It is experiential knowing and responding. “I know my own and my own know me” (10.14).
Believing is relationship. We belong.
“I know my own and my own know me” (10.14). “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (18.37).
In a world where we often do not feel at home, Jesus invites us home. Along with the disciples of the John the Baptist who asked Jesus, “Where are you abiding?” Jesus invites us to “Come and see” as well. Come, abide in the Word that became flesh.
“Abide in me as I abide in you” (14.4).
The Word that became flesh is full of truth and grace and we are invited to abide in that grace and that truth. Nurtured. Protected.
Jesus isn’t the good shepherd or the vine or the bread alone. No. Jesus is much more.
Deep in a theological discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus imparts a revelation. The woman says, “I know that Messiah is coming, that one called Anointed. When that one comes, he will announce all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I AM, the one speaking to you.”
Jesus is I AM. Ἐγώ εἰμι (ego eimi)… the Greek translation of the Hebrew YHWH, I AM.
In the midst of the storm, the boat being tossed, as if walking on water were not enough of a clue, Jesus says, “I AM; do not be afraid” (6.20). Jesus continues to say to us, In the midst of your storm-tossed life, know I AM and be comforted.
While in a theological argument with the religious leaders, Jesus discloses, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (8.58). The ancestor in the faith, the first one called by God to worship the one true God, is not the defining factor of belonging to God for this community who have been expelled from their synagogue, because, as John wrote in the Prologue, In the beginning was the Word and all who received the Word and believed in that name were given power to become children of God (1.12-13).
In the garden, when Jesus asked the detachment of Roman soldiers who they were looking for, they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth”, to which Jesus replied, “I AM.” That one little phrase rendered the entire detachment powerless as they all fell to the ground at its utterance. Six hundred soldiers with lanterns and torches and weapons, fell over at this revelation. It is the typical reaction humans have to a theophany. In their awed silence, Jesus asked again for whom they were looking, and Jesus again answered “I told you that I AM. If you are looking for me, let these others go” (18.5-8). In this last I AM statement of the gospel, John’s community would hear and remember every other I AM statement, most particularly that Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down life the sheep and is the gate at the sheepfold keeping danger at bay.
This is the revelatory climax in John. Jesus not only reveals the great I AM, but is I AM.
The Word became flesh and abides among us, full of grace and truth.
Pilate asks, “What is truth?”
And John’s community shouts, That is the wrong question! Not what, but Who? Who is truth?
The life-giving, protecting, nurturing, comforting Word of God is the ultimate Truth. And we are invited to believe; we are invited into relationship with this glorious, grace-filled Truth. We who follow the Christ, belong to truth and we listen to Truth’s voice.
And that Truth spoke Love to the secular powers that bind, oppress, and subjugate. That Truth called out the lies of fear and hate, of the idolatry of greed and the idolatry of self-promotion.
Anything we utter, anything we think, anything we do in this world that is antithetical to the ways of Jesus, anything that thwarts the Truth of I AM, is a lie. We measure everything that is said, heard, read, and seen in the public sphere by the revelation of God in Jesus, the Word made flesh, the great I AM.
We test everything against the One who said, “I am the way and the truth” – whether what we hear or see is from the left or the right, and the rhetoric from all segments is sometimes indistinguishable for the vitriol, hyperbole, self-aggrandizement, invective, and falsehoods. If it doesn’t measure up to the Truth of I AM, to the Truth of God’s Love, it is a deception.
Jesus said to those who had come to believe, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8.31-32).
We continue to abide in I AM, the Word that became flesh; we continue to abide and to believe. Doing so, sets us free from the deceptions of this world. We are free to embrace the abundant life Jesus came to grace us all with, free from the fear and the anger and the hate that are peddled in the public square – the falsehoods that enslave us as individuals and as a nation. We are free to call out the lies we witness and hear coming from our elected servants; we are free to hold them to account, to shine the Light of Jesus’ truth.
We know I AM; we know the Truth of God’s Love and that Truth will truly set us all free.
Blessed be God forever.