Monday, 30 March 2009 16:51

March 22, 2009 Sermon

“The Truth Shall Make You…Odd”
John 8:31-36
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
March 22, 2009
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.  Now that’s a good statement.  It even works as a sound byte.  It can work as a mantra.  It can work as a mission statement.  What a great way to sum up the gospel.

The truth Jesus is referring to is at least in part probably himself.  Jesus has declared himself to be the Way the Truth and the Life.  If you know the truth, Jesus, then you are free.  Free to live a life that is holy and blessed by God.  That’s great.  No worries.  Everything will be all right if you know Jesus.  It will make you free.  What great news.  

But just suppose people don’t like your sense of truth.  Well, then the truth you know makes you at worst dangerous and at best odd.

On Thursday morning, I was living in my own truth.  The kids were on spring break and I was combining childcare with my annual obsession of making maple syrup.  I got up before dawn to make the fire in the back yard over which two pots and eventually 50+ gallons of maple sap would boil down to about five quarts of syrup.  At about 8am, I looked up from the morning paper and through the smoke I saw my neighbor waving to me over the fence.  He was soon joined by a man with a helmet on.  I walked over to my neighbor and saw that there were two fire engines and a police car checking out the plume of predawn smoke that was visible from blocks away.  They laughed at the oddity of a dude boiling sap in his back yard.  They were good-natured enough and checked if I had a hose nearby.  I asked if there were others who did this in the neighborhood and the fire chief just kind of shook his head.  I get that a lot with my syrup making.  But part of the truth is that I enjoy connecting with nature, the cycle of the seasons and getting all pioneer from time to time.

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you…free or odd?

The Obama family is digging up 1100 feet of the lawn at the White House and planting vegetables.  The president said that the whole family will be pulling weeds.  This is the first time the White House lawn has been used this way since Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged people to plant victory gardens.  It connects you with nature, creates a connection with the cycles of the world, and affords you yummy and healthy vegetables at almost no cost.  There are people at UBC who are talking about planting a similar garden, on a much small scale on the UBC lawn.  You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you…

You know the truth, you know Jesus’ ministry of welcoming the outcasts, and turning over the tables of the moneychangers—I have to wonder what he would have to say about the banking crisis.  You know the truth.  You are free to say that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  We are free to say no to war, just like so many Anabaptists before us.  We are free to question authority when we think someone is not getting a fair shake.  We are free to speak the truth to power.  We are free to sell all we have and give to the poor and then come and follow Jesus—now that’s a bit too radical.  We are to know the truth and the truth shall make us free.  Right?

Well, maybe not so much.  Maybe knowing the truth makes us odd.  Maybe knowing the truth in a world where truth is relative and compromised is the kind of radical truth to which we are called.

Think of those who are truth-challenged.  This past month, reports have surfaced about how  the Bush Administration tried to rewrite the laws of the land in the wake of the September 11th attacks.  When confronted, they made up truths or downright lied.  This is the same administration that said it was invading Iraq to search for WMD’s.  When they weren’t there, they said, well it was never about WMD’s it’s about regime change.  When that didn’t work out, they said, well, it was never about regime change, it’s about stabilizing the region.  I’m not sure that has succeeded either.  

And this week at the sixth anniversary of this costly war, funded by loans that we can’t pay back, we are finally facing the truth that we have evaded.  That this costly war has been a financial and moral drain on all of us.  And we need a new direction.  It needs to begin with embracing the truth.  This morning’s Star Tribune began an expose by members of the Red Cross who documented th4e secret prisons run by the CIA during these past eight years.  Folks tried to suppress their story, but the truth is coming out about the pervasiveness of well-documented torture that occurred in those prisons.

Knowing the truth and being set free by the truth is what it’s all about.  It’s about having a conviction and living by it.   It’s about knowing the truth and being set free as you embrace that truth.  It’s about knowing the truth, being considered odd because of the truth and trusting that God will be by your side as you embrace the truth—even the truth that makes you seem odd.

So let’s look at some of the people who have been considered oddballs even though they were clinging to the truth.  Remember, yesterday’s heresy is today’s accepted truth.

Over maple syrup making yesterday, I asked the people gathered around the fire to give me some names of wise people who spoke the truth, but were nonetheless considered odd.  We listed the obligatory Biblical figures:  Jesus, Elijah, Jeremiah, Job, John the Baptist, Ruth, Rahab, Tamar.  All of them spoke the truth when it was unpopular and as such they are heroes and sheroes of our faith.

The 8th chapter of John’s gospel opens with that horrible story of the woman accused of adultery and the angry mob that is about to inflict the death penalty on her.  Jesus scribbles in the sand and says the truth to those self-righteous would-be executioners, “Whoever is without sin let them cast the first stone.”  Of course, they all dropped their stones and walked away.  Jesus spoke the truth and set free the woman accused of adultery.  I say accused of adultery instead of caught in adultery because all we really know is that she was accused.  We also know that the truth set her free.  Jesus asked her, “where are your accusers now?”  She answered, “why, none stand accusing me.”  Jesus then replied, “then I don’t accuse you either.  Go your way and sin no more.”  He was talking to all of us.  Don’t sin by thinking we know all truth or even being satisfied with half-truth.  Don’t sin by resisting new truth.  But seek the truth and in that search you will be set free.

Then we started listing the theologians like Bill Herzog, Walter Wink, Rita Nakshima Brock, Lee Freeman and Nadean Bishop whose search for the truth have made us stand up and take notice.  They are or were considered oddballs by popular religion, which ought to be a clue that they held a dangerous truth about God from a new perspective.

We have heard of the faith-based advisors of the president announced recently.  These are people who have recently been considered odd.  Otis Moss, Jr. is one of them.  So is Jim Wallis, the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine.  How will their previously considered odd truths bear fruit?

We thought about John Wycliffe who was burned at the stake for the heresy of getting Bibles in people’s hands.  We thought about the Anabaptists who read the Bible, thanks to Wycliffe and others.  They not only saw nothing about infant baptism, but found nothing about priestly authority and thought that the reciting of creeds restricted one’s search for their own truth.  They also agreed, like the church of the first 900 years of Christianity that warfare was a deep sin which demanded penance and in which no Christian should participate.

We thought of the free thinkers who were deemed heretics for their scientific truth.  Kepler, Copernicus and Galileo come to mind.  In a more contemporary setting, we thing of Buckminster Fuller and his odd geodesic domes.  

We thought of artists like Davinci and Michelangelo.  Both were way ahead of their time and considered oddballs.

We thought of musicians who push the envelope of what it acceptable.  Charles Ives and John Cage as well as the Hip Hop artists whose names I’m sorry to say I don’t really know.  

We thought about the poets Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan.

You know, our kids are the oddballs in our neighborhood because they are required by their perhaps overprotective parents to wear helmets when riding their bikes and scooters.  It’s considered odd to wear helmets while ice-skating or skiing, but if they were worn, would Natasha Richardson and Garrison Keillor’s brother be alive today?

This past week I attended a People of Faith Allies meeting where we discussed helping young people embrace LGBT justice.  One rabbi spoke of the need to deal with “the duh factor” when talking with young people.  The idea is that young people are much farther along in their sensibilities of inclusion than we older folk are.  He gave an example from a youth group discussion.  The adults wanted the youth to talk about conflict around LGBT concerns.  They put together a scenario where they asked how you would creatively and respectfully address a situation where two people of the same gender would want to be each other’s dates to prom.  How would you handle that?  The youth were kind of silent for a moment and eventually said, “Um what’s the big deal?  Same sex couples have gone to prom together for years.  Duh.

Think about some truths which we know.  Think about the truths which we dare to proclaim and share.  They can make us odd, but maybe that oddness is a part of our freedom.  
    Jesus didn’t say you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you likeable.
    Jesus didn’t say you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you acceptable.
    Jesus didn’t say you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you predictable.
    Jesus didn’t say you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you safe.
    Jesus didn’t say you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you popular.
    Jesus didn’t say you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you powerful

Jesus said you shall know the truth.  The truth shall make you free, which is another way of saying: The truth shall make you brave.
The truth shall make you courageous.
The truth shall make you audacious.
The truth shall make you seek out new truth.
The truth shall make you not settle for half-truth.
The truth shall make you push the envelope of acceptability.
The truth shall make you challenging.
The truth shall make you uppity.
The truth shall make you free.
And yes, the truth shall make you odd.  


But we follow one who was known as the truth and who calls us to know our truth, what Gandhi called satyagraha, our inmost soul-force/truth-force.

Hear these words from Martin Luther King’s 1957 sermon entitled, “The Power of Nonviolence”
Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word. It is the word "maladjusted." Now we all should seek to live a well—adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things.  I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day cried out in words that echo across the generation, "Let judgment run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out, "All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who dreamed a dream of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. God grant that we will be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and our civilization. And then we will be able to move from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

We are unique, each one of us, with our own idiosyncrasies.  We are all oddities from time to time.  But Jesus calls us to be odd enough to set others free.  Free to live their truth, discover new truth and welcome the advent of truth to a world and people in need.

You shall know the truth.  And the truth shall make you…odd.  Thank God.