Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Spirit of Truth

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15


Synod assembly – what a wonderful, inspiring, yet perplexing event to be a part of every year. As most of you know, I along with your voting members sent to the assembly spent the weekend gathering together to not only do the business required of the larger church, but also be inspired by speakers opening our minds to new insights of the scriptures that we hold so near and dear to our hearts and be reminded of the mission that God calls to as the church. How fitting is it that we gathered together the very same weekend when we celebrate that day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and turned them into apostles who proclaim the good news to everyone they meet. I really did have wonderful time this past weekend even with the long hours of sitting and listening. I was inspired by our people who presented telling of their stories engaging the book that reveals to us who God is. Yet, like I mentioned earlier, I was perplexed at times wondering what and why people were bringing up the things that they did yesterday and the day before.

I say I was perplexed, and what I mean by that is actually in reference to one particular resolution that came before the assembly just yesterday. That resolution was this: “Be it resolved, that the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin affirm the witness of scripture that Jesus is the only savior.” It sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? There wouldn’t be anything that you would object to in that would there? Saying Jesus is the only savior would be something that we would all be able to agree upon. So, why would this resolution cause me to be perplexed? First off, this statement is something that we already proclaim to be true AND gilds our constitutions in the very opening lines. To bring this up for a vote would be redundant and even imply that this hasn’t been the case in this synod or the wider ELCA. I find it difficult to believe that anyone could have made it through the arduous candidacy and seminary process without this being at the very center of his or her preaching and teaching. However, this is not what has me so perplexed concerning this resolution. What has me perplexed was the discussion that took place over this resolution. In particular, there was one comment that sticks out in my mind even on this the morning after. It was said, “What might be true for me may not be true for somebody else. What might be true for me may not be true for somebody else.”

This perplexes me, because I agree and I disagree with that statement at the very same time. It’s true. We don’t live within a world where everyone agrees upon what they believe. In fact, we have entered an age where no religion can claim that it speaks for everyone in their region let alone their country. There are multiple claims to truth in our world that all seem as true to those people who proclaim them to be true. We as the whole people of God can’t even agree upon which version of Christianity is the “right” one. The world is a messy muddled up place where universal truths that everyone, and I mean everyone, can agree upon are few and far between. You throw a ball up into the air, and it will come back down. The sun will rise every morning just as surely as it will set at evening. You give birth to a person, and that person will eventually die some day. Otherwise, what is truth?

The gospel of John revolves around this question of “what is truth?” Today, we hear Jesus tell the disciples of the Spirit of truth. This Spirit of truth is the very same Holy Spirit that descends upon the disciples on Pentecost after Jesus has risen and ascended to heaven. Sadly, by Jesus telling the disciples that the Spirit of truth is coming to bring them into all truth, he implies that the disciples, no matter how loyal to Jesus they profess to be, no matter how hard they will try to tell the story of who Jesus is, no matter how much they love one another, their neighbors or their enemies, the disciples will be unable to testify to the truth by themselves. They will abandon Jesus. They will lock themselves inside of rooms for fear of persecution. They will doubt the news of Jesus’ resurrection. They will not understand all that has happened if they are left to their own power of understanding to know and trust in who Jesus is. Jesus sees the disciples for who they are. He sees them as human beings. He sees them as people who will struggle with their faith. He sees them as human beings who are in desperate need of God’s help.

Yet, that is why Jesus tells them that the advocate, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit will come to testify on their behalf. The Holy Spirit is God who is going to come to them to sustain them in the rest of their lives and call them to the mission and ministry that they are to do with their lives. The Holy Spirit will come to them to reveal to them the truth. Yet again, what is truth? The truth is Jesus Christ himself. He is the truth, the way and the life. The truth is not an idea or a rule for life. The truth is a person. The truth is a living, breathing person they can see, feel, hear and touch. The truth is God has come to earth to live as we do, to die as we do, and to raise us up to new life as HE DOES. However, as we know quite well and as the disciples are going to find out, Jesus returns to the father and will not be out walking around with us in the same way that we might walk and talk with our friends and our family every single.

We can say that Jesus is here present when we are gathered. We can say Jesus is present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We can say that Jesus is in the people who are rejected, downtrodden, in pain, or hungry. But, we know that Jesus is not here in the same way that he walked and talked with the disciples in the Holy land so long ago. Jesus knows this, and that why he goes to send us this advocate who can bring us day after day back to faith in the truth, in who Jesus is. Luther said in his small catechism speaking of the Holy Spirit, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.”

So, when I hear the statement “What may be true for me may not be true for somebody else,” I must disagree with it, because the truth that we are given by the Holy Spirit is a truth that makes a complete claim upon your whole life and raises you up to new life. This doesn’t mean, let me repeat, DOESN’T MEAN you can throw away someone else’s experience or expression of faith. What it does mean is that you engage that person in being honest to who you are and the truth that has been given to you. These are not truths that we decide for ourselves. They are truths given to us.

When you deal with the question of Jesus being our only Lord and savior, you are dealing with a truth that makes a demand upon your life to share that truth with everyone you meet in words and in action, because it the truth that gives you life in a world that says that there is only sin and death. The apostles, once disciples, know this when the Holy Spirit descends upon them like fire. They proclaim their message to about as diverse a grouping of people that you can get. They don’t say “this is our truth that we have discerned.” They say “this is truth. This is the truth that gives life.”

As for me, as I think about engaging a world that is as religiously diverse as it is, I try to remember that the Holy Spirit works in ways that I sometimes can’t imagine. I know Jesus to be the Lord and savior. But, I wonder how else God has reveled himself to all the diverse people he has made, and I hope and trust in the truth Jesus brings to us in our sin, in our confusion, in our hatred, in our sadness, in our death. That is a truth that comes to us and brings us life. I must proclaim that truth. I can only proclaim that truth. I hope that you too can proclaim that truth, even in a world of multiple experience and expressions of faith.

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