September 1, 2019 – “Why the Church? Truth” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Lay Reader = Ephesians 6:10-20

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Introduction

We are continuing our series looking at the Great Ends of the Church. Why does the church exist? If God is handing out report cards for churches, these are the six ways we think we’re being graded. For reference, all six of the Great Ends are listed on the back of your bulletin.

Last week we learned that the gospel is how the good news of Jesus intersects with your very real life. And proclaiming the gospel is when you help someone else discover how the good news of Jesus intersects with their very real life.

This week we are talking about “the preservation of the truth.” I think this is important in our world today. I often feel like so many people have the same reaction to the truth of Jesus that Pilate did. In John 18, the Roman governor Pilate is talking to Jesus as he is considering the case brought against him. And Jesus says, “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.” And Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

Does truth exist? Can I have my truth, and you have your truth, and can they both be true even if they’re different? Is all truth relative, or is there Truth with a capital “T?”

So that’s why I find the phrasing very interesting: “the preservation of the truth.” When we preserve something, we keep it the way it was meant to be. Instead of spoiling, it becomes timeless in a sense. So we are preserving – we are keeping something the way it was meant to be. And we’re not preserving “a” truth or “some” truth but “THE” truth. Not one truth among many, but the fundamental truth.

I still remember what one of my professors in seminary said about the Bible: “it is the norming norm that norms all norms.” And no, we’re not talking about Norm from Cheers. A “norm” is something that is used to measure or calibrate other things.

Maybe you heard about how the metric system of measurement had some things redefined this year? For example, the kilogram used to be defined as a mass equal to the international prototype kilogram. So it was literally a piece of metal in Paris. And if you touched it with your fingers, the oils on your hands would change it. So they redefined it to be based on fundamental constants in the universe. It’s harder to explain now, but scientists can reproduce it anywhere in the world and not have to worry about finger prints on a slug of metal in Paris. It’s more fundamental now.

Similarly, the meter isn’t based on a prototype piece of metal. It’s defined by how far light travels in a period of time that is defined by the fundamental vibration frequency of cesium atoms. Harder to explain, but reproducible anywhere in the universe. It’s more fundamental.

So when we seek God’s truth, the Truth with a capital “T”, when we seek to preserve the truth, we are trying to look past all the relative measures of truth and see God’s fundamental truth. Not truth that is relative to some cultural reference points like a piece of metal in Paris, truth that is fundamental to the universe that God created and is redeeming. Are you with me?

But I should also issue a word of warning. In the history of humanity, in all the billions of people who have ever lived, how many do you think have figured out everything there is to know about God? Other than Jesus, who had a little insider information, not one single person has ever figured God out completely. So the odds aren’t good that you have God totally figured out either. We can’t know everything about God.

But we can know some things. It’s a fool’s errand to try to know everything about God, but it’s very easy to learn some things about God. It’s kind of like playing Texas Hold ‘Em. There are cards in the middle of the table that are known and usable by everyone. They are the shared knowable truth. But you don’t know what’s in anyone else’s hand. Those cards are unknowable until the end.

As we seek to preserve the truth, we are seeking to point to the shared, knowable, timeless truth revealed by Jesus and confirmed by the Holy Spirit. But there are limits to how much we can reliably know. We might have some really good guesses, but we don’t know everything. We know some things, but not everything about God.

In our text today, Jesus is basically doing a brain-dump on his disciples right before he’s going to be betrayed. This is like cramming right before the test. Jesus is reminding them of the important points from the last three years. Listen to what he says about the truth.

John 16:1-15

16”I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.

7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Truth

I have had some interesting conversations with people about conspiracy theories. One topic, though, really stands out from the rest. I’ve had multiple conversations claiming that the United States didn’t actually land people on the moon. There are all kinds of strange things people have pointed out on that one. And it doesn’t matter how many bits of truth I share, I never seem to be able to change people’s minds on this one. I point out that the astronauts placed mirrors on the surface of the moon that you can bounce lasers off of to this day. I point out that it’s kind of hard to fake a massive rocket launch, and the capsule could be tracked by radar, so we at least know a big rocket launched a capsule to the moon.

But here’s my ultimate argument. The US and the Russians were in a high stakes space race. The Russians are really good at stealing secrets, and we’re really bad at keeping secrets. For instance, they stole plans for nuclear weapons, our most closely-guarded secret. So what are the odds that America could have tens of thousands of people involved in a massive fake landing and the Russians didn’t know about it? Therefore, since the Russians didn’t accuse us of faking the landing, it actually took place! That is a rock-solid defense!

And I tell you this to make one major point: just because you think it, doesn’t make it true. Just because you feel it, doesn’t make it true. In fact, just because you remember it, doesn’t make it true.

My brother is a very good storyteller, and there are a few of his good stories where I’ve had to ask my parents – “Didn’t that actually happen to me, not him?” And yes, they can confirm it was actually me. But the story has evolved in his mind to be him.

This is a problem in courtrooms, because we rely on eye witness testimony. Yet scientists can show that your degree of confidence in your memory isn’t actually correlated with the accuracy of your memory.

So we’re back to Pilate’s snide remark to Jesus: “What is truth?”

Well here’s what Jesus says in our text today, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

In other words, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth points back to Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to Father except through me.” Jesus is the truth.

The ultimate truth – more foundational the vibration of the cesium atom, more basic than the speed of light, more reliable than our strongest memories – the ultimate truth is the person and work of Jesus.

Here’s how Paul summarizes it in 1 Corinthians 15: “3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.”

And a few verses later he says, “And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.”

Our whole faith hinges on this truth. It isn’t optional. This is the core. Either Jesus was the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again from the dead to restore our relationship with God…or we’re just a conspiracy theory group still debating the mysterious disappearance of a rabbi’s body from a tomb two thousand years ago.

If you want an interesting teacher, go read Plato or Socrates. Or if that’s too tough, go enjoy some Malcolm Gladwell books and enjoy some slightly intellectual entertaining reading. But if you want a life-changing relationship with the Son of God, go spend some time with Jesus.

If you’re feeling drained and beaten down by your week, what does the rest of the world have to offer you? More work, more assignments, four hundred TV channels with almost nothing on, and ice cream. That last one’s pretty good, though.

And what does Jesus have to offer you? “28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I want some of that!

If you’re trying to keep up with the Jonses, if you’re trying to use retail therapy to try to feel better, is it working? If you get the best Labor Day sale, how long will it make you happy? Two days? Three if you’re lucky?

But when we know Jesus we can say with Paul in Philippians 4, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” I want some of that!

Or maybe you’ve tried to find fulfillment through self-discovery or self-indulgence. There’s one fundamental truth about those journeys, though. A journey of self-discovery or self-indulgence always has yourself as the destination. You’re just right back where you started. And unless you’re perfect, you’ll have the same hole in your soul that you had when you started that journey.

But Jesus said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” I don’t just want more self-knowledge. I want a fulfilled soul. That’s what Jesus offers. I want some of that!

Summary

Sisters and brothers, Jesus is the ultimate truth. Without that, our faith is useless. Without Jesus, we have nothing.

But with Jesus, we have a life-transforming relationship with God instead of some interesting moral teachings. With Jesus, we can be content in every circumstance instead of running the rat-race. With Jesus, our souls can be filled instead of being hollowed out by retail therapy and other things that simply don’t last.

Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the norming norm that norms all norms. Jesus is where it all starts and ends. Everything else is just trying to sell you something. Jesus is the truth. Do you want some of that? Amen.