Sermon: What really guides us? Truth or Truthiness?
Scripture: John 16:12-15
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: June 16, 2019, Trinity Sunday
Last week we celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the Church when God breathed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in Jerusalem. We noted how the Spirit was not given for the sole purpose of exalting any one person but was given to the entire community for the purpose of declaring through Word and deed the mighty acts of God. As the Spirit distinctly gifts each member of the Church with a gift or charism, those individual gifts are to be woven together into a beautiful tapestry for everyone’s benefit. Whereas last week we looked at the Holy Spirit, this week in the church calendar is the day we pause and look at the Spirit in relationship to the full Trinity of God. Today is called Trinity Sunday.
The Trinity is one of the most difficult concepts for all people to grasp. Like the Jews, we believe there is one God and yet we believe this one God has three distinct characteristics that manifest themselves uniquely. The main thing to remember is that the three persons of God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are each involved in the biblical Creation and salvation Story.
In our text today, we find Jesus and the disciples in an extended scene that runs from John 13 to John 17. The author, John, gives twenty-percent of his entire Gospel narrative over to this one scene with Jesus and the disciples in the Upper Room the night before he dies. In other words, when a writer slows down the action in his or her story, they want us to slow down and pay attention to what is going on in the Story.
In this scene, Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, he has reinterpreted the Passover Seder into what we call the Lord’s Supper, but he spends a lot of time explaining to them what is about to happen and they are not to be scared. He tells them he is leaving them and this causes incredible grief among the disciples.
We each know the pain of loss that comes our way when those we deeply love go away. Whether through school, job relocation, illness or even death, the sense of emptiness a person feels can be tremendous; indeed, their very physical absence leaves a very tangible presence of loss in our lives.
The disciples knew something was up with Jesus but they were not entirely sure what “it” was; they simply knew Jesus was leaving them and that they would feel alone. It’s in the midst of this conversation Jesus speaks words of assurance and comfort. He is telling his friends that though he will no longer be physically present, he will be with them in another dynamic, time-less way: through the Presence of the Advocate, the Counselor, or Holy Spirit. This is where we are picking up in the Story. Listen to the Word of the Lord.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 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. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Jesus is giving us a wonderful example of how you do pastoral care with others. He knows that he has to shape his words to the disciples in such a way they can hear what he is saying and understand. He is mindful that he cannot dump everything they need to know out at once; that would be overwhelming to them. A person can only bear so much hard information at one time he tells them. To ‘bear’ something means to be able to carry it, look at it, process it and make sense of it. Jesus knows that nothing that is about to happen will make sense to his beloved; they just will not get it. So, he tells them what they can handle. He tells them, “Yes, I am leaving, BUT, I am not leaving you alone orphaned, unexposed and uncared for in this world.” It’s at this point Jesus uses a phrase that is not used elsewhere in the Gospels. He reminds them of the coming of the Spirit of truth.
The Spirit of Truth. We might think he would encourage them by saying he’s going to send the Spirit of Gentle Hugs and Encouragement or something along those lines but he does not. He is going to send the Spirit of Truth. I’m not sure I would want the Spirit of Truth. Jesus is talking wild stuff about leaving and death. The crowds and leaders are getting antsy and belligerent. You go outside and you really don’t know who you can trust anymore. I don’t want truth to make me feel better; I want to feel loved and cared for by God. I want the equivalent of a heaven-sent My Little Pony Unicorn from heaven that I can hug on and love and stroke its mane to feel better. I want to be able to rub the unicorn’s horn and make wishes that will make me feel good. After all, I’m scared. You’re scared. My Little Pony Unicorn will make us feel better.
But we are not promised that. Jesus promises us the Spirit of Truth. I only wished it sounded more comforting and cozier. “The Spirit of Truth?” we say. Frankly, it doesn’t feel all warm and fuzzy to me. I want My Little Unicorn Pony and a blanket and Jesus promises the Spirit of Truth instead. Really?
Yes. Really. Jesus knows what he is doing. He knows that when a person is depressed, sad, and confused, they will be suckers to fall for all types of manipulation and lies. In their places of spiritual and emotional vulnerability, people are apt to give up what they hold dear and grasp at anything that promises to bring comfort or consolation. Jesus knows this and that’s why he spends so much time in these five chapters of John reminding his disciples that the Holy Spirit of Truth will come to guide them through the minefields, listen to the whispers of God and speak them with the disciples, will declare truth about the Way of Jesus and will glorify God in the process.
If we remember our Story correctly, we know that when Jesus is crucified and buried, the disciples did not know what to make of it all and they went into hiding for fear of persecution. Jesus knew this would happen. He knew it was vital for them to remember his words and to remember his teachings correctly. Jesus knew that in the midst of their spiritual, physical and emotional vulnerability the disciples would be easy prey for those who fabricated lies or twisted the truth about him and the events of his ministry. The disciples didn’t need a cozy, bright heavenly My Little Pony; the disciples, the Church, needed a Spirit of Truth that would speak clearly in an emotionally and spiritually swirly time.
Early this morning, Betty Grant was driving south on I-95 near Oakland Park when she was involved in a crash that flipped her care upside down and it was engulfed in flames. Two men observed what was going on and were confronted with a dilemma: Should they stand there bemoaning the fact the car was flipped over and on fire, feeling sorry for the person trapped inside saying to each, “What a shame”; or, do they assess the truth of the scene and respond? They assessed the truth and responded and Betty Grant’s life is saved because they responded to the truth of the dire situation!
Like the first disciples, we need the Spirit of Truth in our physically, spiritually, and emotionally swirly world. We desperately need to know what Truth is and how to see it and know it when we experience it. Sadly, today, our culture and nation is more apt to believe in truthiness instead of truth. Dictionary.com defines truthiness as a belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based, not on facts but on the intuition or perceptions of some individual without regard for evidence, logic or intellectual examination.It was a word coined by late-night talk show host, Stephen Colbert, as he discussed how politicians will often spin facts to make themselves look better than they really are. Truthiness is killing this nation, beloved, not just from our politicians but from our educational systems to churches and synagogues as well. How do we stem the tide?
Well, beloved, we remember that Jesus refers to himself as the Way and the Truth and the Life (Jn 14.6). He is the one who defines what truth is for Christ-Followers. Jesus’ words, actions, and ministry define what truth is. How? Dr. Eugene Bay says, truth “corresponds morally and ethically with (who and what) Jesus (is), cares about the things Jesus cares about, and carries out the kind of ministry that reflects Jesus’ ministry (among the people he lived with). Jesus is the norming norm. Jesus’ morals, ethics, passions for life and people and how we are to love God and one another is the ruler by which we measure truth. Truth is not measured by our individual opinions, political, economic, or spiritual beliefs; truth is measured against Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, by how he lived among all types of disparate broken people, by how he defined neighbor beyond the cultural norms, and how he loved the blessed and the biased, the sinner and the saint and invited them all into the realm of the Almighty.
That’s the truth I want to live in and experience. How about you?
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15thAvenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Andrew Dymburt, https://wsvn.com/news/local/good-samaritans-come-to-womans-rescue-after-i-95-crash-in-fort-lauderdale/. Accessed 6/16/19.
Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1(Propers 3-16) (Kindle Locations 1776-1778). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.