23 January 2007

truth

Luke 4:21-30, “When they heard this, they were filled with rage . . .”
1 Corinthians 13:1-13, “If I speak but do not have love, I am a noisy gong . . .”

Have you ever noticed something about Southern conversations? We may be talking with someone about a subject for a while. We look at this aspect of the subject, then at that one. Then we’ll finally wobble our way to this sentence after a long sigh: “You know though, now I’m gone tell the truth.”

It is as if we have to get people’s attention, pull them out of whatever fog they have been in, whatever long stories we have told up to that point, and then we have to put up a big sign with bright lights with the letters T R U T H to make sure that when people hear the next thing we say, that they understand that this is the truth.

I suspect that part of the reason we sometimes say “Now, I’m gonna tell you the truth” around here is that, well a lot of the time, we tend to tiptoe around things that may be difficult to say. We don’t really want to make anyone upset or angry or hurt anyone’s feelings if we might say something wrong.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing . . . but it could be . . . if instead of hurting someone’s feeling, we opt to not tell the truth. Or we opt not to tell the truth because it may hurt us, or make us vulnerable, or mean that we may have to admit something that we don’t really care to admit.

Sometimes the truth does hurt.

As we read in the gospels, we hear a lot of comments from Jesus where he says, “Truly I say to you” or in the old King James vernacular, “Verily, I say unto you,” which basically means the same thing. We could even translate that into southern-English by reading, “Now, I’m gonna to tell you the truth!”

And that’s what Jesus said on this particular day that we read about in our gospel reading this morning. Jesus did say, “I’m going to tell you the truth now,” and just as we always fear, just as we suspect it might, Jesus telling the truth doesn’t seem to turn out so well.

In the previous verses in Luke we have Jesus in the synagogue, reading scripture, reading a passage about good news for the poor and those who were in bondage, recovery of sight to the blind. And you would think that people would jump for joy at this news . . . but they didn’t.

Us Southerners may think that maybe Jesus should have spoken in a less conspicuous way, a less in-your-face way, about what the coming kingdom of God was going to look like. But instead of mealy-mouthing the truth, instead of hedging, or making statements like we hear from politicians all of the time, Jesus said, “Now I’m gonna to tell you the truth.” That’s it. Period.

But it is hard to tell the truth sometimes . . . and we always wonder which truth we are supposed to be telling in that moment.

Those of you men who are married know that it can be a dicey proposition to tell the truth when you go shopping wife. Do you think that they really want to hear the truth? I don’t like to go shopping with wife to be very honest. She knows this and doesn’t usually ask me. I prefer for her and her mother to go shopping together.

But I have gone.

And what I usually end up doing is standing around, looking a bit silly, having sales folks walk up to me and say, “May I help you?” And I’m thinking, “Yes, you can help me get out of this situation. You can provide an escape hatch right in the floor next to the dressing room. You can put a TV and a couch right here so I don’t have to stand here and feel a bit silly in the middle of a women’s clothing store while my wife is trying on something that I’m not really crazy about, but boy she is, and boy I better get excited about it or it is going to be rough.” Whew.

The sales women usually don’t like to hear all of that. Men, we are in an impossible situation when we walk into that clothing store with our wives. Because you know that she is going to ask, “Do you like this on me?” Or even worse, “Do you think this makes me look fat?”

And truth is such an elusive thing at that moment. Maybe you don’t really like the color. Maybe you don’t really know what that color is called. Most of us men live in a world where we still hold to the colors in that 12-pack of crayons. Most women live in a world where they graduated to the 64-pack of crayons a long time ago.

The world is just easier when there are fewer choices presented to us, isn’t it? Fewer choices are easier to handle. A small group of options is easier to control, to handle, to manage. And I have to think that in a way, the people of Jesus’ day, when they heard Jesus speak, they heard Jesus expanding the options, giving them more choices, not fewer, giving them more freedom, not less.

The Jewish religion of that day was mired down in rigidity, with making sure that every law was obeyed without recognizing the spirit and message of the law. Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, which to us seems an obviously good activity for the Lord’s Day. But to the religious leaders of that day even a healing constituted work. “And you must not work on the Sabbath.”

And Jesus said that the Kingdom of God included tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and lepers, folks with diseases that no one wanted to touch.

So then in this passage Jesus reminds these leaders in that synagogue on that particular day that Elijah was sent to the widow at Zarephath in Sidon. Jesus reminds them that the prophet Elisha went to Naaman to heal him. Naaman was a Syrian. And in that moment Jesus is reminding them that two of the greatest people in Jewish history ministered not just to Jews, but were sent out to the entire world, to bless the whole world, to bless even the people of Sidon and Syria. The limits that these leaders were trying to put on God’s work, would not work. God had other plans. God had a plan for the salvation of the whole world.

But instead of embracing that vision that day, the folks there at the synagogue decided that the best thing for them to do with this Jesus was to throw him off of a cliff. They heard Jesus’ message and instead of hearing the truth, they would rather remain where they were, with what they knew. It just seems easier that way.

And it is just easier in a way for me, when I standing there in the women’s clothing section of the store, to just say, “Yes, honey that looks beautiful!” To say what I really think might get me in trouble. To say, “Well, I don’t think that it is exactly, well, you know, flattering,” might mean trouble.

But that is why we have to be cautious. Some people just say what they think all of the time because that seems to be the easiest option. Some people just don’t say anything, because that seems to be the easiest option for them.

But we, as Christians, are called to speak.

We are called share the truth of God’s love in our lives, the ways in which our faith, our relationship with God through Christ has saved us, has helped us in ages past and will be our hope to come.

We are called to speak this truth, but we are called to do so in loving ways, just as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians. We should not speak as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. We do not speak our truth just to show someone that we have it, just to feel pride in what we know and who we are. We show the truth of God’s love in our actions, in our words, and in the lives that we live.

You see, God loves everyone. God loves you.

Now that’s the truth.

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