John 16:12-15 (Inclusive text)
I have much more to tell you,
but you can’t bear to hear it now.
When the Spirit of truth comes,
she will guide you into all truth.
She won’t speak on her own initiative;
rather, she’ll speak only what she hears,
and she’ll announce to you
things that are yet to come.
In doing this, the Spirit will give glory to me,
for she will take what is mine
and reveal it to you.
Everything that Abba God has belongs to me.
This is why I said that
the Spirit will take what is mine
and reveal it to you.
About eight chapters before this week’s passage, Jesus says that “the truth will make you free.” I’m sure we’ve all heard this throughout our lives; I’m not even sure I knew it was from the Bible. A couple of chapters after this passage, Pilate asks Jesus: “What is truth?” This is a very academic and philosophical question, which means that it’s probably pointless to ask it. But taken together, these questions are crucial. What kind of truth sets us free?
I grew up a fundamentalist. I was very certain of what I knew about the world and I knew that everything I knew and needed to know about the world was in the Bible. If the 16-year-old me read today’s passage, it would confirm that notion, that God had delivered the singular truth to me in the Bible. All I had to do was believe.
Now I’m all growed up and my head is full of all kinds of book learnin’. Turns out, things are not so simple. There are some things in the Bible that should give reasonable people pause, such as talking snakes, but these are not very interesting to me. Either you believe things like that happened or you don’t. Discussion on the topic is not usually very productive.
I’m more interested in another common phrase: “the truth hurts.” This usually means that someone has told us something that we’d rather not hear, but it also works as a counter to John’s freeing truth and exposes the danger of reading John as I might have when I was younger. For many people in our community, truth is used as a weapon to harm them, a boundary line to keep them out. All the things I knew, the things of which I was certain, were a wall against other possibilities: maybe other religions have something valuable to say; maybe “those people” aren’t so bad after all; maybe being a Christian is not what I was led to believe.
If the truth sets us free, it must be something more than a set of factual propositions to which we give our assent. What freedom is it that locks all people into one answer for all time? What freedom is it that imprisons people in a world of middling expectations? What freedom is it that calls a person an abomination? If that is truth, then I cannot give my assent.
So maybe Pilate’s question isn’t so academic. What is this truth that the Spirit will guide us into? It’s an odd phrase: “guide you into all truth.” We might expect the Spirit to tell us the truth, but guide us into it like a place? Perhaps knowing the truth means that we move from one place to another; we move into the presence of God and God moves into us. It is a dislocation out of the everyday and into the life eternal, the life of God. This truth is dynamic; it is life lived. It makes claims on us every day. It is anything but simple. This truth reveals possibilities for us and the world around us.
Peace and Grace,
P.S. This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. I hope you’ll join us at Kidd Springs Rec Center at 11am as we talk about the truth of life lived in God and how we might understand the Trinity in that light.
LOVING THE WORLD BACK TO LIFE
One of the joys of pastoring a church such as Church in the Cliff is how engaged this community is in social investment of various forms. We give money, we organize, we volunteer, we enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally, and we help and love each other.
For a few years now, our church has committed to serving meals for the homeless and hungry at Oak Lawn UMC whenever there is a fifth Sunday. This Sunday is one of those days. We need about 6 people and, because of Memorial Day, we are missing some of our regulars. Volunteers would need to arrive at 3:30pm and we’ll be done by 6:30pm at the latest. Please contact Lisa Shirley (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you can help out.