Deuteronomy 6:1-9; John 14:1-17
— Preservation of the Truth
I’m sure that when you came to church today, you did not expect to be on a gameshow. Well, here we are for no-doubt what will become everyone’s favorite new gameshow, “What’s My Truth?” I am going to read three biblical statements, and you tell me which is true:
- After Adam and Eve ate of the apple, they had to leave the Garden of Eden.
- After 40 days on the ark, Noah, his family, and the animals were able to return to dry land.
- The three wise men or magi visited the baby Jesus at his birth.
Now, we will see how well you do. Of course, those listening at home are welcome to play along. Any takers for statement one – about the apple and the Garden of Eden?
How about number two – Noah being on the ark for 40 days?
Now for number three – the 3 wise men visiting the newborn Jesus.
If you did not raise your hand for any of them, you were either too nervous to say anything, not up for my silly game, or you knew the truth that all three of those statements are false. We have no idea what kind of fruit was eaten in the Garden of Eden – more likely it would have been a fig or pomegranate. Noah and the others were on the ark much longer than 40 days. Noah was 600 when he got on and 601 when he got off – it was around 370 days on the ark according to Genesis. 40 days is just how long it rained for the flood. Finally, with the magi or wise men – that one is actually wrong two ways. First, we have no idea how many there were. Maybe we say three because of three gifts named. Also, they did not show up at Jesus’ birth but some time while Jesus was a toddler. In Matthew’s Gospel, they meet Jesus and Mary while the family is living in some house. Herod also tries to kill Jesus by hunting boys 2 years and younger. Jesus was walking and talking by the time the wise men, however many there were, got there.
Wow. I’m not going to ask you how you did. Let’s say everyone gets a star for participation or maybe just for putting up with my game. What did this teach us? We may or may not know truth like we think we do. This is especially hard for Presbyterians who pride themselves on dealing in truth. Historically, Presbyterians have devoted a lot of time into figuring things about God, what we call theology. We have many scholars and thinkers and theologians in our ranks. The PCUSA has even made it one of our great ends to preserve the truth, but this might be easier said than done.
What is truth? There are plenty of things that we assume to be true, would be willing to swear by, but may not be true: I grew up believing my birthday was one day off – and even got in an argument with my mother over this. That itself was fairly dumb. Of course, something that might be very true today may not be true tomorrow: such as someone being alive. Or something that is true to me may not be true to you: dark chocolate is the only chocolate worth anything. Or something I believe is true might be true to you in a different way: the sky is blue and the grass green, but what I see as green and blue may not be what you see as green and blue.
Please do not let me confuse you, but this does show that the matter of truth can be very confusing and has always been a struggle. There was even an ancient Greek school of philosophers called the Sophists who believed there is no absolute truth – nothing is completely or eternally true, so all truth is at some point relative; it is all squishy at some point. That idea is not far from many people today, either. But *** there is real truth, too. Even though many truths are not eternal, there is absolute truth out there, and we believe that truth begins in God.
If there was one thing that the Jewish people could count on as true and was worth believing, it is in the first passage I read – Deuteronomy 6. This passage is absolutely critical for Jewish faith and created the foundation for our faith, as well. Truth begins here: GOD.. IS.. ONE. This passage is called the SHAMA because the first word in Hebrew here is SHAMA – Hear! Listen! Take Notice! This is that you need to know! God is God alone. There is a God who is above and beyond any other god and this is God alone. Every other people back then had many gods; we only have one. And you give everything to this God – all that you have and all that you are and all that you can.
Of course, you have heard this passage elsewhere. When Jesus was asked the greatest of the commandments, this was number one. This teaching and commandment is so important that you make it part of your regular family life: teach to the kids everywhere, live it, breathe it, write it on your entranceways, keep it literally on your person – attached to you. In today’s dealings, you could march over next door to the tattoo parlor and get this inked to your skin so would never forget. It is that severe. We will have to see if there is a rush to get tattoos now. Maybe not… but there is no mistaking that we are to absolutely never forget that God is one, and we serve that God completely and wholeheartedly. This is the ground of our truth. If nothing else is true, this is. Truth begins here.
This truth has ruled our lives and filled our lives and inspired our lives and served as a guide for the ages since. Not one dot, one ounce, one second, one inch of this truth has diminished. So why have we struggled so much to live out the one thing that is true before all other truths?
That brings us to the second truth. And this is the gospel truth, the gospel message. As I admitted, we cannot live the fullness of God’s truth ourselves; the truth is too great and demands too much for us to truly live it. Nevertheless, it is still just as much true, but the claim of that truth is too hard for us to carry out ourselves. Our brokenness and sinfulness and self-love and idolatry made it impossible for our lives to show that God our true God is one and unique. The one truth in the world was too big for our lives to reflect, too deep and powerful for us to hold; therefore, God’s word, wisdom, heart, truth, God’s very Son became one of us. God brought God’s truth to us and gave him to us in grace. And the complete truth is God’s love for us in Jesus.
The truth that we could not bear or follow with our whole hearts came to hold our hearts and to bear us, even to the cross. The love of God in Jesus Christ is living truth for us all, and that living truth never changes. Truth lives in Jesus and Jesus lives for us as God’s truth.
John 14 is a strange passage but also a deeply important one to many people. This is one of those passages like Psalm 23 that can help people in the darker or later years of their life. It is a comfort, and this is the truth we need to see.
He starts out in a bold, challenging way: believe in God and believe also in me This gets a little tricky to understand because we have ONE God. That was a big claim to make then. There is no easy explanation. We just believe that Jesus and God still make one God. But then he goes on in that same passage and continues making God statements. He says, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Remember how God identified God’s self in the Exodus story with Moses was as the “I Am.” Jesus here is connecting himself to God, again. This could have been hard for his friends to hear, too – harder to understand, but the important truth that I need you to receive is that Jesus himself is the center of God’s truth. The Way, the Truth, and the Life are all the same thing: they are all him. Jesus is saying he is our true connection to God, how we live now and for all time. Even if he should leave (which he does), even then he will come back to give us the way to God and life. He is our Way to God, our Truth that God will never abandon us, and the Life that keeps us in God and God in us.
It is no accident that the very first followers of Jesus did not call themselves Christians. They called themselves “People of the Way.” We claim truth when we do live in Christ and share Jesus and embrace each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. When we truly get down to loving the difficult people – even our enemies, forgiving the hard-to-forgive people, showing mercy to those who show us none, giving to those who truly need and receiving from those we normally avoid. When we live out the truth of Christ, God’s perfect and enduring love for us all – we are sharing the truth, too.
One of the most truthful things we do here is host AA and NA every week. I believe we are committed to giving our community and neighbors that safe space to find love. This is crucial to support. They need real, beautiful truth.
In these days of feeling cut off, the truth is hurting. We need to do everything in our power to encourage truth both here and around the world. Places like Lebanon are crying out for truth right now. Anywhere where the children of God are crying out for love, that is where the truth is needed most. The next time someone asks you about truth, this is what I would encourage you to do: point to your heart and point to them. Truth lives for us; God’s perfect truth is for us all; as we live in Christ together, we are that truth ourselves.
To God be the glory. Amen.