(Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, 1 John 5:9-13)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/U-UW3ZhbARA)
Jesus said, 6”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
There’s an old joke shared among seminarians as they prepare to enter service in the ministry. It revolves around a clergyman who was walking down the street when he came upon a group of boys about 10 years old surrounding a dog. Concerned that the boys were hurting the animal, he went over and asked them what they were doing. One of the boys replied, “This dog is an old neighborhood stray. We take him home with us sometimes, but only one of us can take him home. So we’re having a contest: whichever one of us tells the biggest lie can take him home today.” Of course, the Reverend was shocked. “You boys shouldn’t be having a contest telling lies!” he exclaimed. He then launched into a 10-minute sermon against lying, beginning, “Don’t you boys know it’s a sin to lie?” and ending with, “Why, when I was your age, I never told a lie.” There was complete silence for about a minute. As the Reverend smiled with satisfaction that he’d gotten through to them, the smallest boy gave a deep sigh. “All right,” he said, “give him the dog.”
What the joke illustrates is that clergy are just as susceptible to the temptation of lying as everyone else. We are called into situations that expect us to represent the moral high ground even if we don’t live by it ourselves. And if we don’t live by it ourselves then we’re faced with the same choice that everyone else faces—do we lie about it or do we not lie about it? Do we tell our children the importance of not lying when we ourselves lie? This seems counterproductive and contradictory, not to mention misrepresentative of Christ’s church. Christ never lied. Christ always spoke the truth about himself and God’s kingdom and clergy serve as representatives of Christ’s truthfulness. We live in and through the truth of Christ and so the old adage, “do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t apply to clergy. We clergy are called to live truthful lives. If we live truthful lives, then we can encourage others to live truthful lives. If we don’t live truthful lives, then we don’t have the right to encourage others to live truthful lives. This is just one of those unwritten rules we learn in seminary. When we live truthful lives, then we’ve earned the privilege to counsel others. When we live truthful lives, we don’t face the choice of whether to lie or not with others. Just live a truthful life and the ministry will follow.
Not that this wisdom can’t be applied to those outside of the ministry. We ALL benefit from living truthful lives. We ALL are expected to live truthful lives whether we’re called to serve as leaders in Christ’s church or not. Truthfulness is essential for the success of ALL of our relationships. Truthfulness builds trust and reliance and these are necessary for relationships to grow. Relationships eventually die without trust and reliance. Relationships need trust and reliance for long term health and stability. We all need to be truthful in our relationships if we want them to last.
Our readings assigned for this week lift up truthful, trusting relationships. In our reading from Acts, we heard Luke describe how Matthias was called to replace Judas as a faithful disciple of Christ. Recall that Judas had not only handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities to be tortured and killed but he had also killed himself in the days after Jesus’ crucifixion. There was a hole in the group of disciples that needed filling and Peter, the leader of the group, presented two possible candidates to fill Judas’ position. Rather than going through a lengthy interview process, Peter decides to incorporate the process of casting lots to help decide which candidate is best for the position. Peter doesn’t leave the decision in his hands and the hands of his fellow disciples. Peter passes the decision on to God. The casting of lots was not unlike throwing dice or coins. However they land determines how the decision is made. If it’s heads, then the decision is made one way. If it’s tails, then the decision is made another. This method of decision-making allows God to have a hand in the decision. Peter was smart enough to realize that his ability to discern which candidate was best qualified wasn’t good enough. He needed God to make the decision as he and his disciples prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
Peter’s decision to cast lots not only revealed his own inabilities and short-comings but also his deep and abiding trust in God’s abilities. God knows the hearts of each of us. God knows our strengths and abilities. God knows what we’re each capable of doing. Peter trusted God. Why? Because God always spoke truth to Peter. God spoke truth to Peter about his strengths and weaknesses. God told Peter he would betray the Son three times. God told Peter he would become the rock of the church. God told Peter he wouldn’t understand the life, death, and resurrection of the Son but would eventually understand. God spoke truth to Peter and as a result Peter trusted God. Peter’s decision to cast last very much illustrated his truthful, trusting relationship with God.
John also had a truthful, trusting relationship with God. John was filled with God’s truth as illustrated by his 1st letter. For John, God’s truth was simple: “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” John reminds us that “whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” God wants us to have eternal life. God gave us the Son so that we might have eternal life. God’s truth lies in the Son. If we want to have eternal life, if we want to know God, all we have to do is get to know the Son. The Son IS truth! The Son is love! God is love! Love is the truth! Love ensures long, trusting relationships. Love and truth go hand in hand.
This is no more evident than in John’s gospel. His letter to the Gentiles of Ephesus simply expanded on what Jesus said in John’s gospel narrative. According to John’s gospel, Jesus said, “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” Jesus WAS sent by God. More importantly, Jesus IS God! How do we know this? Because Jesus loves us! God loves us! Jesus loves us in spite of ourselves! Jesus does this because Jesus IS love! Jesus can’t help but love us…God can’t help but love us! We are God’s beloved children.
In our reading from John’s gospel, we heard Jesus praying in the garden before his arrest and eventual crucifixion. He was praying with a heavy heart, knowing full well that his arrest and crucifixion were imminent. And yet he prayed that his disciples might discern God’s love and share it with the world. He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” With a heavy heart, Jesus continued loving his disciples. With a heavy heart, Jesus continued praying within earshot of his disciples. Jesus continues loving US! The resurrected Christ continues walking with us, guiding us, strengthening us, and leading us. As we close the Easter season in the week ahead, let us continue holding on to the truth that Christ is love. We are called to share God’s love with each other and the larger world. We are called to live in God’s truth of love. We are called to be…an honest testimony.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.