Bonus Sermon for Reformation Sunday (October 27, 2013)

Reformation Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013
Jeremiah 31:31-34,
Psalm 46,
Romans 3:19-28, 
John 8:31-36

By the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“. . . and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8: 32.
Every year when I read those words in preparation to preaching on Reformation Sunday, I think of another time when Jesus had a conversation about truth.  Over in Chapter 18 of John we read about Jesus standing on trial before Pilate.  Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
And like every wily politician before and since, Pilate shrugs his shoulders and tilts his head and sneers, “What is truth?”
The world has recently been regaled with the spectacle of America’s politicians looking at the same set of basic facts and publicly proclaiming loudly and insistently that these facts indicate wildly divergent versions of the “truth.”  Pilate had a point, the truth is hard to come by in public discourse, particularly discourse which has as its aim persuading others to see the world as you do and to do as you wish.
A few years ago I was in a bookstore in Nashville and happened upon two books I had never seen before. I bought them both on the spot. One was “The Optimist’s Guide to History;” the other was “The Pessimist’s Guide to History.”   While I was writing the check, the clerk looked at me quizzically and said, “I’ve sold a lot of these books, but nobody’s ever bought both of them at the same time.” I said, “Well, I guess most people are either optimists or pessimists, but I’m just a preacher looking for sermon illustrations.” 

As I thought more about it, I realized that it was likely that optimists often bought the optimist’s version and that pessimists frequently bought the pessimist’s version; which means that most of them weren’t really looking for the truth – they were looking for evidence to bolster their already established opinions.

So, it’s not just politicians who are like that; most of us are, most of the time. Most of what we refer to as “the truth” or “just the facts” are actually those tidbits of data which bolster our world view. Good enough. There’s really nothing all that wrong with that; our human-ness hardly allows us to do anything else.

The problem comes when we treat the truth of the Gospel like a factoid to be marshalled in defense of our various, time-limited, fallible and self-interested, political and social positions. 

The truth spoken of here is not a factoid, a data byte; it is the living, active, moving Word of God, which breaks through both our optimism and our pessimism and rearranges our head and our heart in ways we never imagined. It is a truth that smashes all our preconceptions and ideas and reconstructs them on the basis of God’s love and God’s grace.

That kind of God, bringing that kind of truth, is not at all interested in whether or not we are optimists or pessimists, doesn’t really care about our take on the world’s various political and religious differences, could care less about whether we pray standing up, sitting down or somewhere in between, etc. etc. That kind of God doesn’t want to be a “part of our spirituality,” an expression of our deeper yearnings.  That kind of God is nor after either our spare time or our spare change; the eternal God of truth wants us.

Christian writer and preacher Henry R. Rust writes of visiting a tiny Christian congregation in a village in Kenya. It met in the open air beneath a thatched roof. When it came time for the offering; a round, flat basket was passed up and down the rows of benches as people placed coins and bills in it.

The basket came to a young woman with two small children. She took the basket and laid it on the ground in front of her. She took off her sandals and then stood in the basket, head bowed, praying silently for a full minute, then she stepped out of the basket and passed it on.

On this Reformation Sunday, in the midst of celebrating Martin Luther, and singing A Mighty Fortress, of remembering and honoring our ancestors (in fact or in faith or in both) for bringing the faith to the place where we are; let us take time to hear anew the true word of God who is  Christ our Lord; the way, the truth and the life.  And then, let us bow our heads and move our lives fully into the circle of Christ’s love; giving ourselves completely to the freedom of serving God and serving the world in the name of Jesus.


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