3 John 1:2-8 (NIV)
2 Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. 3 It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. 7 It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.
The things I have found most frustrating and challenging during this strange season of COVID19 have been making decisions with what, at the beginning of all this seemed like so little information and, now as we come across more information, sorting through so many conflicting responses and reactions to that information.
It drives me crazy.
Man, I am so glad we have such an awesome session.
I am grateful for their collective wisdom.
For this community to seek truth with.
As you all are spending time in prayer, please continue to keep our session (Dave, Dicky, Jackie Pike, Pam Jurgemeyer, Pam Tucker, Steve, and our treasurer Susie) in your prayers … because as we seek to serve Christ’s church, to support the church, to equip the church for ministry, and keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible, we need all the wisdom and guidance we can get.
Since Easter we have been looking at the Great Ends of the Church, six claims from our Book of Order, that as a Presbyterian congregation, we believe serve as something like a vision statement, guiding us as we seek to faithfully live, serve, and worship as Christ’s church. So far we have looked at three of these Great Ends:
- the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
- the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
- the maintenance of divine worship;
Today our Great End of the Church is,
- the preservation of the truth;
This seems like such a timely topic.
As Christians we are people who deeply care about truth.
I think truth is something most of us would agree we want, right? Especially right now when it seems like so many of our decisions have so much more at stake than they have before.
I would bet that many of us are longing for truth.
We have questions and fears that are hopefully pointing us toward truth. What is trustworthy? What is dependable? What information is consistent with real life? What information do we need to keep each other safe? Who actually knows what they are talking about … who is a reliable source? How do we make decisions that won’t come back to haunt us? What and who is accurate? What is true in all this? And when we do find truth, how do we protect it? How do we preserve it?
This week as I have thought about truth, I have had that Johnny Cash song, “What is Truth” echoing in the background, you know the one that goes, “And the lonely voice of youth cries, ‘What is truth?’” I also have realized that my default definition of truth, especially right now, is probably something along the lines of “accurate information.” That is helpful in a lot of ways. There isn’t anything wrong with accurate information. That’s good. But when we are talking about our faith, and discipleship, about the life and work of the church … when we are talking about the church’s great end, “Preservation of the truth” – I think scripture points us toward something bigger, more valuable, and more life shaping than accurate information.
If we want to see what our faith has to say about truth, one of the most helpful places we can look is the Gospel of John. John wants us to know and understand the truth.
I want to look at John chapter 8 verses 23-36 with you all. This is part of a long interaction Jesus has with a lot of people, followers and critics, when he is in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. One thing to keep in mind through this conversation is that the Feast of Tabernacles was a special harvest celebration that remembered God’s provision for the Israelites as they made their way through the wilderness, away from slavery in Egypt, and toward freedom in the land God promised to give them.
So, in the background of this passage we see the story of God’s people’s journey from slavery to freedom and arguments with Jesus about who Jesus really is and what that means for people’s lives.
John 8:23-36 (NIV)
25 “Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”
27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him.
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
I think this is part supposed to be kind of funny.
These people are celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, a festival that remembers God leading Israel away from slavery in Egypt, and toward freedom in the promised land … and they can say something as off base as, “We have never been slaves to anyone?” Really? What is this whole thing about? When they were celebrating the Feast of Booths’ I would bet that, someway or another, freedom and slavery were topics that would have been on people’s minds.
Maybe this is something important for us to keep in mind too. Jesus put’s truth and freedom together.
Freedom is also something that has been on our minds lately. Lots of people around us are talking about freedom and what it means to have freedom. Our faith has a specific understanding of freedom, what makes us free, what it means to be free, and how faithful people use that freedom.
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
In John’s gospel, truth isn’t just accurate information. The truth, to John, is Jesus.
Joseph Small, says this really well, in his study of the Great Ends of the Church. He writes,
“The truth of the gospel is not a concept, a proposition or a theorem. The truth is a person, Jesus Christ … The consistent witness of Scripture is that Jesus Christ is the truth about who God is, the truth about who we are, and the truth about who we are meant to be … The fourth Great End [of the Church] calls us to preserve the truth that Christ is the Truth … Jesus Christ is God with us and God for us” (Small, The Great Ends of the Church, pp. 20-21 & Leader’s Guide, p. 17).
Jesus is the truth.
Jesus frees us from slavery to sin and offers us new life.
This moves us away from understanding truth as holding onto accurate information about God, and moves us toward, seeing truth as a person, a being, we live life in dynamic relationship with, a living being who shapes every part of our lives. (Like that reading from 3 John that talks about “walking in the truth.”
So if the truth is Jesus, what does it mean to “preserve the truth?”
First off it means living life in relationship with Jesus. It means letting our relationship with Jesus shape every part of our lives … letting what he says is important be important for us. Letting his words and example shape our words and our actions. It means trusting Jesus is who he says he is, and doing what Jesus invites us to do. Loving the people around us as Jesus has loved us. It means following Jesus by laying down our lives for each other, as Jesus has laid down his life for us … it means giving ourselves to build up our neighbors.
Jesus encourages his disciples, Jesus encourages us … “If we hold to his teaching, we are really his disciples. 32 Then we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free.”