Friday, September 9, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Truth in an Uncertain World

There are 51 references in the Gospel of John to the word “Truth”.   At the start of today's sermon, here are several of them to hear.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.    1:14, 17

Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.  3:21

God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and in truth.    4:24

I tell you the truth.    –multiple references

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.   –8:32

I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me 


When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.   –16:13

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.   –17:17

Jesus answered Pilate; In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.   ---18:37

“What is truth?”  retorted Pilate  --18:38


Truth in an Uncertain World                                                9/11/16

Acts 17:10-34, John passages

Passages of time always strike people differently, but it amazes me that it has been 15 years since the attacks in New York, Washington and the skies of Pennsylvania.  You can be in high school and your whole life has been lived in a post-9/11 society.

As we look back, two distinctive ideas have occurred:  people throughout the world felt connected, even brought close by that day, and at the same time, terror, conflict, war, death have separated people and nations.

Fracture in the world is one of the consistencies of the post-modern world.  We live in a world that experiences philosophical and epistemological crisis.  Epistemological is a fancy word for “how we know”.   There is a sense in which this has always been true, for it was Pilate who 1980 years ago scoffed at Jesus Christ, “What is truth?”  But it continues to ring true today, and in our world.

The more we know, the more questions we have.  And our questions are born out of crisis.  How do we know?  How can we know?  What should we know?  These are the questions that come from a fractured world.

It was into this world that Jesus came, and his Spirit placed within our hearts:  We can know truth, because Jesus Christ is truth.  He is the answer to our deepest questions.

Part of the fracture that has occurred in part because of our access to unattainable amounts of knowledge and opinions.   Google searches reveal a million sites of opportunity in a second.  What are we to do with that?  One response has been that for humans, it is easy to deconstruct; that is to use questions to tear down, to challenge in unhealthy ways if there is any knowledge or truth in the world.  I find this true in my life:  I can be just like anyone in a chat room or blog and tell you what is wrong with the world.  The challenge is to use knowledge in a way that builds something, not simply bringing accusation and deconstruction to the table.  If truth exists, then it is by definition, helpful and good for people, all people, regardless of time and geography and age.

As we contemplate the John passages where Jesus mentions truth, what should truth do for the Christian?

Truth should equip us for life and living.  Truth is an enduring reality, and able to shape us for good.  Truth isn’t simply something to talk about in playful manner (as the Athenians did in the Acts story).  Truth is meant to shape our lives, and all the living we do.

Truth and grace are woven together in the gospel.  We are to be people of truth.  Christians should announce the truth of Jesus Christ, challenge falsehood, live truthfully.  But we shouldn’t deceive ourselves that we are never wrong about anything.  Jesus was full of truth and grace.  We, in our efforts to lift up Jesus Christ as the truth, should also model and experience grace too. 

Truth is something we can know.  Jesus is the truth.  We can know him, and knowing him should open the door to knowing what is true.

Truth liberates.  “the truth shall set you free…when the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed”.  We must take great care when we come together as a congregation to be people of truth, to tell the truth, to find the truth, and to build our story not on what isn’t true, but what is.  If we construct congregational life on what isn’t true, then there isn’t a reason for us to exist.

Paul Tells the Truth
The Areopagus was the highest court in Ancient Greece, with honored citizens who had to go through nine levels of testing to be on the council.  The court pre-dates democracy in Greece, and the council could summon any person to punish serious crimes, (I found interesting that idleness was among the serious crimes listed).  Because this outsider Paul stirred up the crowds in the marketplace, and challenged the establish idols of Athens, he is brought before the court.

This story models how we are to act as messengers of God’s truth.  First off, we meet the Bereans, who are described as noble in character because they search the Scriptures when Paul proclaims the message.  They did not blindly follow, but used their minds, considered their sources and history, and engaged with what he taught.  They used Scripture as the foundation of what they were listening to. 

Paul went to the marketplaces to debate and proclaim his message.  This is a good reminder to us, to interact with people in our workplaces, in our shopping, our walking down the street:  these are the places where truth likes to travel.  

Paul spoke the truth when he was asked to testify.  He brought his best, his logic and reason and message, based on his understanding of Athenian society.  He did not avoid the difficult topics of idolatry, resurrection and judgment. 

Paul remained open to how God wanted to use him.  The Areopagus invited him back to hear more from him.  Paul was available.  The message of truth will stand on its own merit, and a number of people were transformed because Paul spoke the truth.

Today, we conclude our summer sermon series called “How Did We Get Here?”  We have attempted to consider the state of the Church throughout the world, and how it has experienced Scriptural Values modeled throughout Western Civilization.  I want to close our series by briefly reviewing values and warnings that we’ve highlighted, and a one sentence explanation of why they are important to the church today.

From Oral History, we learned that The human story has always been about more than survival.  
This is true of our faith in Christ, and equally important for congregations to know, understand and practice:  if we are serving God, we have more important things to concern ourselves with than survival.

From Greek history, we learned about wisdom together.  Our Christian faith relies on the wisdom of brothers and sisters, and our congregations are gatherings of people who should be wisdom for each other.

From Roman History, we learned about seeking values which endure.

It was during the time of the Roman Empire that Jesus Christ was born.  We are to announce his good news amidst the empires of this world.

The Medieval world stressed the importance of community.  We are created for community, with God and neighbor.  We should always be seeking to nurture community with God and neighbor, and congregations are to be leaders in modeling community.

The Renaissance invited people to behold beauty.  We serve the God of all glory and majesty.  Christians should lift up that which is beautiful.

The Reformation was an age of correction.  People of faith should always be open to being corrected, for repentance leads to salvation.  Churches must be on the forefront of being communities of grace and truth where correction is received.

The era of nation building helped define the roles of authorities.  We are to respect authorities while staying on message that all authority is given by God, and will answer to God.

The Enlightenment emphasized progress.  While we always want to improve, Jesus Christ, and not the idea of progress, is our ultimate focus.  We can remember that one definition of progress is the parade route of a Sovereign throughout his or her realm.  God is to be announced to the masses as human history sees his presence.

The age of industrialization brought mass production, but our job is not to get more, but rather, take care (be a steward) of what we have been given.

Today, truth exists, even in an uncertain world.  Jesus is the truth, and Christians have the responsibility to make truth claims to the world on behalf of our God.

If we consider the final saying from the John readings, Jesus told Pilate that he was the truth and that everyone with Christ will side with truth.   Pilates response was to scoff “What is truth?”. 

As we go out into an uncertain world, who are you more like, Pilate, with your philosophical scoffing of the existence of truth, or your Lord, whom you are called to become like?

Jesus is the truth.  He is the truth, all the truth, needed for an uncertain world.  As ambassadors, the most lasting thing we can do is point people to Jesus Christ. 

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