“The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off!” – a Reformation Sermon – John 8:31-36

“You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Let me take a moment to face the truth about who we are as Lutherans. The truth is that from the beginning Lutherans have participated in hate-filled tribalism that gives rise to anti-Semitism. The irony of attempting to commemorate the Reformation on the day after the slaughter of Jewish sisters and brothers cannot be ignored. Sadly, our church’s tragic participation in anti-Semitism goes all the way back to Martin Luther himself. Luther’s anti-Semitic rants provided the theological grounding that empowered Nazi’s to fan the flames of the Holocaust. It took until 1983 for the Lutheran World Federation to confess and repent Luther’s words.

Let me read from our sister church, the ELCA’s Declaration to the Jewish Community:

“In the long history of Christianity there exists no more tragic development than the treatment accorded the Jewish people on the part of Christian believers. Very few Christian communities of faith were able to escape the contagion of anti-Judaism and its modern successor, anti-Semitism. Lutherans belonging to the Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America feel a special burden in this regard because of certain elements in the legacy of the reformer Martin Luther and the catastrophes, including the Holocaust of the twentieth century, suffered by Jews in places where the Lutheran churches were strongly represented.

The Lutheran communion of faith is linked by name and heritage to the memory of Martin Luther, teacher and reformer. Honoring his name in our own, we recall his bold stand for truth, his earthy and sublime words of wisdom, and above all his witness to God’s saving Word. Luther proclaimed a gospel for people as we really are, bidding us to trust a grace sufficient to reach our deepest shames and address the most tragic truths.

In the spirit of that truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews. As did many of Luther’s own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther’s words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day.

Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people. We recognize in anti-Semitism a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel, a violation of our hope and calling, and we pledge this church to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry, both within our own circles and in the society around us. Finally, we pray for the continued blessing of the Blessed One upon the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and the Jewish community.”

Semper Reformanda, means always reforming, or keep on reforming, or always reform. I don’t know about you, but after some of the horrendous events this week, I’m almost too tired for any more reforming. Between the Make America Great Again bomber, the white supremist, anti-Semite shooter, the defunding of Ontario colleges, and the abandonment of protections designed to ensure workers at the low end of the pay scale, see not only a dollar an hour raise but more than just a few paid sick days, I’m tried. I don’t even have it in me to pay attention to the worst humanitarian crisis in human history, so please don’t show me any of those horrendous pictures of starving children in Yemen, and whatever you do, please don’t remind me of the genocide of Rohingyan people Between the orange yahoo south of the boarder and our own moronic blowhard at Queen’s Park, I’m so very tired of bad news.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to save the world, I just can’t seem to face the world right now. I am in bondage to compassion fatigue and I cannot free myself. I can’t even begin to live up to the standards I set for myself. The onslaught of news that comes flooding in at a fevered pace, has left me longing to just hide away, curl up into a ball and forget that I ever believed that I had a role to play in making the world a better place.

When I was too young to know any better, I fell in love with an image of myself that I’ve been failing to live up to year after year, decade after decade. The truth about who and what I am is far from the ideal image of the person I long to be. The gap between our ideal self and our real self is a truth most of us would prefer to deny. The truth that we are far from the perfect ideal person that on our good days we aspire too, is tough to swallow. As relatively healthy human beings most of us recognize that we are missing the mark. Missing the mark is how the word sin is defined in the Hebrew Scriptures. We can try to put our faith in ideals, or rules or as the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther would say we try to put our faith “in the Law.” But ideals, or rules, or Law cannot save us from the reality that we are incomplete beings, ever-evolving beings, beings still hoping to become all that we can be.

Jesus taught his followers that the only way to be free from this agonizing angst is to recognize the truth of our reality, for the truth about our reality will set us free. Yes, in the words of Gloria Steinem, “the truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.” a phrase Steinem modified from AA literature which – “the truth shall set you free but first it will make you miserable.” The misery of our reality makes me long for a traditional saviour; a saviour willing to do it all for me. But how ever would humanity evolve in a world where everything is placed on the back of a scapegoat savior? Jesus didn’t do it all for us, but he did embody LOVE in ways that reveal the nature of the ONE who is the very Source of Our Being. This truth will set us free.

Here at Holy Cross, we have been doing our best to move beyond images of the MYSTERY that is the LOVE we call God, that perpetuate the myth of God as some sort of super-man in the sky, who is prepared to do our bidding. The trouble is, in the midst of all that is happening in the world, I’d really like to lean into the arms of a super-hero-god, one who is willing to listen to me and to grant my wishes. I’d like to think that there’s a big guy up there, or out there who is going to sort things out the way I want them sorted out. It’s not easy to find comfort in the Ground of Our Being, or the ONE who is MYSTERY. Like a lost and forsaken child, I long for the surety of the great Father, the Almighty LORD who hears my prayer even before I utter it. I miss the theistic, Great God Almighty who forgives my indifference to the plight of so many because that Mighty One is full of grace, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. I miss the quid-pro-quo-god, who in exchange for my faith, was willing to sort out everyone and everything in the end.

In times like these, I confess that I really miss the elsewhere God. I’m not so sure that the freedom that truth brings is all that it’s cracked up to be. Stop the reformation, I want to get off. Give me that old time religion.  Longing for my lost image of God, I sing a few old love songs: “Just a closer walk with thee. Granted Jesus is my plea.” “Just as I am, without one plea.” “I come to the garden alone.” “Amazing Grace, that saved a wretch like me.”

Before I know it, I am but a worm. Writhing around down here on earth, mindful that I am a wicked sinner in need of God’s grace, for I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself. The truth of my reality has succeeded in making me miserable. But it also pisses me off.

Semper Reformanda. That goes for our images of the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of reality. As our images of the MYSTERY evolve, so too must our theology. Yes, we are indeed incomplete beings living lives that are less than all that our lives could be. I am only just beginning to see that the knowledge of this truth about our incompleteness, does indeed set us free to see the unrealized potential of our reality. Jesus said, “I have come so that you might have life and live it abundantly.” Jesus did not say, “I have come to point out that you are a waste of space, a miserable worm, in bondage to sin and incapable of freeing yourselves.”

Jesus embodied a way of life that accepted the realities of existence and pointed to another way, a fuller way, an abundant way of responding to our reality.  Take for example Jesus’ observation that “the poor will always be with us.” This is a devasting reality that most of us shrink from. Now we could all get caught up in the misery that this truth reveals. We could spend our days remembering all the times we have ignored the plight of the poor, turned our heads away, failed to act, gone about our business as if poverty is not our problem. We could absolve ourselves of blame by asking, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” Or we could look closely at what the truth reveals to us. The truth is that the Source of all Being, the Creator of all that Is has provided us all with the resources necessary for everyone on earth to have enough, enough food, enough shelter, enough justice, enough peace. The misery that the truth of our reality reveals is both yes, the poor have always been with us, and they will always be with us as long as all of us fail to see the broader truth that we have the means to feed the hungry, house the poor, and create peace. The misery that the truth of our reality points to cannot separate us from the LOVE that is the Source of All Being. That LOVE draws us, allures us, calls us, into a more abundant response to the truth.

We all fall short of our ideal notions of who we want to be. The truth about what it means to be human reveals that we have a long way to go before we reach the ideals that we optimistically ascribe to what it means to be humane. To be humane requires that together we strive to alleviate human suffering. To be humane is to live the abundant life that Jesus envisioned. The truth of our reality sets us free to respond in ways that draw all of us closer to the ideals we imagine about what life can be. The truth about the reality of our incompleteness, the truth about our ever-evolving humanity sets us free from the anxiety of feeling like we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. The freedom that this truth provides liberates us from having to pretend that I am more than I am: freedom from believing that it all rests on me, freedom from feeling the need to hide my failures, my hurts, my neglect, and freedom to simply be all that I can be, freedom to respond in the moment to the needs of the world around me, freedom to reach out beyond my abilities, freedom to work with others to seek new ways of responding to old pains, constant needs, and insurmountable problems, freedom to do what I can, when I can, how I can, trusting that the LOVE that allures me into the thick of life is the same LOVE that works in, with, through, and beyond other people, who just like me need one another in order to be all that we are created to be.

As the details of the twisted hatred that permeates the lives of broken white supremacists who resort to bombs and guns to inflict terror and death sink in, our hope for salvation, for wholeness lies in the truth that sets us free. The truth that the MYSTERY that we call God is LOVE beckons us into the presence of one another, so that we might be set free to embody LOVE in the world.

Let us feel the embrace of MSYTERY in, with, through and beyond one another, so that together we can continue to be all that we are created to be; ever-evolving beings doing what we can, where we can, when we can, how we can so that all may have life and live it abundantly.

2 thoughts on ““The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off!” – a Reformation Sermon – John 8:31-36

  1. A powerful and important message. Thank you, Pastor Dawn. I hope people will take the time to read this posting, twice!!.
    I also hope people will think about the message…. and digest it’s importance. We all need to own responsibility for removing, and eliminating, our own prejudices, biases and anti-Semitism. And, then, we need to take action to change our ways, to be better, to become better… to be a part of the solution against bigotry and hatred, and not stand as a part of the problem. And indifference and complacency are part of the problem.
    Becoming Human, better humans, starts today!

  2. Thank you Pastor Dawn Hutchings for an outstanding 2018 Semper Reformanda message that we can all relate to our our lives and feelings today. It is a message we need to hear over and over again. I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statement “He(sic) who persecutes the Jews cannot chant Gregorian”. Richard Rohr reminds us “The most powerful, most needed and most essential teaching is always Love.” I also appreciate your words, Pastor Dawn, “Love works in, with, and through us….” Let it be so.
    Pastor Jon Fogleman

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