Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
The Episcopal Church »  |  The Diocese of Virginia

Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 22, 2014

The word “truth” is generally seen as a positive word. We hold the truth in high regard. I would wager that all of us as children were told always to tell the truth. Recently, I was at an evensong service at Christ Church in Alexandria and saw a plaque on the wall that said, “In memory of George Washington”. One of the stories most of us know about our first president is the story about the cherry tree. George’s father found the cherry tree cut down and demanded to know who had done it. George said, “I cannot tell a lie. I cut down the cherry tree”. What do we suppose happened then? Surely George was commended by his father for being honest, but perhaps there were consequences as well for George’s act. Telling the truth can result in good things, if it is about accomplishments you have achieved or dangers you alert the family to or saying, “I like you” to someone and finding out that someone likes you too. But telling the truth has its risks, especially if you have done something wrong and are confessing your mistake. If you are a young person, you can have a time out or be sent to your room. If you are older, you can be grounded or have your phone taken away. When you’re older and you have to take a risk, consequences can be more severe. Telling the truth at your job can result in your being fired, as whistle blowers often are. You could get passed over for a promotion or snubbed by your colleagues. Telling the truth can result in good things or in bad things.

There are three kinds of truth I want to talk about today. These are the truth of fact, the truth of identity and the truth of ideas. All of them can result in harmony or agreement, but equally in disagreement and conflict.

The truth of fact is what George Washington told. Another truth teller was Galileo, who said the earth revolved around the sun. He was right, but he was not universally acclaimed for this new discovery. The Catholic Church excommunicated him and only recently made a public announcement of their error and vindicated Galileo’s truth.

There is the truth telling of one’s own identity. Boy, can that cause trouble. What if you have to tell your homophobic family you are gay because you just cannot live a lie any longer? What if you say to your father, who runs the family law firm, that you can’t be a lawyer, that God made you to be an artist and you must create or you will die. What if you have to end a relationship because it has changed so much it is no longer viable? A friend does something so out of line you have to stop seeing them. A business colleague cooks the books and you have to tell the boss what is going on. A spouse is unfaithful. All of these are truths you have to tell, but the truth hurts.

When ideas about truth clash, you have conflict. One that has been very noticeable to us in the Episcopal Church is the conflict over gay ordination and same-sex blessings. It has caused the church to split and much money that could have been spent on mission to be spent on lawsuits to see who has claim to the property. Another clash of truths that is close to us is the clash of political truths. The reds and the blues see things differently, and both of them think they are right. Compromise is not often achieved, and so the government grinds to a halt. There are the gun lobby and those who seek gun control. There are Obamacare advocates and those who see it as a disaster. There are those on all sides of the immigration reform debate. Even a clash of ideas about family vacations, weekend activities and who does what chores cause competing truths to bump against one another. Sometimes the heat of the conflict that occurs is enough to make people want to refrain from speaking, from making any waves.

And that is where we find Jeremiah today. He has been charged with telling God’s truth, the truth with the big T, the truth that is ultimate. He is talking about the truth of facts. He is telling Judah that unless they change their ways and keep the covenant and the commandments, they will be sent into exile again. But the Judeans don’t want to believe him, He is mocked and derided for the prophecy especially because they just don’t see it happening. His friends want to get revenge on him. Jeremiah has tried not making waves, and he cannot do that. His prophecy comes bursting forth from a fire burning in his bones.

The disciples are caught up in the truths of identity and ideas. They are carrying Jesus’ strange and radical notions about a kingdom of love into a world that mostly wants nothing to do with them. Jesus tells them that they will be misrepresented. If he was called Beelzebub, surely his followers will be called the same or worse. They will be persecuted and called before officials to tell their story. Like Jeremiah, they have been taught what to say in private and now they must go out on their mission and shout it from the housetops. They have no choice if they want to be Jesus’ disciples. Like Jeremiah, they are afraid and do not want to make waves. But Jesus tells them not to fear those who can only kill the body and not the soul. Small comfort isn’t it? Small reward for telling the truth.

Jesus is above all a truth teller, and there are other unpalatable truths about being a disciple. Jesus is about bringing love and peace, but the way forward to these things will be anything but peaceful. Some of the disciples will have their highest loyalties tested and sometimes broken when they split with their families over their faithfulness to the gospel. Jesus guarantees that those who stick it out will lose their lives for his sake. Even if it is not a physical loss of life, it will be a life full of giving up control over and over to God’s will, just as Jesus did.

But for those who tell God’s truth there is care and vindication. God told Jeremiah that before he was in the womb God knew him and destined him for this work. Jeremiah’s life was threatened many times, but God watched over him. And even though Jeremiah complains, he knows that his persecutors will stumble instead of him and they will not succeed. Jeremiah has committed his cause to God and expects vindication.

The disciples have committed their cause to Jesus at great risk, but he reminds them that the Holy Spirit will tell them what to say if they are called to testify. If they are faithful he will acknowledge them before God. He says that God cares for them so much that God knows how many hairs are on their heads.

When we think about it, telling the truth is a good thing, but a risky thing. The results depend on what happens when you tell your truth or your understanding of God’s truth. We are all called to tell our truth. At the evensong service, the bishop called us to evangelism as one of the marks of spiritual growth. We are hardly burning inside as Jeremiah was, but we can be sure the Holy Spirit is moving us gently in the direction of telling our stories of the truth of God’s love in our lives. Not only are we called to tell our truth to those outside our community, we are called to tell our truth in the community as well, remembering that as fallible human beings we could be in error. In any community, there are those who tell their version of the truth and those who hold back and don’t make waves. It happens at St. John’s, just as it happens in other churches and communities. But having truths come out does not always lead to impasse. Sometimes it can lead to healing. Some people accepted Jesus’ message; some people heeded Jeremiah’s warning. What is your truth? What do you feel strongly about in this community?  Do you have an idea about where Saint John’s can say yes to God? Do you have a concern you need to share? I invite you to express your feelings, so that you can be listened to and acknowledged. Then you will experience the loving and caring of God in your lives and peace in your soul.

AMEN

     - The Rev. Ann Barker