“Nothing But the Truth!”
(From Jeremiah 23: 23-29 & Luke 12:49-56)
Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back–those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
We have all experienced situations in life when our families, close friends, acquaintances, and surely our “frenemies” and outright enemies withheld telling various truths to us. Some motivations for not telling the whole truth to us may have been well meaning, such as not telling us that they really did not like the clothes we were wearing that day. Or, folks may have been serving their own self-interest by not sharing some truth that would be costly or embarrassing to them if we knew it. Sadly, some people may have directly sought to undermine us and our wellbeing by deliberately feeding us misinformation. Whatever the motives behind these actions, all of these behaviors have denied us access to something important for us to know—the truth!
We have seen on TV programs, and perhaps even experienced in our everyday real life, the legal oath by which the witnesses to events involved in legal conflicts are validated to share their knowledge relating to that case. They vow in their witness, before Almighty God, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Knowing that God both knows and sees all that transpires here on earth, legal witnesses take an official oath before God and the assembled court to speak only the truth pertaining to the case, as they have experienced it. In the eyes of our country’s Judeo-Christian morality based legal system, as well as among communities of faith, God is understood to be the supreme judge of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
With such a firm foundation and understanding about the importance of speaking the truth to the wellbeing of a society, as well its faith community, it may be difficult for us to imagine how mistruths and misdeeds could possibly be allowed to infiltrate and undermine its people. Yet, that is exactly what happened to the Hebrews, particularly the inhabitants of the southern region of Judah, during the reign of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a major prophet in the region of Judah from around 626-586 B.C. according to biblical historians. As our scripture today discloses, Jeremiah had been given the unenviable task of speaking a difficult truth to the Hebrew people living in this time. Over the centuries since God had delivered them from their torturous life of captivity in Egypt, the Hebrews had strayed far away from God. They broke the covenant promises that God had made with them through Moses, and they were living their lives deep in the throes of sin. To make matters worse, many false prophets were running around and prophesying as truths God had revealed to them “in a dream,” falsehoods and outright lies. These false prophets were speaking, as the word of God prophesies of good fortune for a people who were living far from the ways of their God. Basically, these prophet were telling the people good the news they would want to hear regarding God’s blessing upon them which would bring prosperity. Jeremiah’s prophetic message shared the inconvenient truth of God’s displeasure with a people who had turned away and hardened their hearts toward God. Instead of pronouncing a blessing, Jeremiah’s prophetic truth declared that the word God had given to him was like fire, like a hammer that breaks rocks in pieces. Not prosperity, but a time of difficulty, destruction, and downfall awaited Judah as a result of its sin against God. Suffering would come before peace. This was God’s legitimate word—nothing but the truth.
In Chapter 8 of the Gospel of John, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus was speaking the truth that he had come to give his life to atone for sin, and thus, to set believers free. He also said to them, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” But, sadly, knowing and seeing even the truth of Christ Jesus does not mean that our path will be smooth, or that the way will be easy. Jesus also disclosed to his believers in today’s lesson the truth that his coming would bring divisions, even divisions among family members. Largely, these would be caused when following Jesus placed believers in conflict with those who followed the ways of the world. He cautioned, and even chided the crowd that had gathered, that they could interpret the signs in the clouds foretelling of rain, and the direction of the wind foretelling a heat wave, but they failed to interpret the spiritual signs of age they were living. As the NIV Study Bible interpretation of this scripture text states, “Although people could use such indicators to forecast the weather, they could not recognize the signs of spiritual crisis, the coming of the Messiah, the threat of his death, the coming confrontation with Rome, and the eternal consequences these events would have for their own lives. Despite the insistence of the Pharisees, despite the Roman system, and even despite the pressure of family, a person must accept God on his terms. The signs of the times called for an immediate decision—before judgement came on the Jewish nation.” Jesus, both as the Messiah and prophet to the Jewish people, spoke to them this truth. It was, indeed the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and something they desperately needed to hear.
Much of the truth we heard today from the prophet Jeremiah to the Hebrew people of Judah, and from Jesus to the Pharisees and true believers of his time, is still relevant to believers living in the world today. Like in the time of Jeremiah, there are many false prophets are in our world today, and they are speaking their own messages to bring about their own personal gain. Some others are interpreting and speaking the Bible’s truths in ways that further their own personal spiritual agendas. And, sadly today, how we interpret and understand the truth as it is found in the Holy Scriptures has become a source of contention and divisions among even some of the most sincere and devoted believers. We see divisions happening today within our own beloved United Methodist Church, a people of faith wrestling to understand and uncover the truth about our gift of human sexuality. Still other denominations are wrestling with the role of women in the worship and life of the church. Peter and I had some friends in New York that did not support my role as the pastor of a church congregation. They tried to dissuade me from interpreting my call as a valid commission from God into pastoral ministry. When this effort failed, they stopped inviting us to events that were held at their homes, and slowly removed us from their circle of friends. An occasional Christmas card was the only means of communication we received from that time on.
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This, dear church, was a promise our Lord Jesus made to us. In the midst of the ever changing world in which we are living today, we need the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us to the truth God would have us know, understand, and faithfully live. There is a prayer in our United Methodist Book of Worship that will help us to seek guidance we need for good discernment about God’s truth in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This prayer is called “For Discernment,” and it reads as follows:
Almighty God, in a world of change you placed eternity in our hearts and gave us power to discern good from evil. Grant us sincerity, that we may persistently seek the things that endure, refusing those which perish, and that, amid things vanishing and deceptive, we may see the truth steadily, follow the light faithfully, and grow ever richer in that love which is the life of all people; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.†
In our crazy and mixed-up world, may we all seek to see the truth steadily, follow the light of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, faithfully, and grow ever richer in love, for it truly is the life of all people. These words are the truth…and nothing but the truth. Amen—let it be so.
† The United Methodist Book of Worship (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1992), 510.