Sunday, October 18, 2015

Truth and Freedom

John 8:31-36

And so what is this truth that makes us free?

I was called upon to preach at our local Hospice Annual Memorial Service a few weeks ago.

Those in attendance were primarily family members and friends of dear ones who had died in the past year. I knew their memories would be fresh and their hearts still raw. I had prepared words about celebrating and giving thanks for the gifts our loved ones had given to us. I had grounded my words in God's love and promise to never let them go.

Before I spoke though, two hospice nurses stood up and read more than two hundred names of those who had died while under the care of hospice this year. It was clear that only a fraction of those who had experienced such loss had the need or the inclination to gather that October afternoon.

And before that there were words of welcome. First from the hospice chaplain. And then from the hospice medical director.

Now the medical director is my own doctor. I know him to be a person of quiet faith. I have experienced his kindness. And yes, I have been at the receiving end of his gentle truth telling. Even so, I found myself surprised at his words that afternoon.

First Dr. Thornton welcomed and commended those who had gathered for coming at all. He reminded us that to remember is important but it is also hard and it takes a certain amount of courage to do so. Only he didn't stop there. Rather, he went on to speak to us of the suffering we had witnessed and experienced in this past year and the hard decisions which had to be made. Next, he essentially urged those present to remember that one day we would also all die and this would be a very good time to update or make out our own living wills and advanced directives and the like.

It was a little jarring, I have to say that. And yet, I expect he knew those gathered better than I --- even if he had not yet met them. For he is that rare doctor who acknowledges the truth of our very human limits --- especially, of course, as we experience them in our physical bodies. He deals with this truth every single day and he chose to speak of it directly with a group who had come against this truth themselves in the not too far distant past.

So is this the truth that Jesus speaks of now? Is this the truth which we will discover more deeply as we continue in his word? Yes, in many ways, I expect this is precisely the truth of which he speaks: We are human. We are limited. We are not God. Only God is God. And acknowledging these truths allows us to more faithfully live the lives God calls us to live.

And so on this Reformation Day, it is not only ours to speak and hear these truths --- it is also ours to celebrate the freedom they bring.

  • Perhaps we experience this as freedom as it helps us to realign our priorities, our values, our dreams.
  • Maybe this offers freedom from worry about those things which, in the end, really won't matter.
  • Possibly this enables us to freely live our lives in grace knowing that in our human limits, failure will always be part of our lives --- in the same way it will be with our neighbors --- and that forgiveness is perhaps the most freeing thing we can offer or receive. 
  • And yes, perhaps this frees us finally to be fully human in the best sense of what it is to be human.

This meaning of this freedom to be fully human came home to me in a story told by a member of my congregation who died this past year. Kim was just my age. She was diabetic --- a condition which had plagued her since she was a child. As a result, her physical journey was tough in the extreme. Coincidentally, we shared the same family doctor.

She told me this story. Not too long before she died, she sat in her doctor's weeping in her frustration. She so wanted to be better and to that end she had been following doctor's orders every step of the way. Only it wasn't working. Her physical body was continuing to decline.

And that same doctor who spoke to families and loved ones a few weeks back about their own human limits, clearly has acknowledged them in himself. For in those next moments he demonstrated that he is no longer enslaved by the expectation that he should somehow "fix" all that ails us. He simply handed her a tissue and cried with her. Oh yes, his acceptance of her limits and of his own, allowed him to be fully human in the best ways God calls us to be. 

And it all starts with truth, of course. This truth of our humanness and the greater truth of God's great love for us. 

Oh, there are many truths which set us free, of course. This is simply the one which resounds for me today as I hear Jesus' words. How about you?

  • In your experience how are truth and freedom related to one another? What stories would you tell?
  • What do you think it means when Jesus says "If you continue in my word?" How are we called to do that?
  • My thinking on this is that sin is rooted in our tendency to believe we are 'more than human' and this surely can enslave us.  Does this make sense to you or would you go in another direction? Why or why not?

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