6 Easter A—5/21/17
Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
Pr. Scott Kramer
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.
The “Spirit of truth.” Was there ever a time when we were more in need of the Spirit of truth? Was there ever a time more than now when the world could not receive this Spirit of truth?
Maybe you saw the article in the Seattle Times this past week: 500 lies from the White House in the first 100 days. Lies and liars are in the news a lot these days, and it’s become a topic for conversation! The cover story for the June issue of National Geographic magazine is “Why We Lie.” Notice that it’s not “Do We Lie?” It’s “Why We Lie.”
It is easy and convenient to focus on the sins of the rich and powerful, the high and mighty. But this can be a distraction from our own spiritual work because as this article demonstrates…everyone lies.
Do you doubt that? Well, think of a time recently when someone asked you how you are. How are you doing? And you responded, “Fine.” Was that true? How many times do we say “fine” when we’re not feeling fine? Sometimes I say “fine” just to make a good impression. Other times I say it because I don’t trust that the person who’s asking can hear the truth. Sometimes I don’t want to bother them. Other times it’s because I don’t think they really care. Sometimes I’m just lazy. “How are you doing?” Fine.
This example of “lying” seems like such a small thing, hardly worth mentioning! Maybe it is. But it’s also an example of how little attention we pay to the truth. To impress others, to feel like part of a group, to feel less worried or anxious we say many things, and believe many things—without really thinking about how true they are.
Here’s a quote from the National Geographic article: We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends and loved ones…Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.
This morning we began a Sunday morning book study called, “Lies We Believe About God.” I have little doubt that this title has scared off and maybe offended a few folks, since we naturally need to know that what we believe about God is true.
One of the lies we believe about God is that Christian faith is about final answers. But the church—this church—is not a place for narrow or rigid ideas that we have to believe. This church is a place that welcomes questions! The Spirit of truth is discerned through conversation with one another, and through our questions! The questions of other people may be questions that I hadn’t thought of before, or, may challenge what I thought was the truth. And, my questions may do the same for them.
Either we cling to lies and half-truths, or, we trust that the Spirit of truth will open our hearts and minds to deeper understanding of who God is and who we are.
I said a minute ago that Christian faith is not about final answers. That may not be quite true, for our Scriptures proclaim one thing that is sure: God is love, and God’s love is for you, for me, and for all creation. In today’s reading from John Jesus connects the dots between truth and love: They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
The bedrock of our faith, the deepest truth of our faith, is God’s love. To the extent that we allow the Spirit of truth to work in our lives, truth will be revealed through love. In fact, it’s not putting it too strongly to say that any thought, word, or deed that is not grounded in love is a lie. But the antidote to lies and the key to discerning truth is the daily practice of love.
This is not some mysterious, secret knowledge hidden away from us. The practice of love most of the time is very ordinary. Love makes itself known, for example, in the Apostle Paul. In today’s first reading, Paul speaks to his foreign audience with generosity of spirit, praising them for best of their culture, and calling attention to what they have in common with him: Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way! By the power of love, Paul was able to see and celebrate their common humanity.
Likewise, the writer of our second reading offers some practical advice for what love looks like: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. This is the Spirit of truth. This is the spirit of love!
You and I cannot change the ideas and attitudes of people in far-off places whom we don’t know. But each of us has great power in our households, neighborhoods and communities. The antidote to lies is love. The path to truth is love.
Here we remember that love is not some easy, sentimental feeling. No, love is the hardest work that human beings do. But the hard work of love leads to a deep and lasting freedom from all that keeps our world small. One psychologist recently said, “The truth comes naturally, but lying takes effort.” Mark Twain, in that famous quote found on your bulletin cover, said something similar: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything!” But the best affirmation of the liberating power of truth came from Jesus himself: If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. Free from the power of fear and selfishness. Free for the gifts of courage, compassion…and love.
If you love me, Jesus says, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate…This is the Spirit of truth…I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. The proof of love and the path to truth is love in action.
Dear friends, the truth may seem difficult to sort out…in the news, in our relationships. In fact, it is likely impossible to sort out on our own. But we are not now, nor are we ever, alone. We have an Advocate, the Spirit of truth, whom we discern together in the deepest questions we ask, and in lives devoted to love.