In a courtroom, a young, good-looking Navy lawyer name Lieutenant Kaffee questions an older, superior Colonel Jessup about the ordering of a “code red” which led to the murder of a fellow Marine. Kaffee asks the questions, “Colonel Jessup, did you order the code red?” “You want answers?” the colonel responds. “I think I’m entitled to them,” he says. “You want answers?” the colonel continues. “I want the truth!” Then Colonel Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, delivers the famous line – “You can’t handle the truth!”
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Truth. If you ask me, seems to be one of those things these days that we all are seeking and demanding. We think we are entitled to it and we can handle it and yet none of us really has any clue what the truth is. We want to know the truths, the facts of something, and yet in this internet and hyper-informative age, just about anything can be claimed as truth or fact.
Some scientists argue that global climate change is a real threat and an immediate concern. Others say, there is nothing to be worried about.
We demand truth from our politician, and yet no one can seem to agree on whether Obama’s Jobs act can actually work or if Mitt Romney really did know about the undocumented workers who were hired to manicure his lawn.
Many of us long for a truth in religion too. Did Jonah really get swallowed up by a big fish? If not, then this whole thing is a sham. Did Jesus really walk on water? Doesn’t seem very possible to me. Does God really hear my prayers, because I don’t know…I just don’t know.
We want the truth. We want the facts that are immediate and accurate.
But notice how Jesus doesn’t say, “If you know my teachings…if you have the facts about them…if you have them memorized, then you will know the truth. No, Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching…then you will know the truth.” If you hold to them. If you hold on. If you hang in there. If you hang around in them. A better translation would be “If you abide with my teachings…then you will know the truth.”
To abide with something means to live with it. To dwell with it. To hang around and spend time in it. When you dwell with someone, you begin to know things about them. I can’t help but think about the first few months that Lauren and I lived together and the things we learned about each other. She found out that I constantly make noise—if it’s not singing, its tapping, if its not tapping its humming, if its not humming its rattling whatever I’ve got in my hands. And I found out that Lauren is notorious for leaving water glasses and coffee mugs anywhere and everywhere around the house. In order to do the dishes, I’d have to go on a scavenger hunt to find them first. When you live with someone, when you abide with them, you find out things you didn’t know before. Deeper things.
Jesus said, “If you abide in my teachings, then you will know the truth.” Jesus doesn’t seem to be talking about a type of truth that is simply immediate and factual, something you can google or look up on wikipedia. But a truth that is deeper. It is not something you can read in a book or hear on the TV; it is something you feel in your gut. It’s not facts or information you carry in your head; it is something that breaks open your heart. And it is that kind of truth that will set you free.
About 12 years ago, my cousin, Craig, and his wife, Jenny, and their two year old daughter were involved in a terrible car accident in Illinois. Strangely enough, Jenny was the only one hurt and, yet, her injuries were quite severe. Over the next couple of days, I remember hearing reports that she was going to be fine, but then I heard that she would live but with some severe disabilities. It wasn’t clear what was going on. Eventually, my parents went down to Illinois to be with all of the family who had gathered at the hospital. When they arrived, my dad, who was a doctor and familiar with head trauma, knew what was going on. Jenny was dying and no one had said that to the family. And so my dad said that to the family. He said that Jenny was dying, nothing was going to fix her situation, and that it was time to say goodbye. Jenny died about a day later. At her funeral, Craig, in his eulogy for his wife, mentioned my dad. He said how grateful he was that someone told him the truth. Sure the facts were that they could have kept her alive as long as the machines could last, but the truth…the truth is that she was dying. It was the truth that set him free. Free from false hope. Free to let go. Free to say goodbye.
“If you hold to my teachings…if you abide with them…if you live with them, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” On the surface, it seems that we as a society want truth that is immediate and accurate. We want facts. But what I think we really long for is for someone to speak to the deeper truth that we know to be lingering within us.
And Jesus does this later in our text. Jesus speaks a deeper truth that lingers within us, Jesus says “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
Now, I’ll be honest. I am not a big fan of the word “sin.” Too often, I think it is a word that is used by the powerful to shame and control those with less power. Too often sin is used to point the finger at someone else’s behavior rather than looking at my own failures. Too often sin, or rather I should say sinlessness is just another thing for us to achieve in our achievement-based, your-value-depends-on-your-successes type society in which we live.
I don’t like the word “sin.” But I do like the word “brokenness.” We live in a world of brokenness. Imagine if that was the word Jesus used, “I tell you the truth, everyone who is broken is a slave to brokenness.” And we all are broken. Some of us live with so much pain that we no longer prayer for a long life, but a short one. Others of us are caught in a endless cycle of believing that the clothes we put on each morning for work or school will somehow make us more valuable and attractive to the people around us. And then there are those of us who have just simply given up- given up hope in ever overcoming our addiction or discovery meaning in our lives. This is the truth, Jesus says. And the truth will set you free.
Yeah, but how? But how does hearing all of this depressing stuff that we are broken people living in a broken world set us free?
I once heard a story about woman who, after attending a worship service, went up to the pastor and said, “Nice sermon pastor. I liked what you said about God loving us all.” And then she added this, “But if God really knew who I was, I don’t think he would love me.” This woman had only heard part of the story that day. She heard that God loved her, which is a good thing to hear. It’s not bad. The problem is that she didn’t believe it…because she hadn’t heard the half of the story. You see, God speaks two words of truth to us, not just one. The truthful word of God that she heard was this… “I love you.” But somewhere in the midst of the announcements and the closing hymn, the second word of truth from God got lost in the fray. She didn’t hear it. And it sounds like this, “I know who you are. I know what you’ve done. I know what grips you and holds you captive. I know what tortures you in the night hours.”
This woman heard that God loved her but she didn’t believe it because she didn’t the truth about her self. And it is a painful one to hear, like hearing that your wife is dying and it’s time to say goodbye. She needed to hear that God knew who she was. Not that God knew her as just one among the other 7 billion, but that God knew her specifically and her brokenness.
And then Jesus said, “Every who is broken is a slave to brokenness.” Jesus is saying, “I know who you are. I know about your life and how messed up it is.” He puts his finger right on it, right on the infected wound that we all carry with us, because until the puss and the dirt is cleaned out, how can there be any healing? Until our brokenness is revealed, until the truth about us has been named, how can we believe the words at the end of our worship service – the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.
If you abide with Jesus, if you hang around the teachings of Jesus, then you will know the truth. Two truths, in fact. The first is that God knows who you are. God knows your life. And the second that God loves you beyond measure. May these truths set us free. Amen.