READING: John 16:12-15
SERMON : "Into All Truth"
Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett
For many years I have not preached the lectionary for
Trinity Sunday, or several of the Sunday's following due
to Church Anniversaries and special services. The following
sermon was posted to "Sermon Swap" on the TELOS system in
1995 by the Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett of the St. Andrews By The
Lake United Church, Kingston, Ontario. All credit goes to
Ross, and all blame to me --- Richard.
We often don't realize the effects words have on us. When we read or
hear a word, emotional reactions go off in us very quickly and that
changes what we understand. And our reactions may be very different than
the person sitting next to us. It's important to be aware of that as we
consider our reaction to scripture, so I'd like to begin today with an
exercise in free association. I'm going to say a word and then ask you
what sort of feelings or emotions that stirs up within you. There are no
marks given for this so just go with it. The word is "learning". Now,
how many of you had a positive reaction, it caused good feelings? A
negative reaction, it made you uncomfortable? How many of us associate
"learning" with thoughts of growth, challenge, knowledge? How many of us
associate "learning" with ideas of discipline, exams, fear? It's
important to pay attention to those feelings so we can understand
ourselves and our gospel lesson for today.
Jesus says: "I have more things to tell you (or teach you) but you
cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you
(or guide you) into all truth". That's a pretty clear statement about
learning and needing to learn. If learning sets off positive vibrations
within us we'll hear that as a reassuring, hopeful, exciting statement -
there's more to learn. But if learning sets of negative vibrations in us
we may well hear that statement as threatening, demanding, judging -
expecting from us more than we can give. I'm not saying you should feel
one way or the other about learning. Learning has always been a positive
experience for me so I find it sad when others do not enjoy it. But my
point is not to make you think you should like learning. My point is to
have us listen, at a very deep level, to what Jesus is saying and to be
aware of our reaction to his words.
Jesus clearly indicates that we learn in stages. He tells the
disciples that they can handle this much now and there's more later on -
but they couldn't handle it now even if he told them. That's quite true.
We are all at different stages in the journey of faith and life and what
we can cope with changes. That's not a judgement, it's a statement of
fact. It's not a judgement on humanity to say that we have to crawl
before we run and that most of us have to develop some proficiency in
walking before we start to skip. It's not judgement, it's life. To blame
people for being at different stages in the growth of faith makes as much
sense as blaming my (5 year-old) daughter for not being able to do high
So we develop through stages. But there is a foundation on which
all our Christian development is built. If you like, our growth in faith
is like a house with many different rooms that we can explore in a variety
of ways, but the entrance door through which we all must pass is faith.
St. Paul says "since we are justified by faith let us have peace with
God." What does it mean to be "justified"? This is basic to a true
understanding of Christian faith and life so, even if you remember nothing
else from this morning, try and hang onto this.
We can talk about justification in a couple of ways. The
traditional way (and probably what Paul had in mind) is to think of a
courtroom where someone is tried and acquitted. In such a scenario we
would say that God acts as a judge and you and I stand accused of having
broken God's law. Whether it's the Ten Commandments or the Great
Commandment - you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind,
soul and strength and your neighbour as yourself - most of us are honest
enough to admit that, at least part of the time, we haven't kept the
commands. We enter God's courtroom rightly accused and Jesus provides our
defense. We are acquitted, justified, because of our faith in him.
That's a legal understanding of what Paul is saying.
But there's another use of justified which may be more congenial and
accessible to you - and which works just as well. Many of us are familiar
with computers and word processors. Even if you're not don't tune out
now! On a computer we often have the option of justifying our work. Take
your bulletin and open it up to the front page. If you look down the left
hand margin you'll see that everything runs out flush to the edge. That
is left-justified. We could, just as easily, set it up to be
right-justified (although it would look somewhat odd). With another
command it could be fully justified - straight margins on both right- and
left-hand sides, which is what often happens in magazine columns. If we
think of this in terms of our Christian faith, we could say that we when
are "justified by faith" we are as much like Jesus as possible, without
ragged edges around the outside of our lives - ragged edges of behaviour
or language or belief.
What's the point of all this? (I'm so glad you asked.) Recall what
we said earlier. God and Jesus want us to grow up, mature, develop into
all truth. But the first stage of that journey of growing up is faith.
Individual faith in Jesus. The first and most significant stage is to say
"I believe". When we say that we don't know what it means. We have no
idea where that journey may take us. But the first step is crucial. It
doesn't matter what good works we've done or what offices we've held; it
doesn't matter who our parents were or our partner or children might be;
it doesn't matter whether we're church members or not, whether we give
huge amounts or nothing; it doesn't matter what we may have been or done.
All of that important stuff comes second. All of that is part of growing
into all truth. The first step is excepting the gift of faith. That's
tough for North Americans because we have been deeply ingrained with the
notion that if we don't earn it, buy it, deserve it, acquire it by our own
effort than it's not worth having. The truth is different - the greatest
things in life and life eternal come to us only as a gift and we can
achieve them only if we're willing to receive them as gifts.
Having established that common foundation of faith we're ready to
talk about growing into truth. The Spirit is our guide for that truth. A
guide who is attuned to our abilities and moves us along at our own pace.
Have you ever tried to learn from someone who had a natural talent? It
drives me nuts! It comes so easily to them and they look at me with such
pity! I'd far rather learn from someone who had to slog it out like you
and me, mastering each step as a result of effort. The Spirit is such a
Jesus had things to say to the disciples. He has things to say to
us. But there is often a limit to what we can take on board. The
disciples were coping with the imminent tragedy of his death and what
would come after. They couldn't handle much more. So too with us. There
are times and places in our life's journey where it is all we can do to
stay afloat and tread water in one place, much less consider striking off
to a distant point of land. Can you remember a time when you felt like
you were at your limit? Maybe you feel that way this morning. There is a
sensitivity in the Spirit, an awareness of what we are capable of doing at
each point in our journey.
Truth in our lives is built in stages. The foundations are as
important as the heights we achieve. Karl Barth, one of the great
theological minds of the century, whose books fill shelves in libraries,
was once asked the greatest truth he ever learned. "The greatest truth?
The greatest truth is this: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible
tells me so". We crawl before we run. We walk before we skip. God
delights in our growth at whatever stage we're at. When was the last time
you stopped to realize that - God delights in you? Roll that around in
your mind this afternoon - "God delights in me" - and see if it doesn't
change your day.
But being sensitive to where we are is combined with the expectation
that we'll grow. If there are truths we cannot bear now that clearly
implies that down the road we will be able to bear them. The most
sensitive of teachers also needs a willing student. God expects us to be
people who want to grow.
So I'll ask, point-blank and straight-out, where are you
consciously, deliberately seeking to grow in your knowledge and love of
God? What have you done in the last six months to increase your awareness
of God? There are countless resources: hundreds of books and magazines
and tapes; study groups, prayer groups, topical discussion groups,
seminars and courses; individual guides and teachers; the growth that
comes from seriously trying each day to be more attuned to God or to
consciously serve another. The list is endless. One of the saddest sight
I know is the Christian who has stopped growing, who has denied their
spiritual birthright, who refuses to let the Spirit guide them into new
awareness and truth.
In fun houses and science displays we can sometimes see strange
mirrors. Look at one and we appear to be short and fat. Look at another
and we appear to be tall, thin giants. Those mirrors give a distorted
picture of the truth. In this world many voices counsel us and many
things pressure us. Sometimes evil masquerades as good. Sometimes good
appears unreasonably demanding or difficult and we draw away. We need, we
all need, to stand before Christ, the true mirror of life and through the
action of the Spirit in our lives be justified to him. So that, as far as
possible, we resemble him, ragged neither to the left nor to the right,
distorted in neither our speaking or acting, our thinking or being. So,
where are you eagerly cooperating as the Spirit guides you into all truth?
Thanks be to God. Amen
copyright - sermon by Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett 1995-2004
page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild, 1998, 2001, 2004
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.