Monday, May 19, 2014

Exclusive Truth: Sermon on John 14:1-14

    Some people get really uncomfortable with Jesus.  In this day and age, quite a few get uncomfortable when they hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John–the very words of our Gospel lesson today, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

    “How can Jesus be so exclusive?” folks ask.  “How can He say that He is the truth and the only way to the Father?  What about all those other good people who do so many good things?  Don’t they have the truth?  What makes Jesus so special?”  Not only does Jesus’ exclusive truth claim make some people nervous, there are others who scoff from the get go.  “Don’t you know truth is relative?” they say.  “There is no such thing as universal truth, so what Jesus says is irrelevant.”

    These are very good questions, and they deserve much more time than I can give them this morning, but I will attempt to deal with these things as briefly as possible.  “Why?” you might ask.  Well, because in our day and age, if we truly want to be effective in sharing our faith, we’ve got to be able to deal with some of those things floating around our culture that have become “common sense” ideas.  Some of the things I asked above are some of the “common sense” arguments people use to excuse themselves from ever having to deal with questions of truth and questions of faith, and if you try to engage people about faith without dealing with some of these questions, their eyes will glaze over, and they will simply tune you out.  The gospel will never have a chance to sink in unless these things are dealt with.

    So, let’s begin with the issue of truth.  Is truth relative?  Does universal truth even exist?  Notice I am a long way off from Jesus at this point.  Don’t worry, I hope to get to Him before this sermon is done.  Since the philosopher Nietzsche, many claim that universal truth does not exist and that truth is simply relative.  Truth is simply what any given culture says truth is at any given moment of history.  If you want a great example of this, Google Bill Clinton definition of is. 

    But there is a major problem with saying truth is relative.  First off, in order for truth to be relative, the statement truth is relative has to be a universal truth.  Try to unwind that one in your head.  You see, if the statement “truth is relative” is true, then the statement is actually relative, so why should I believe it?  You can’t get very far with that one logically, can you? 

    Second, and probably most importantly, if truth is simply what any given culture says it is during any point in history, then what gives us the slightest notion that we can argue that our version of truth is better than another culture’s version of truth?  I mean, think about this: if there are no universal truths, then what gives us the idea that respecting people of all colors, races, or creeds is the best form of living?  Can we lift up our model of democratic living in the United States above those living in an Islamic regime?  Or a dictatorship?  If truth is relative, what reason do I have to give to a person who steals, kills, or destroys?  That person can simply say, “What’s true for you is true for you, but what’s true for me is true for me.”  We have no basis for declaring something right or wrong.  We only have what society says or what we say ourselves.  Does anyone want to live this way?  No, and we certainly do not live this way.  We live as though there are certain truths which are universal and binding to everyone.

    Both of these things show, I think rather strongly, that yes, there is such a thing as absolute truth.  There is such a thing as truth which is binding upon each and every one of us.

    Of course, the next logical progression, and the one I’ve been personally hit with before is, “Okay smarty pants.  You say there is universal truth.  So, I take it you know it?  Why don’t you share it with the rest of us so that we can be just as enlightened as you.”

    This statement usually backs anyone into a corner for a couple of reasons.  First, it does take great audacity to say that one knows the absolute truth.  Remember several weeks ago, I preached a sermon where I showed that each and every one of us has a blind spot and that our brains fill in the blanks?  Anyone who has done even a little bit of studying knows, absolutely knows, he or she doesn’t come close to knowing all there is to know–even when it comes to knowing the truth.  That’s the first problem.  The second problem comes with those who actually claim to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  We’ve seen a few of those folks, haven’t we.  We’ve seen them fly planes into towers.  We’ve seen them kill doctors at abortion clinics.  We’ve seen them mutilate women and kidnap young girls to sell into slavery.  We’ve seen them treat people of other ethnic groups as less than human.  We’ve seen them kill homosexuals without regret.  We generally call them fanatics, and fanatics are generally frowned upon these days for good reason.  Very few want to be seen as a fanatic.

    But here is where things tend to get a little interesting.  For aren’t we all a fanatic in some way, shape and form?  I mean, aren’t there those who are fanatical about not being a fanatic?  Think about that one.  Think about those who proclaim the gospel of tolerance.  We must be tolerant of everyone.  We must be tolerant of their beliefs and practices.  We must allow folks to express themselves with freedom.  Sounds good on the surface, but have you ever known one of these folks to be tolerant of those who are intolerant?  Did you see what happened to Donald Sterling, the owner of the L.A. Clippers?  How did the “tolerant” folks treat him?  Well, they actually treated him like fanatics treat someone who doesn’t share their beliefs, didn’t they?  We’re all a little fanatical in some way.  We all think we have a hold on the truth, don’t we?  I mean admit it.  Deep down, somewhere you probably believe that if folks just believed like you do, then the world would work great, right?  Of course, the person sitting right next to you probably believes the exact same thing.  So which of you is right?

    Let’s return to the illustration that I used several weeks ago about the blind men and the elephant.  Briefly, there are several blind men who stumble upon an elephant, and they proceed to touch the elephant to “see” it.  After they examine the elephant, they begin to argue about what the elephant is like.  One says it’s like a rope–he grabbed the tail.  One argues it is like a hose–he grabbed the trunk.  One argues it’s like a spear–he touched the tusk.  One argues it’s like a walk–he touched the torso.  One argues it’s like a tree stump–he touched the leg.  All of them are right.  All of them are wrong because none can see the whole elephant.  None of them can know the whole truth. 

    As I said before, and so I say again, the only way this story can work is if someone actually sees the whole elephant.  We cannot know that each and everyone of us doesn’t have the truth unless someone knows what the truth is.  And who knows what the truth is?  Who has ever seen it?  No human, that’s for sure.  No human has ever grasped the truth, the full truth.

    But what if the truth came down to us?

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him.”

    God took on flesh and lived among us. God the Son left eternity to enter into our time and our place to reveal Himself to us–not as an idea or a concept but as a person.  Jesus said, “I am the truth.”

    And this, I think is important.  The truth is a person.  Why is this so important?  Think about the most important relationship you have–second to your relationship with God, I mean.  Think about the person you love and cherish the most either as a spouse or a friend.  You may have spent copious amounts of time with that person.  You may have talked and talked and talked to each other.  Do you believe you know that person fully?  Do you know everything there is to know about that person?  Do you know that person to the very depths of his or her soul?  No, of course you don’t.  There are some things you know and know well, but there is an awful lot of mystery as well.  There is an awful lot of growing you still have to do in that relationship.  And, of course, you don’t own that other person.  You cannot claim that you “have” that other person.  And you can’t give that person to another.  You can only introduce others to him or her.  You can only tell others about his or her qualities.  You cannot arrogantly proclaim your ownership over another person.  As fanatical as you are about your love and care for this person, you don’t shove that person onto another.  Do you see where I am going with this?

    If universal truth is not a concept or an idea but it is a person, then we live in relationship to that person.  We live in relationship to Jesus.  We live in relationship with the truth.  There are some things we know, but there is an awful lot we don’t know.  There is an awful lot of mystery in Jesus.  There is a lot of growing we still have to do.  We can absolutely be fanatical about our love for Him, but when it comes to introducing Him to others, we do so as if we were introducing our best friend or spouse.  And I have yet to see anyone introduce their best friend or spouse by saying, “If you don’t believe in my spouse, you will go to hell.”  Not necessarily appropriate.  And not necessarily honoring the one whose traits we have come to know.  For Jesus came into the world not to condemn the world but to save it.  And Jesus came into the world to reveal the truth to us–while we were still sinners.  And Jesus went to the cross to die for us–while we were still broken.  And Jesus hung on the cross praying for His enemies and asking God to forgive them. 

    Yes, I believe in exclusive truth.  I believe in Jesus.  For as the truth, He calls me to be fanatical about love, about forgiveness, and honoring and respecting all those who are created in the image of God.  And when I don’t and didn’t measure up to this; He loved me and died for me offering me forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  These are the same things He gives to you and to the whole world.  Amen.

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