Reclaiming Jesus: Affirmation #4

20 07 2018


I hate the feeling of being constrained.  Clothes that are too clingy and tight, and small, confined spaces: they feel like strait jackets to me, and at times bring me to the brink of what I imagine a panic attack to be like?

Well in this morning’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of John we discover that sin is kinda’ like that.  Like a strait jacket, it enslaves us; binding our hearts and minds, souls and spirits, in ways we don’t even realize.  The lies it tells cages our very beings, and negatively impact everything about us: which is why the 9th commandment is so important for us – not bearing false witness, not lying, or being untruthful – because to live according to that which is simply not true hurts us and those around us.

By contrast, truth frees us; and as the people of God we are called to honor and respect facts, and honesty; and not doing so is like living life in a strait jacket.

Biblical scholar Walter Bruggeman, in speaking on the 4th affirmation in “Reclaiming Jesus: A confession of faith in a time of crisis” several weeks ago, said that what this commandment means is that we shall not create fake worlds in which to dwell, simple because it may appear convenient . . . and, that on a national level, ”as long as we dwell in a culture of lies, we will never be the land of the free and the home of the brave, but rather the land of the frightened and the home of the anxious.”

Friends this is our new confession’s fourth affirmation: We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives.  Jesus promises, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:32)  Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life . . . (for it’s normalization) presents a profound moral danger to the fabric of society.”

Now this particular affirmation was obviously included because everyone seems to think that everyone else is lying these days.  A while we all might have different ideas about who is or isn’t telling the truth – I hope we can all agree that lying . . . is simply not a healthy way for anyone to live.  And the Gospel according to John, as well as several other passages throughout our Scripture, make it very clear truthful living is right living; and a culture of lies violates that.  It is nothing less than sinful, and this is the great concern being lifted up in the 8th chapter of John’s Gospel.

Clearly, the writers of this creedal statement that we’re looking at are very concerned with the spoken lies that are so freely coming from all segments of our public life today; but this particular passage goes deeper than that.  The words read this morning are not so much about the kinds of lies public officials tell when they’re trying to get away with something they know is wrong, or when they don’t want anyone to know what they’re really doing. That’s what bearing false witness is all about, addressed in the ninth commandment.  And while that is most certainly a valid concern today; John is pushing us even further.

The Greek word “ale’thia” is more about ideas, and a deeper sense of moral rightness – that’s the truth that the writer of John has Jesus addressing in this morning’s passage.  And for us Presbyterians, settling on what this truth is doesn’t need to be as hard as we might think.  Because our Confessional Statements and our denomination’s constitution tell us that there really is only one truth around which we seek to build our lives; and it is evident in the most basic question that is asked of anyone joining a PCUSA congregation: “Who is your Lord and Savior?”

That’s the only question our constitution says we need to ask of new and potential members.  Who is your Lord and Savior?  Because for us, Jesus is our truth!  And it is that truth that can, and should, unite us.  And the when that is our reality, we find freedom.  But when it’s not, and when we allow other things to govern the way we live our lives; that is when lies and untruth wrap their sinful and claustrophobic tentacles around us, binding and enslaving us in falsehoods that harm, and kill, and destroy.

Unlike the other three affirmations that we’ve considered over the past few weeks, this concept is so very basic that I can’t help but wonder why it’s so difficult.  You see the truth that sets us free is that simple truth that Jesus is Lord – and when we seek to live that out, when we seek to make Jesus Lord, when we seek to walk in his way . . . we find freedom.

So what has happened to us?  What has happened to our understanding of the way of Jesus?  How can there be so much conflict about what that means, or what it looks like?  How much further apart can we get from one another?  How much more polarized can we become when it comes to something that is really so very simple?

We all know that in some instances, truth is indeed a matter of perspective.  And we see this in the political world all the time.  Statistics are offered, and statements are made that are indeed true, but that can sometimes lead us to conclusions that are not!  The truth is skewed in ways that lead us and others to untruths. Never the less, is it really that hard for us to put our lives alongside of the life of Jesus, and see where things match up, and where they don’t?  Is that really all that difficult to do?

If what we’re doing is not loving, it is not of God.  Period.  That’s his way.  “The greatest of these is love . . .” – have we not heard that enough . . . that is Jesus’ way . . . and that is the only thing that can unite such a polarized world?

A friend of mine recently shared this statement: “Earth isn’t heaven.  So lower your expectations!”

And when I read it, I thought . . . what?  Are you kidding me?  Because I’m not sure it’s possible to get any further away from Jesus’ desire for creation?

When he walked this earth he himself told us to pray that . . . God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus never would have wanted anyone, to ever, lower their expectations of heaven on earth!  It’s what our Presbyterian understanding of something called “participatory eschatology” is all about.  However one understands heaven, it involves a new earth here and now; and we, the people of God, believe that we have been called to partner with all that the Spirit is already doing to make that a reality.  This is what it means to say that Jesus is Lord.  In such a statement we’re declaring that this is God’s world, and so we need to live accordingly . . . never lowering our expectations but raising them, always seeking God’s greater desires for this world.  And any theology that regards faithful living that is in any way lowering our expectations, and making salvation into a mere escape plan from the brokenness of earth so that we can get somewhere else, up in the heavens . . . well that line of thinking simply lacks theological integrity.

Howard Thurman, a Black man raised in the south early in the 20th century, and today one of America’s finest theologians, talks about Jesus message and ministry being all about the transformation of this world: never lowering our expectations, but always seeking greater obedience and faithfulness, justice and love.  His life was all about siding with and caring for the poor, and seeking to lift up all people, but particularly those on the margins.  Because that’s what Jesus did.

Thurman writes in his book “Jesus and the Disinherited” that “Christianity, as it was born in the mind of (Jesus, a) Jewish teacher and thinker, appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed.”  And what he means is that Jesus knew that the world could change if people were willing to change.  But think about the implications of change.

Change may sound good to the “have-nots.”  But that “haves”?  For them, for us, change risks our becoming a “have-not.”  So for us, it’s far safer to talk about change, and the rewards of heaven, as being somewhere in the afterlife!  THAT’S the place where things will change.  Not here!

And so it begins – the Church’s attempt to hang onto power and control and privilege and wealth.  Heaven becomes a promise for life in the here-after; and all those powerful Biblical images of justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness becoming an everlasting stream . . . here: they are all moved from this world, and placed in the next.

Which is why, friends, you have so much talk in oppressed communities about crossing the Jordan, and chariots swinging low to carry people home.  Until oppressed people began recapturing Jesus’ theology of liberation, salvation was about going to heaven.  But the truth of our faith, and the freedom that is at the heart of the Gospel: they are for all people, here and now.  And that is the truth to which all of us need to be giving our lives.

People like my friend will continue to try and keep us thinking that this is the best we can do; and that we need to just lower our expectations until we get to heaven.  They will continue to preach a privileged Gospel, that allows those in power to remain in power, and those with wealth to keep their wealth; assuring everyone else that the depth of their struggle in this life will one day be matched by the freedom . . . of heaven.  So just wait, be patient.  Wife, being abused by your husband, just wait!  Father, burying your young black son, way too soon, be patient!  Immigrant, fleeing gang-violence that s threatening your life and the life of your family . . . just hang on and be patient.  Patience is a virtue, a gift that we all need to learn to cultivate.  Have we forgotten that blessed are the persecuted?  Did we forget that suffering produces endurance, and endurance character?

Friends, the truth of the Gospel that sets us free, and that has the capacity to restore the moral fabric of not just of our nation, but of the world, is that Jesus alone is Lord!  He alone is our firm foundation, and the only truth worth embracing; and anything and everything else that in anyway denies that, is a lie!

This morning’s closing hymn is all about twisted values; and when I reflect on the days in which we’re living, I’m not sure there is a more relevant hymn in our hymnal.  As I indicated last week, our government, made up of leaders we’ve elected, from both political parties, is failing us.  So send  thoughts and prayers, resist and protest if that your calling, but most importantly . . . lets seek and proclaim the truth that sets us free!  Let’s live out what many of us believe to be the very first creed of Christianity, that “Jesus is Lord”.  And let’s do that by pursuing holy justice, by seeking righteous peace, by displaying extravagant love, and by just . . . telling the truth . . . for God’s sake, Amen.




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