Oh, and we could try to come at this from a Church perspective and say that all this hullabaloo is a society thing. We could say it doesn’t affect us here in the church. We could say that it’s a modern construct and that it didn’t happen until just recently. However, such claims are simply not true. We, for one, are not immune to it even in our congregation, and two, it’s been going on in the church for quite some time as well. Consider this, every time we have communion, I say these words, "In the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, ‘Take and eat. This is my body given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’"
Let me ask this question. What does "is" mean in that statement by Jesus?
1. Does he mean that the bread actually becomes His body?
2. Does he mean that his body is somehow present in the bread even though it doesn’t become his body?
3. Is he using the word is as a metaphor saying that the bread symbolizes his body?
If you are a good Lutheran, you answered #2, but the reality of the church is that depending upon which denomination you are a part of, you would answer either 1, 2, or 3 and be correct because it can be interpreted in either of the three manners. So which one is the truth?
Now, you might say that it really doesn’t matter, and you might be correct on this issue, but do you realize the definition of the word "is" in this instance caused major splits in the church during the Reformation? Do you realize that at one point these theological differences were so intensely debated that folks were condemned by adhering to such positions? Do you realize that to this day there are some churches who refuse to fellowship with one another and allow people from other denominations to take communion at their church because of these definitions? It may seem absurd, but it is reality.
And reality slaps us in the face day after day after day in today’s modern technological world. Pull up any news page on the web. Watch the nightly news on television. You will not just get the news story. You will get commentary. The facts aren’t just reported, there is commentary about what an event means and how it supposedly will impact all of us. Talking points are generated at what seems like the speed of light, and not only this, not only is the commentary fast and furious, but, in this technological age, more than a few folks have been caught doctoring photographs and editing video to get their points across. Such things have made the truth very circumspect in our society today. Some could care less about such a thing, but for someone like me who hungers for the truth, it is very, very frustrating.
Oh, I know the solutions that some have proposed. I know the main one which gets circulated around. Believe it or not, I actually adhered to it for a time as I was making my way through college and seminary more because I didn’t have an argument to rebut it than because I really believed it. Perhaps you have heard it before, "Believe whatever you want to believe as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Truth is relative after all. Your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth."
First off, if you say truth is relative, why should I believe anything you say? It’s just relative anyway. I’ll give you an example of how ludicrous this statement is. Look hard at the carpet underneath our feet this morning. What color is it? Red, you say? Well, I say it’s green. It’s all relative anyway. I can believe it. It’s not hurting anyone. So why worry about it? Just let me believe what I want to believe. O.K. Anyone really want to argue that truth is completely relative?
It’s not. There is a place for truth. A truth that is above and beyond each and every one of us. And we cannot simply say believe what you want to believe as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone because number 2, our beliefs have consequences. Our beliefs lead to action. We do not live as solitary individuals on separate islands where we do not come into contact with one another. And since we are constantly coming into contact with each other, we must ask the question of how we ought to live together. Sometimes that’s an easy thing to answer. Sometimes it’s not. But one thing I know, it does not behoove us to use the absence of hurting one another as a judge for whether or not something is truthful. Sometimes the truth hurts. For instance, many young folks have dreams of being professional athletes, but the reality is 99% of them have no shot at all. They are either too short, too tall, too slow, or what have you. They are limited, and it does them no favor for us to withhold these facts from them. It may cause them pain at first to hear it, but it saves a lifetime of heart ache in the long run.
So, we’ve established that truth cannot be relative, and we’ve established that truth can hurt. But we haven’t established what the truth is yet. We haven’t been able to definitively say, "Here is the absolute truth!"
Now, at this point, I would normally turn to our Gospel lesson for today from the eighth chapter of the book of John. I would read to you Jesus words where he says, "If you continue in my word you will truly be my disciple and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." I would urge you to put these words of Jesus into practice in your life. I would urge you to read your Bibles, particularly the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I would tell you to familiarize yourself with Jesus and His teachings and become his disciple and you will automatically know the truth, and it will set you free. And I hope you will still do this.
But if you are honest with yourself, I know you will realize like I did that it is a tough task to ultimately know the truth. It is a tough task to know it fully. In fact, the task is so tough, that it is actually impossible in this lifetime. We cannot know the truth fully even though we know it is there.
So where are we left? If we cannot know the truth why even bother trying? Why even bother seeking it out? Let me leave you with some words from someone who is much wiser than I–a gentleman by the name of Richard John Neuhaus who writes these words in an article in this book, A Place for Truth:
Until then, this truth is something that more possesses us that we possess it. It is much more a matter of being possessed by the truth than possessing the truth. It is a matter of waling along a certain way, the way of the One who said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (John 14:6) "Follow me."
The Christian understanding is that truth is found only in following, in a faithful, trusting following. It’s a following in which we can’t see where the next step is...We do not need to see the distant destination, we need to know only the company. We need to know only the One who travels with us, who says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. And wherever the honest quest for truth is going to take you, it’s going to take you where I am."
This is not a truth we need to fear. To know this truth is to be wondrously freed. The same Person said, of course, in John 8, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."