At the beginning of this year I learned that several of my friends were choosing words to claim as their word for the year. Claiming a word would give opportunities for exploring the deep meaning of the word and what the word would mean to their lives. I thought that the practice was interesting and I could relate because several years I chose a passage of scripture to be my scripture for the year and I really grew through that practice. However, at the first of the year I did not feel compelled to engage in a word practice for the year.
Then, as the first few weeks of the year progressed a word began to come to me over and over. The word is truth. I found myself hearing the word, using the word in conversation. So, I began to think about the word and soon I realized that I chosen the word for my own for this year.
Truth is a noble concept to think about. We all probably remember learning through out childhood years that “honesty is the best policy.” I remember my mother telling me this over and over. I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Watson, trying to instill this in us over and over. I remember my grandfather living by “honesty,” but as I have thought about this word over the last few weeks I recognize that it is more than the “best policy” notion that begs me to explore it.
We are bombarded by words, concepts, and messages over and over again each day. The only way to avoid seeing or hearing this barrage of truth, according to thousands upon thousands of messages, is to unplug from every form of media. The “truth” comes to us this year especially in the political race for President as each candidate is speaking their understanding of the truth and trying to get us to “buy into” it. But the candidates do not all agree, indeed, far from it. These truths contradict each other. The candidates call out each other in what they suppose are lies. Each one demands that we accept their version of the truth and vote for them.
We are flooded with understandings of truth about civil rights, gun rights, and human rights. We are flooded with the understandings of truth about poverty and welfare, employment and unemployment, hunger and health care, education and minimum wage. We are flooded with understandings about refugees and immigrants and whether we are safer welcoming people or rejecting them. We are flooded with understandings of truth about security and war, threats and promises, right and wrong. We are flooded with understandings of truth about freedom and justice.
Everyone is right. Everyone is wrong. How do we know the truth?
As I contemplate these questions I hear in my mind, the words of Jesus that come from the Gospel of John—John 8:31-32: “Jesus told the people who had faith in him, ‘If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Contemporary English Version—The Poverty and Justice Bible).
Did you catch what Jesus said? In these verses, he spoke about truth and freedom and obedience. To be a disciple means that we seek truth and in knowing truth we will receive the gift of freedom. The gift of freedom comes with the understanding that we cannot hoard it. It comes with responsibility. It comes with the expectation of Christ-like living. Flannery O’Connor paraphrased verse 32—“The truth shall make you odd.” To seek truth and embrace freedom in Christ means that we must respond in such a way that we may appear odd to the rest of the world.
So what guidelines do we use in seeking the truth? Again, as I contemplate this question in my own life a passage of scripture comes to me, begging me to read it, study it, and pay attention to what Jesus was saying. It is the Sermon on the Mount, found in the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters of Matthew. This passage sets forth what is important to God and includes Jesus’ teachings of how we can embrace God’s priorities in our lives.
In this sermon, we discover that it is important to God to bless people, to comfort people, to support people, to be merciful—forgiving, to be pure in heart—putting God at the center of our lives, to be peacemakers, to do what is right and just and fair, no matter the cost.
In this sermon we discover that we need to be aware of what is in our hearts, to not seek vengeance, to be respectful, to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. In this sermon, Jesus teaches us to pray and to not be afraid to stand up for justice and fairness.
At the end of this Sermon on the Mount Jesus summed up all the teachings: “Treat others as you want them to treat you. This is what the Law and the Prophets are all about.” (Contemporary English Version—The Poverty and Justice Bible).
In short, if we do not read any other part of the Bible other than the Sermon on the Mount, we will know what the truth is for Jesus. We will know how to seek this truth, follow Christ, and know freedom.
So, Christ calls us to be truth-seekers. What is the truth that Christ is calling us to seek?
I think that Christ calls us to seek the truth about ourselves so that we can be whole. I think that Christ calls us to face the truth about ourselves that we hide from ourselves, that we hide from others, that we attempt to hide from God.
I think that Christ calls us to seek the truth about all the issues that trouble our world. This is difficult because so many people claim to have the truth, but if we compare others’ truth with the truth that is set forth in the Sermon on the Mount it becomes easier for us to seek the truth regarding all the issues that trouble us.
Seeking the truth is difficult work, demanding work, but passionate work that leads to a better world. It is so much easier for us to allow others to tell us the truth. Maybe we don’t want to know the truth because the truth will set us free, freedom makes us responsible. James A. Garfield, our 20th president is to have said: “The truth will make you free, but first it will make you miserable.” I think I have learned what Garfield meant.
On a cold night, as we had last night, I am often contacted in the wee hours of the morning by the non-emergency call center asking if the Parish House can pay for a night in a motel for someone who is homeless or has been kicked out of their home—someone who has no place to go. Knowing that someone has no place to go in 3 degree temperature makes me miserable.
Sometimes, many times, families come to us at Crosslines/Parish House to see if we can help them with a huge utility bill, often numbering into the thousands of dollars. In those cases we can help only a little, only a “drop in a huge bucket.” To think that a family is in a position where their gas or electric will be terminated, no matter how they got in that position, makes me miserable.
On a national scale, the thought of people being judged and killed and harmed by the color of their skin makes me miserable. The thought that clean water is not available to everyone makes me miserable. The thought of poor housing conditions makes me miserable. The thought of not enough jobs for people to support their families with a living wage makes me miserable.
On a world-wide scale, the thought that millions of people have been forced to leave their homes because their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed, their country consumed by violence, and they have no hope, makes me miserable.
We are called to be seekers of the truth. Sometimes seeking the truth can make us miserable, but sometimes it can make us smile. Over the past couple of days I have been thinking about Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I have pondered what truth Mother Teresa would want all of us to know. As I think about her life, her work, but most importantly her faith, I think that Mother Teresa would like us to seek this truth: To know how much God loves every living, breathing creature. And then she would tell us to “do something beautiful for God.”
To God be the Glory!