(Lead me, Lord So that I remain) true.
If you have been in the Pastor’s Class at First Presbyterian Church - Fargo, or actually in any lesson I have taught in recent years you will know that the question of what is “true” is one I have pondered at great length over the last decade. I will save my more convoluted discourse on epistemology for some day you take me out for a cup of coffee. It is enough here in a Lenten devotion to acknowledge that we should hold those truths, which to us are self-evident, with some gentle humility. We should do that for several reasons. First, we are long past the place in history where people of faith in God can make truth claims about metaphysical realities expecting others to passively accept our starting assumptions — so holding our truths with a gentle humility is simply a way of acknowledging that if we want to have real conversations about things of essential value, we cannot make our claims as a de facto starting place unless we simply want to be in an echo-chamber of like-minded people. But more importantly, I think we should hold them in gentle humility because that is the model we so often have in Jesus. As noted in a prior devotion, Jesus invites us to “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus did demand that people choose unambiguously the one they would serve. But when it came to describing what that serving would mean, he used metaphors which point away from hardened and settled assumptions and which direct us toward something far more organic and messy. Once again we draw from Jesus’ “final discourse” which I mentioned in yesterday’s devotion.
John 14:1-7 [NRSV] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” Think about that for a moment. The “truth” is a person. It is not a list of claims to which I must ascribe, it is not something easily understood and set aside, and it certainly isn’t something that remains static and unchanging. Jesus tells the disciples that he is the truth. I have known a lot of persons in my 53 years and one thing I can say with confidence is that knowing a person means being in a more or less constant state of surprise by discovering that I do not yet know them fully. There is always more to discover about another person, and there are always things about our perception of them which need correction. My wife, Sarah, and I have been married nearly 30 years and I am only now discovering some things about her I never knew before.
Some years ago the Presbyterian Church felt compelled to publish a statement of our current Christology. To my way of thinking it is one of the better theological documents we’ve published. It holds, in a delicate balance, the need to state what we believe unambiguously, while at the same time showing a proper humility about limits of what we can claim to know. Here is a brief portion of the paper:
Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope, and love in him. No one is saved by virtue of inherent goodness or admirable living, for “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” [Ephesians 2:8]. No one is saved apart from God’s gracious redemption in Jesus Christ.
Yet we do not presume to limit the sovereign freedom of “God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4]. Thus, we neither restrict the grace of God to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith. Grace, love, and communion belong to God, and are not ours to determine.”
[excerpt taken from Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology and Worship: 2002].
I can think of another time when Jesus was asked about the truth. Can you think of it? Those of us on our way to the events of the Passion should recall it.
John 18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
The incarnation of God’s love in Jesus brings to us the truth to which it is a witness, in the form of the person — Jesus. We would de well to ponder why God chose such a messy and unfixed form of reality as a person to bear witness to the truth. This devotion is already so heavily influenced by the gospel according to John, it seems only right to conclude with John’s description of the incarnation:
John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Daily Collect: Lord who is the way, the truth, and the life. We pray that you would lead us in paths of truth. Help us not only to know the truth, but to love it — even as we grow in our knowledge of you and in our love for you. Let us have confidence not in our own possession of the truth so much as in your embodying the truth in your person. So, like old friends, we come to a place where our knowledge of you allows us to anticipate what you want for us and from us. We pray this in the name of our Lord who told us, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Amen.