Handling the Truth

This sermon was delivered on May 26, 2013, at Wallace UMC.

You-Cant-Handle-the-Truth

 

John 16:4-15

 

But I have said these things to you so that when their time comes, you will remember that I told you about them.

 

 “I didn’t say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I go away to the one who sent me. None of you ask me, ‘Where are you going?’ Yet because I have said these things to you, you are filled with sorrow. I assure you that it is better for you that I go away. If I don’t go away, the Advocate[a] won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. He will show the world it was wrong about sin because they don’t believe in me. 10 He will show the world it was wrong about righteousness because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore. 11 He will show the world it was wrong about judgment because this world’s ruler stands condemned.

 

12 “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. 13 However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and proclaim it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine. That’s why I said that the Spirit takes what is mine and will proclaim it to you.

 

Nothing in this world feels worse than being proven wrong. It’s an awful feeling, especially if the thing that is being proven wrong is important to you. However, you would be surprised how tenacious we are when it comes right down to it. It’s a funny thing about United States culture these days: proof means very little to a large portion of people these days. We have become a people who refuse to be proven wrong. No matter what happens, there is not even a possibility that we could ever be wrong about something. If we are wrong, it’s because of extenuating circumstances that we had no control over. We are right, through and through, and no amount of proof. We have become a people who cannot handle the truth.

Instead, we have found a very clever substitute, in a phrase coined by, of all people a comedian—Stephen Colbert. The thing we have substituted truth for is, in fact, truthiness.

colbert-truthiness

Never heard of it? The concept is simple. Truthiness is the feeling of rightness one gets not from reality, not from facts, and not from anything we can prove, and not even something you feel in your heart. Truthiness is certainty that resides in the gut. I feel it in my gut, my gut instinct tells me such and such. We don’t need pesky facts to inform us about our world, all that matters is what I think, I feel, me me me. It’s the height of individualism taken to its extreme. Don’t get me wrong, individualism is a fabulous thing, and has allowed us to think and feel and do things in our lives of our own accord, by our own choices. But when we become so wrapped up in ourselves that we wind up rejecting reality is when it becomes a problem. Truthiness is the aspartame to the Truth’s cane sugar. Yeah, it sweetens things, but almost too much, and can wind up doing more harm than good in the long run.

In America, truthiness has become a staple of our diet, and honestly it’s easy to see why. We’ve become addicted to it because truthiness allows us to live our lives without ever having to take responsibility for critical thinking. Not only that, it protects us from ever having to admit that we might be wrong. If we want, all we have to do is say “Well, this is a free country, and my opinion is valid because in this country, I can believe whatever I want and it is just as valid as the so called experts.” It’s the default position for a culture that values volume over validity, truthiness over truth. My brothers and sisters, if you hold to the tenets of truthiness, allow me to burst your bubble: Jesus is not having any of that. With the coming of the Holy Spirit reign of truthiness must come to an end.

This Sunday is an important day in the Christian year. Last week was, as you may or may not know, was Pentecost, the day on which the church got its start, the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and gave them and many others the spiritual gifts necessary to do the work of Christ in the world. Today marks the first Sunday after the day of Pentecost, and this day is known in the Christian tradition as Trinity Sunday.

You only wish I meant this Trinity, didn't you?

You only wish I meant this Trinity, didn’t you?

beginning of the season of Kingdomtide. From here on throughout the rest of the year until Advent, the church focuses a great deal on the works and the teachings of Jesus, but also on the events of the Old Testament as well. It’s a time for teaching and instruction, of celebrating the coming of the kingdom that is both now and not yet, the in-between-ness of the Reign of God. Truly, this is a time of learning, seeking, and understanding what it is to live in the truth of the Holy Spirit, and to honor God in all three of the divine persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.

When the closest you can get to a physical representation of a concept is an abstract geometrical idea that in and of itself doesn't even get close to the concept itself, you know you're in for a difficult subject.

When the closest you can get to a physical representation of a concept is an abstract geometrical idea that in and of itself doesn’t even get close to the concept itself, you know you’re in for a difficult subject.

Christians are unique in their understanding of God as three-in-one. No other monotheistic religion makes the claim that while God is ultimately one, united being, God is simultaneously three. The reality of this claim is a central tenet of our faith, but it is also an incredible mystery, one that has both inspired and confounded believers since the time when it was revealed to us in this way through scripture. While the word “trinity” is not found in scripture, the three-ness of God is everywhere in Holy Scripture. In the beginning, God breathed upon the waters, and that breath, that ruach, is also translated as the Spirit. That same ruach was breathed into the nostrils of the first humans. In Proverbs, we hear from Lady Wisdom, Sophia, that same Spirit of the Living God, who boldly claims that she was there, present at the time of the laying of the foundations of the earth, and that she was in God when the world was being created. And then, at the beginning of the Gospel of John from which we read this morning, we read the words that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God, and that this Word became flesh, took on humanity, and was in both humanity and divinity, the one we call Jesus Christ.

cross eyed

Scripture reveals the Trinity to us, but it is Christ that stresses the importance of the role of the Spirit for us right now.

This little speech that I just read to you from John is one of the more troublesome of the scriptures.  Though its intent is foremost to bring comfort to the disciples, what it also does is bring out a sentence of conviction, a statement that the truth shall come with the Holy Spirit…and that truth is one of judgment on the world. Jesus announces formally that he, in fact, will be leaving the disciples. It’s something that they might have expected, but he just finally came out and said it. The disciples are obviously dismayed at this, but Jesus said that, if he did not leave, his work would not be complete, and the Advocate, the Companion, who we would label the Holy Spirit, will not come.

I want to pose a question to you: do you think the disciples were listening when he was talking about this? Granted, the sermon that Jesus is giving is rather long, but really, at what point do you think the disciples might have stopped listening?

My guess is that it was right around the time Jesus said that he would be leaving. When someone leaves a community, or a group of friends, it is normal—heck, expected—for there to be a certain amount of shock, or grief, associated with that news. But does Jesus stop for a second, a brief second, to let them catch up? To let them grieve? To let them, I don’t know, act like real human beings with emotions and desires? Nah. He just kind of steamrolls over them and moves straight to the “comforting” phase—a comforting phase that is also a conviction of sin. Weird fellow, that Jesus.

Then again, that really does sound like Jesus, doesn’t it? Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat much in the Bible. Yes he’s comforting, yes, he’s caring and loving, but that doesn’t come at the expense of giving the truth. Jesus is God, after all, as much God as the Father is God, and with that comes the devotion and obligation to giving the truth, no matter how much we might desire them to give a comforting “truthiness,” one that doesn’t challenge us, or makes us feel that we might actually be right in the end. Jesus is not a wishy-washy kind of person. In fact, he’s the opposite. He offers the truth to a world that desperately needs it, but perhaps is not quite able to handle it. He says as much in this speech.

Though he makes the announcement that yes, he is leaving, that doesn’t mean that they will be alone. There will be another to come to do the work of God though he might be physically absent from us, reigning with the Father in heaven. The other to come is just as much God as Jesus or the Father, and will come to us as a companion, but more than that: an Advocate. The Spirit is coming, yes, and has indeed come through the events of the Pentecost. The Spirit has come and is available to all, and able to work through anyone. The job of the Spirit is to point to the Jesus, to reveal the truth, and to prove that world is in need of a savior. Jesus makes a fantastic list of what the Spirit will do, but he does it in a list of things the Spirit will prove wrong about the world. The spirit will prove the world wrong about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment. Three things the Spirit will prove wrong. Three things the Spirit will provide the truth about. Three bitter pills that we are going to have to take, not the sweetness of truthiness, but the reality of God’s truth. Three truths that we might not yet be able to handle—but might eventually, in time.

The Spirit’s role is to “guide us in all truths.” I like that description. I like it a lot. In fact, I like it so much, I kind of base my entire philosophy of ministry around the Holy Spirit. It’s a good idea, to me. I see it as my role, as a minister, to share and show Christ to others. In my head, I believe that this is what the Spirit wants us to do as ministers of the Gospel. There’s only one Christ, and though we aspire to be like Christ, the truth is we can’t get there on our own. That’s why the Spirit is there. That’s why the Spirit was given to us. She’s there to help us understand Christ, and to guide us in all truth.

The truth Jesus lays out for us in this passage is threefold, a fun number for us on Trinity Sunday. The first: the truth about Sin. The truth is, we are all sinful. I’ve said it, and I don’t shy away from it. All of creation is, in its own way, broken, wounded, and tainted by sin. Since almost the beginning it has been this way, and it will remain this way until we understand and seek the truth, which the Spirit will guide us to. That truth? Well, Jesus says it’s about belief in him, which in my mind, means primarily, belief that we are in need of divine assistance. We are in need of God’s help to overcome the brokenness that exists in us all, in our world. The Spirit’s job is to point to Christ, and therefore, to the reality that Christ came for all of us for the redemption of the world.

The second truth is about righteousness—but he comes at this in a weird way, honestly, but bear with me. Jesus says we are wrong about righteousness because we will no longer see Christ; he has gone to the Father to dwell with him. Okay. How does that affect righteousness? How does Jesus going away affect how we live? Think about it. In what way does Jesus leave us? Through death, and later, through the resurrection and the ascension. However, that first gate is the hardest one. Because of our sin, we all are condemned to death, for death is the wage of sin. In our sin, we are unrighteous. However, we believe that we are righteous…because of the false truths we tell ourselves. We believe we are righteous because we do not wish to acknowledge our sin, and therefore, don’t want to see the truth that Jesus died so that we can be made righteous. The Spirit’s job is to reveal to us that it is only because Christ died and rose again that we are made righteous.

The third truth is that about judgment—and this is where the hope comes in. Hope in judgment? I know, weird concept, but again, this is the logic of Christ. He says we are wrong because the “ruler of this world” is already condemned—referring to Sin, once more. Sin has power and dominion of this world, of this we already know. However, through the previous two truths, we now see that Sin has been deposed. Sin is no longer in control of the world. Sin has been condemned, so that we can be free. It’s a threefold truth that the Spirit gives to us, a truth that reflects the threefold nature of God. The truth comes in threes, my friends.

So where does this leave us? Where do we go from here? Well, I would say that, because of this word that we have been given, it should be a reality check for us. We can no longer bear to deceive ourselves with “truthiness.” Truthiness, willful ignorance of our own selfishness and sin, cannot continue, and rather, we must listen to the truth of the Holy Spirit. She has come to reveal to us the truth, but not only that, to guide us in the truth, to walk with us and lead us to better understanding of God in all of God’s glory. It is our task now to be open to the Spirit, to the truth she provides and guides us in, and to be open to the teaching that will be given to us in the coming times. You are not going to be abandoned. You will be given comfort, and guidance, and leadership, through the Holy Spirit. Though the future might be unclear, and though we might grieve for our losses, know that you are not abandoned, nor forgotten, nor lost. The Spirit has come to guide you in all truth, so that in time, you will be able to handle it, and indeed, guide others in it as well. The truth is available to you, and the truth shall set you free. Amen.

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About grantimusmax

Grant Barnes, aka Grantimus Maximus, aka The Nerdcore Theologian. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology with a Masters Degree in Divinity. He is also a commissioned elder in the United Methodist Church, and Senior Pastor at Hemphill First United Methodist Church and Pineland United Methodist Church. He graduated from Texas State University Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in English, minor in History. He watches way too many movies, reads too many books, listens to too much music, and plays too many video games to ever join the mundane reality people claim is the "Real World." He rejects your reality, and replaces it with a vision of what could be, a better one, shaped by his love for God.
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