Passage: Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16
Date: August 5, 2018
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
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May we begin with a game today? I’m going to tell you three things. Two of them will be true. One will be a lie. I’m going to tell you three statements. After I’ve told all three, then I’ll ask you to raise your hand for the one you believe is NOT true. Okay?
1. Picketers outside Westminster prompted a call to police.
2. Fred Rogers did the moment for children in worship at Westminster.
3. Westminster led religious resistance to Oregon’s death penalty.
Now, you vote. (I’m secretly hoping that you don’t find me a convincing liar!)
The lie is #2. Mr. McFeely did come to Westminster, but not Mr. Rogers.
Well, I wanted to begin this sermon playfully, as dealing with the topic “truth” is actually pretty heavy these days. For example, I saw a photo of a newspaper with these words superimposed on it: “The truth is hard. The truth is hidden.The truth must be pursued.The truth is hard to hear. The truth is rarely simple. The truth isn’t so obvious. The truth is necessary. The truth can’t be glossed over. The truth has no agenda. The truth can’t be manufactured. The truth doesn’t take sides. The truth isn’t red or blue.The truth is hard to accept. The truth is powerful. The truth is under attack. The truth is worth defending. The truth requires taking a stand. The truth is more important now than ever.”
The very words “true” and “fake” are charged. Repeated lies can begin to sound like the truth. If you are on social media, you likely will find at some point (if not already) that sharing an article you thought was true, really wasn’t. We must be wise, ask questions, and dig for the truth. When something seems amiss, we go deeper. All the while we are navigating this, the polarized extremes are getting farther apart and louder.
Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber said, “There’s a popular notion that Christianity is about knowing the difference between good and evil, so we can choose the good. Being good has never set me free the way the truth has... When the truth crushes me, it soon puts me back together into something more real.”
Perhaps in this time of proclaimed “alternative facts” we are going through a process in which we will be put back together into something more real. For that to happen, though, it will be through our collective efforts, our work as a community. We need diverse views and voices in order to hear the truth. A Jewish friend of mine says, “If you have two Jews you have three opinions.” (I believe the same is true for Presbyterians.)
The Rev. Jon Andres reminded us a few weeks ago that we belong to one another. When we try to go it alone, our view is narrow: And, the more narrow our view, the more difficult to discern the truth. Our multiple views and voices make us stronger. Listening and truth-telling as a community is a vital part of our growing into spiritual maturity, into something more real. We may feel hammered by repeated lies. But, truth can also be used as a hammer. This is not the spirit of the scripture in Ephesians.
The letter of Ephesians shows the strain, sometimes polarization within the early church, between Jewish and Christian believers. People came from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Then, as now, that was a challenge. So, the scripture urges “speaking the truth in love.” In other words, our bearing witness to the truth is grounded in a deep humility.
Humility, forbearance, and truth are counter-cultural, and they come out of loving the other. Ephesians calls us to “speak the truth in love.” In the Greek, that phrase is a verb, something like “truthing.” Think about this for a moment; with whom do you have the most difficulty “truthing”? Your parents? Mate? Child? Brother? Sister? Friend? What would our community and our world look like if we consciously and constantly were “truthing”?
Writer Christina Baldwin wrote: “Spiritual empowerment is evidenced in our lives by our willingness to tell ourselves the truth, to listen to the truth when it’s told to us, and to dispense truth as lovingly as possible, when we feel compelled to talk from the heart.”
I can remember conversations when a person I loved told me how I had wronged her. She knew me well enough to know my tender spots. As the conversation veered toward criticism, she kindly shared her insight about me, as a way of clearing the air, but without gratuitous jabs, even though my actions had hurt her. I can remember tensing up as she spoke, but, because she spoke with humility, I was able to hear it. She was “truthing” me, and our friendship was strengthened as a result.
Ephesians calls us “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I believe that even though this was written for the faith community in the first century, that today this message is something we can and should bear to the whole world. When we are “truthing” we are reshaping the world into something more real and more loving. Our truthing will also give voice to the voiceless: prisoners, children, the poor, the refugees.
The Rev. Cynthia O’Brien, who many of us know from her musical leadership with the Connections worship at Westminster, is part of an organization called “The Better Angels.” This group of over 3,000 people is aiming to bridge the growing partisan divide and depolarize the United States. Westminster will be hosting one of these gatherings in September. An equal number of “red” and “blue” people will be listening to one another and practicing speaking truth in love.
Today, we will be sharing a meal at God’s table. We eat from one loaf. We drink from one cup. This symbol of unity is a gift. There is one body, one Spirit, one God, who is above all and through all and in all. As we eat together, we will be reminded that by God’s love and grace, we are rebuilt into a community of love.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity of heart comes from clarity, from truth-telling, from trust. On the front of your bulletin is a quote from Sufi wisdom (but it has sometimes been attributed to Rumi, Buddha, and, sometimes the Quakers):
“Before you give voice to your words ask: Are these words true? Are these words necessary? Are these words kind? If the answer to all three is ‘yes,’ only then are words as good as silence.”