I don’t have a lot of time today. A very tight schedule, to say the least. And then next week gets even worse. Here is an alert that there won’t be a Bible Study next week. So, don’t sit by your email inbox all day next Saturday waiting for these pearls of wisdom - or momentary humorous diversion - to appear. Because they won’t.
Not that you would do that anyway. You are busy too. You have your lists and your obligations. You have your journeys to make and your routes to follow. I know that. It is the world we live in. We carry our calendars in our pockets, even getting them to ping our appointments to us if we are technologically savvy enough to set it up. We rush from one to the other sometimes wondering how they all stitch together to make up the tapestry of our lives. Wondering what the design is, and who the artist is in the end. Us? Our careers? God? Chance? The helter-skelter result of life in the 21st Century?
I’m about to leave this undone while I go off to watch Maddie in her last Dance Showcase here in Fort Wayne. Then I will come back and work some more, while working in packing for a week at Anderson University as chaplain to Choir School. As well as the usual preparation for Sunday morning. Hoping that this piece will seem coherent enough to be readable. But not making any promises.
I was just given my time check. Gotta go. Be back later. Stay tuned. Tell you what, why do you read the scripture text for this while I run downtown for a bit? I’ll be back. ...
John 8:31-47 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. 38 I declare what I have seen in the Father's presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father." 39 They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did, 40 but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are indeed doing what your father does." They said to him, "We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself." 42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. 44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God."
Back now. Amazing. Simply amazing. Sometimes all I know is the girl who can’t walk for long without causing some sort of damage to herself. Or the teenager who gets up around noon and then spends most of the day saying she needs a nap. Or food. Or both. And then I go watch something like this and see a woman I barely know, waltzing around the floor like that is her true home. She flowed, she spun, she wove those graceful arms like she was directing the orchestra of creation itself. It was amazing.
I saw something deeper, something more real in that place than I had before. Jesus says the truth will set you free. Truth? That’s the word we usually stumble over. Truth? What is that? We’re a couple thousand years after Pilate, but we are still asking the question (I know, different passage - come hear Pastor Chris’ take on it next week): What is Truth? Which is not really a question about definition, but about existence. The question is really is there such a thing as Truth anymore? If, indeed, there ever was.
But interestingly, that isn’t the word the first hearers stumbled on. They don’t even mention it. Just let it slide by. No, they trip over free. What do you mean, Jesus, “set us free”? We’re free! We are born free. We live free. We are free as free can be, free as birds, free as a summer breeze. We’re free, don’t you go implying anything about the state of our freeness. Our freedom. Freeishness. So there. Nyah.
Methinks they dost protest too much. Though I don’t think they actually said “nyah.” Sounded like it though. They argued credentials and pedigree. “We are children of Abraham!” They debated theology. “We are children of God!” Then they argued “ad hominem” for those high school debate scholars in the group. They attacked the messenger when they couldn’t argue with the message. The forty-eighth verse begins the name calling. I cut it off to preserve what little of their shaky dignity that I could.
Jesus takes them. A little harshly it seems to some. Scholars have complained that these verses are what has given rise to much of the Christian anti-Semitism over the centuries. And perhaps they are right. At least for those who don’t read closely. If you look at the first verse of the reading, you’ll see these aren’t Jews representing the Hebrew faith, these are followers of Jesus who got the wrong end of the stick. This is an in-house argument, not one designed to cast out a whole faith or race of people who are different than us. This is an exercise in truth.
Freedom is not an end in itself. That’s part of the message here, and one supremely relevant to our world today. Like those early believers, we wrestle with freedom. Or rather we elevate it to an ideal. It is all about freedom we say, spreading freedom, inflicting freedom on the world around us. Sorry, inflicting wasn’t the word I should have used there. Though it sometimes feels like that. But maybe if we saw truth as our greatest export, rather than freedom, our approach might be different.
True freedom, says Jesus, comes from knowing the truth. Which, since he will shortly reveal that he is the Truth (Jn 14:6), means knowing him. Studying the word, which is also the Word, the living Word, the incarnate Word. The Word that was standing right in front of them. To know Him is to know freedom. To see what really is, to see beyond the surface, beyond our preconceived ideas, beyond the blind spots and bad habits, beyond the limitations we inflict on ourselves and others, beyond our prejudices. To see Truth. And then to live Truth.
That is what freedom is, the ability, the courage, the strength to live Truth, to live as whole persons, sinners redeemed by the grace of God. To see us as we really are, dancers and stumblers both. Graceful and grace-filled, beloved by the One who came to live for us, claimed by the One who came to die for us, gathered up by the One who rose to glory as first fruits for our own ascension, when we will take our turn on the floor, spinning and flowing and conducting the orchestra of creation, as the cloud of witnesses applauds with pounding hearts for us.
I wanted to gather her up in my arms when she stepped off the floor, to let her know how proud I was of her, how thankful I was that she let me see her true self. I wanted to embrace that truth so that she would know I saw it, and I know it, and am set free by it. But since she told me she doesn’t like to be hugged anymore, I had to content myself with a fingertip touch to her shoulder and eyes full of joy and tears. Her sunlight bright smile even as she fought to catch her breath from the dance told me that she knew. She knew of my love for her and my pride in her, she knew. I hope.
You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Amen.