"Shattering The Truth"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 6, 2007

John 13:31-35; Acts 11:1-18


   During the drama that took place between Jesus and Pontius Pilate just prior to Jesus’ execution, there was an important exchange between the two men.  Jesus said, “I came into this world for one purpose – to speak about the truth.”  In response Pilate asked an excellent question, “What is truth?”

     Truth has always been an elusive value for most of us.  We have recognized that truth is always changing.  For example, I remember an advertisement years ago where a fully loaded Samsonite suitcase was thrown from the roof of a nine-story building.  Upon impact on the pavement, the suitcase stayed locked and appeared to be unscathed.  In those days, truth was about durability.  

     Then a number of years ago someone added a feature that spread through the industry like a wild fire. Wheels were installed on suitcases.  When the market climate changed, Samsonite created luggage that was lighter and far less durable.  People wanted carry-on luggage for air travel.  Acknowledged truth is like a stepping-stone to something even greater when people remain flexible and open to change. 

     Some of you may remember the television series Gun Smoke, featuring Matt Dillon as a United States Marshal.  His deputy was Chester Good who used a hand-carved wooden crutch in every episode.  The truth was that the medical community could not do anything for Chester.  He probably needed a hip replacement.  The truth that a hip replacement was possible had not yet materialized in human history.  We should be glad that known truth is not fixed and permanent.  Truth reflects our best understanding of the moment.

     I was present when a pain management physician told my mother that there was nothing more he could do to relieve the pain from her severe spinal stenosis.  Realizing that this was a quality of life issue, he referred her to a neurosurgeon who knew how to operate on a 93-year-old woman.  Mom had the surgery last week and was going up and down the halls of Shady Grove hospital on her walker the next day.  Truth is not stationary.  It is always changing when we break through to a different level of awareness.  This is true even in the arena of our faith.

     There is perhaps no greater example in the New Testament of how truth was used as a stepping-stone than in our lesson this morning.  There was a time when all followers of Jesus were Jews who had shifted their loyalties away from obedience to the Laws of Moses to something greater – learning to love others whole heartedly, even former enemies.  This was the crown jewel of Jesus’ message – the sum of all wisdom derived from the Law and the Prophets.

     The new followers of the way of Jesus, however, wanted to keep the traditions of the Jews, e.g., to observe the high holy days, that men should be circumcised, that followers of Jesus should continue to observe strict dietary restrictions and that they should not associate with Gentiles.  There was tremendous dissention among the followers of Jesus over the form Jesus’ teachings should assume.  Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” was at stake in what followed historically.

     To direct the energy of the followers, Peter told them how God had provided guidance.  Peter described a vision of a large sheet that was filled with things Jews could not eat.  God said to Peter, “Eat!”  Peter responded, “No ritually unclean or defiled food has ever entered my mouth.  God said, “Do not consider anything unclean that I have declared clean.”  What a departure from the truth that had been established by their tradition!       

     From this vision, Peter told them how it was God’s will that he went and entered the home of Cornelius who lived in Caesarea. The Hebrew Law strictly forbade a Jew from entering the home of a Roman centurion.  He told them how the Holy Spirit came upon them in the same manner that it had descended upon many of the disciples.  Peter said, “It is clear that God gave the Gentiles the same gift he gave to us.  Who am I to try to stop God?”  Peter pointed to a new awareness, and those who heard Peter’s words said, “Then God has given to the Gentiles the same opportunity as we have to change their attitudes and life style and live.” 

     Perhaps the most difficult change for Christians to experience is to build on what we have been taught all our lives.  The great temptation is to stay with the foundations inspired by tradition, time honored values and the teachings of those before us.  It is often very difficult to reach beyond the boundaries of thought that our faith has established for us.  The Jewish Christians wanted to maintain their purity as Jews even though Jesus had clearly pointed to a reality that was much greater.   

     Later in our early Church history, Peter and Paul were in disagreement over this same issue. One outcome of the Jerusalem Conference was that Paul would take Jesus’ message to the Gentile world.   

     Shattering the truth is something that is being done everyday in our world.  The good news of “loving one another” became the message that was made abundantly clear in the Gospel lesson for today (John 13:34-35).  In time we will discover that teaching will be required and remain a necessity if we are to survive as a species. 

     We have become very impatient with the war in Iraq.  We remain alarmed at the disregard for human life that we find among Islamic extremists.  Could it be that the world community has never tried to incorporate these people into the family of nations?  

     We forget that the Germans are now our friends.  We forget that Queen Elizabeth is currently visiting our country, representing a nation we fought in two wars.  We forget that McDonald’s restaurants are now in Hanoi.  Japanese suicide bombers flew their aircraft into our ships.  Today, Toyota has just taken the lead as the largest manufacturer of cars in the United States.  There are currently 1,600 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in China.

     The world grows smaller and more diverse thanks in part to the Internet, personal travel and companies willing to take their business into various markets all over the world.  When we reach across our borders with outstretched arms, we are remaining the leaven for the loaf.  Something to think about is that industry is taking the lead on building a world community, not the Church.  However, in defense of the Church, many of the values and beliefs of Jesus and his disciples have reached far beyond our limited understanding of how the Truth is being used by God.  Authentic love is at the heart of what is happening.

     Our understanding of love has to do with how our caring attitudes and spirits are directed toward others.  Industry delivers love to others in a much different form.  People are provided with jobs, skills and education that encourage them to build an economically viable future that will enable them to become contributors to the rest of the world.  When people make it economically, it is interesting how their anger fades.  Truth marches on in spite of the belief among some of us that we have it all to ourselves.       

      It is God’s spirit who is leading us into a new day.  Those who cling to what they think it means to be a Christian may be missing what God is doing in the world.  A new day will come because “love one another” remains a universal truth that is fundamental to humanity’s survival.   That one teaching stands above many religious beliefs that build more walls and barriers than they do bridges.  I hope we all live to see that new day when we all realize that we are one and we are all loved equally by God.

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     We come into our sanctuary, O God, seeking to attune our spirits with yours.  We often wish to live in a world that is not so challenging, where compromises are few and where people have learned to live together in peace.  We confess that it is easier to dream than it is to live the dream.  We find our patience with others is difficult to maintain.  We find that self-interest easily prevents us from perceiving with a loving spirit. We often misplace our happiness and joy when we personalize the insensitive attitudes of others.  As we receive the bread and the cup today, guide our minds to remember who it is we follow.  Even though living our discipleship can be challenging, enable us to persevere in reflecting our identity that reflects the likeness of Jesus’ spirit, word and deed.  Amen.