22 JUNE 2014. LIFE, LIGHT & TRUTH – IN LOVE. Robert
Jeremiah 20 : 7 – 13 Romans 6 : 1b – 11 Matthew 10 : 24 – 39
How exactly the three readings we have heard this morning were put together is one of life’s mysteries. But they do shed fascinating light, from very different angles, on some of the most important contrasts that stand at the heart of the Christian understanding of life. We have truth versus error – or, more exactly, truth versus aggressive, malicious opposition; light versus darkness; and life versus death. That’s a stark set of opposites, setting the true Christian way of living over against its opposite. We want to live by the truth. We want to live in the light. And we want to take the path that leads to a true quality of life, not the broad road to destruction.
I have chosen as a text, Jesus’ words in Matthew 10: 27: “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”
With that in mind, let me begin with Jeremiah. He tells us that God had called him from his mother’s womb to be a prophet. And the truth he was called to proclaim from the roof-tops and in whatever other dramatic ways he could think of, was not at all what people wanted to hear. God’s word through him to Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah was that the people – including the religious establishment – had strayed so far from God that they were all now under God’s judgment. And they had become so ungodly in their lives and worship, that they would be utterly conquered by the current great world power, Babylon, and either put to the slaughter, or dragged away into exile – unless, of course, they changed their ways very dramatically and pretty quickly.
This did not go down well, and he was attacked and persecuted in all manner of ways. Go back a few verses, and you will find that he had just been beaten and put in the stocks overnight! This is the background to the passage we heard read today. It is hardly surprising that Jeremiah complains bitterly to God that he has been given this prophetic commission. If he could, he would just shut up, and let events take their course. But, as he tells us in this passage, the fire of prophecy burnt so strongly within him, that he just had to proclaim God’s message, no matter what the consequences. And, of course, his prophecy came true. Judah was laid waste, the temple destroyed, and the people dragged off into a 40 year exile in Babylon. He shouted the truth from the roof-tops, and took the consequences.
Think forward to John the Baptist. He was a prophet who didn’t mince his words – you only have to read (for example) Matthew chapter 3 to get a good insight into his preaching as he called people to a baptism of repentance. He calls the Pharisees a ‘brood of vipers’ for example, and I don’t suppose that went down very well either. He then went on very publicly to criticise Herod Antipas and his (now) wife Herodias for their marriage. Herod has married the wife of his brother Philip, and this was adulterous. This didn’t go down well with either Herod or Herodias, as you may imagine. We all know how that story ended. Herodias took her revenge and John lost his head. Speaking the truth can have very serious consequences.
Think forward again to Jesus, whose preaching caused great offence – nor to say fear – to the religious establishment of Pharisees and Sadducees. They plot to kill him, and Jesus is crucified. Proclaiming God’s word, especially if it implies criticism of the accepted standards, values and practices of the audience, is not a popular pursuit. We have just returned from the former East Germany, and we heard of numerous cases where (in the Communist era) the merest mention of criticism of the communist system could only too easily land you in a very unpleasant prison. Who would be foolish enough – or brave enough – to speak the truth?
The Christian Gospel is full of contrasts. In John chapter 3: 19, Jesus says: “This is the verdict. Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done, has been done through God.”
The Christian Gospel is wonderful good news for the world, because it speaks of forgiveness, love and a new start in the power of God. But it also stands over against so many of the normally accepted standards and values of the our time. And before there can be forgiveness, there has to be repentance and a change of life.
And so Jesus tells us not to be afraid of God’s truth, but to proclaim it, even if it causes opposition and division. And that division will sometimes cause problems even within a family, even among closest friends.
So we are called to live by the truth, and proclaim the truth. But - It’s often very difficult to know where God’s truth lies. We are all immersed in the standards and culture of our time. To us they are the ‘norm’. Where do we draw the line? Paul tells us in Romans 12: 2 that our minds need to be ‘renewed’ – transformed – with a new outlook and perspective – so that (he says) we may be able to ”test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will”, as he puts it.
This is not easy to do. There are some obvious things which are either right or wrong, and to start with the ten commandments is an obvious beginning. There was a time when they were displayed publicly in churches. But we know only too well that black and white shades into very many tones of grey as soon as you start to look closely.
Perhaps we have to begin with self-examination. How easy it is to fool ourselves into believing that what we are doing is acceptable, when in God’s sight it is not. Our powers of self deception are enormous often because we are copying what everyone else does or thinks. So is there an element of denial – an elephant in the room which we choose not to notice? Christians are called to self-examination in the light of God’s Word and prayer for discernment and guidance. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. Are we living in the light? Or in some more comfortable shade of grey?
Until we begin to get that right, it’s hard to criticise the standards and practices of the world around us, let alone proclaim it from the roof-tops. So how can we live in the truth and light of Jesus, and journey on the road that leads to life?
Paul tells us in our reading this morning from Romans 6 that the Christian’s old, worldly life has been put to death, and we have been raised to a new life – a resurrected life – where we are no longer slaves to sin (as he puts it) but rather we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, and on the path to glory.
Of course, he is the first to acknowledge that we fall far short of that standard, which is why we have constantly to come back to confession, and receive God’s forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to change what needs to be changed, and begin with fresh courage and purpose. With Christ, there is always the possibility of a new start.
But there are positive ways in which we can change ourselves, and also have something positive to say to a world which has strayed so far from God. And it’s with these that I would want to leave uppermost in your minds this morning.
In his letter to the Christians at Philippi (chapter 4: 8) Paul writes: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, what is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Put aside the tabloids, all the stories of sex and crime that can become so addictive. Feed your minds, not with junk food, but with a healthy diet of fresh fruit. Feed your minds on God’s Word in scripture, and on your daily conversation with God through prayer. They say that we become what we eat. It’s also the case that we easily become what we think. The mind focused on God will be healthy – it will feed on truth and beauty, and bask in the light.
And as we interact with other people, our guiding principle is laid down for us by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. There is no higher gift of the Holy Spirit than love. Tell the truth in love – never just in anger or gossip or with malicious intent. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
If we can aim at that goal, looking to Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, we may not be perfect and certainly not so sinless that we can judge the world, but we will at the very least be living the life of God to the very full, living in the full light of day, and have something truly positive to say to a world that often seems totally lost. To live like that is perhaps to have more impact than you will ever know. As John writes in his first letter (1 John 4:16) “God is love, and those who in love, live in God; and God lives in them.”
1. Which of the ten commandments do you think is most important in society in this country today?
2. How do we know when we are living in the light and truth of God?
3. What does it mean in practice to live in love? Which bit of 1 Corinthians 13 do you think most important in your daily life, speaking from your own experience?
4. What does it mean to tell the truth in love?