The Truth Will Make You Friends
A Sermon on John 8:31.
Here’s a test: finish this sentence:
The Truth will….
Set you free, right?
See, that’s a sign that you’re good Christians and you know your Scripture and just maybe that you were paying attention just now.
But is that really how you would finish the sentence… if you were being truthful?
Here’s how I would finish it:
The Truth will…probably get me in trouble.
The Truth will…usually hurt someone’s feelings.
The Truth will… definitely complicate things.
The truth will…likely cost me money or time or inconvenience.
The truth will…hurt me.
You see, we don’t really like the truth in our culture. We prefer the brief, innocuous, harmless white-lie. You can tell because there are four billion words in the English language for lie and we always have more words for something we value than something we do not. Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow. We have dozens of words for “lie.”
But there is only one word for truth. Truth.
We tell so many of these little fibs every day.
“Did you like the play?...I loved it, you’re a great playwrite.”
“Do you want to see this movie?... Sorry, I have plans.”
“Do the kids like their Christmas fruit cake?... You betcha.”
“Whadda ya think of the new Rector?...” Well, we’ll take that one on faith.
How about this one, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?”
You know, I have a friend who is an incredibly brave man and I did not know that about him until a couple of weeks ago.
He set for himself a Lenten discipline that is telling the truth. For the duration of Lent, he is trying not to deceive the people around him. Like this:
“Good morning, How are you? “
“I’m having a tense week.”
“Hey, how’s the family?”
“Not so hot.”
The truth. Just like that, not sugar coated with “But I know we’ll be fine” or “I just need some rest” because then its not the truth. You don’t know it will be fine. You hope it will, you have faith that it will. But to say it will, that is not the truth.
It’s pretty frightening, right?
There are two ways for a person to respond to this honesty, too. One is to back away, palms out mumbling something about “Too Much Information.” But you know what? The person who asks “How are you” and cant stand to hear the answer, they are the one that’s lying.
The other response might be to stop, look right into the face of the honest person and say, “I’m sorry.” Or “I wish I could help you.”
Now, I don’t know exactly how this is all playing out for my courageous friend, but I like to think I can imagine it. You come to work one morning determined to be genuine with the people around you. Committed to being truthful.
“Hi, Boss, how are you?”
“Not so hot.”
“I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
“No, thank you. I’m under a lot of stress and I haven’t slept well.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
Then maybe, in my little fantasy workplace, 3PM rolls around, the deadly hour when that Sleepy Scion of Satan sneaks into your office and makes your eyelids heavy and your head nod. But today at three, the colleague brings you a cup of coffee and a piece of fruit. Or today, the colleague sticks her head in and says, “I’ll close your door and take your calls for half an hour.”
Then the next day, she comes in and you say, “How are you?” and she says, “I’m worried about my son is Afghanistan.” Did you know her son was there? Did you know how preoccupied she is with it? And later, when she hands you a document with a formatting issue in it, you’ll be a little less critical, a little more graceful when you point it out. Because why? Because you feel closer to her.
You shared the truth, you responded to one another kindly.
You’re building a relationship.
Now, its not an easy thing to be honest in this way. Remember I said this friend of mine was one of the bravest men I know. You have to make yourself vulnerable. You have to trust your truth in the hands of the people around you and in turn be trustworthy with their truths.
But if you can do it, you can create deeper, more emotionally real, more supportive, healthier and stronger relationships with the people around you. In every context of your life. The truth will make you friends.
There is another way to to approach the truth, of course. A way that does not create relationships but destroys them. A way that that exploits vulnerability. A way that neither departs from nor arrives at love.
Jesus talks about that here when he talks about enslavement to sin. He’s not talking about lying. The truth that sets you free is not the opposite of lying. The truth that sets you free is the opposite of the truth that enslaves you. It is a truth based not on love but on fear, not on trust but on suspicion. The truth that sets you free creates a safe space for vulnerability, for giving, for forgiveness. The truth that exploits vulnerability, shouts down empathy and ends in barriers and destruction.
My father was a Counter Intelligence Agent with the Central Intelligence Agency. He used to say, “The best soldier is the one who is most intimate with his enemy, the best liar is the one who knows the truth.”
Once, I went on a tour of the headquarters in Virginia and you know what I saw? “The Truth Will Set You Free” is engraved in marble over the door of CIA Headquarters. Its ironic, right? Here is an organization created for the specific purpose of obscuring certain critical truths. Here is an institution that intentionally, consistently and effectively “spins” facts, manipulates truth. How much mischief has come out of that building with that maxim engraved over the door? And its stated mission is “to protect” our freedom.
But you see, that’s what is different about it. The CIA is charged with protecting your freedoms, not with granting them. They don’t guarantee you safety from foreign adversaries, they only police it. They don’t promise you international security, they only enforce it. This is because they are charged not with revealing the truth, but with concealing it, not with transparency but with secrecy. That’s not freedom, that’s drawing a line around something, fencing it in. And what government body more aptly describes the truth that enslaves us than the CIA. A necessary evil. A white lie to protect. A policy of privacy that builds walls between people.
Now, I’m not saying the CIA isn’t necessary. I am grateful for the good work those men and women do every day. But I don’t think that particular institution embodies the message Christ was trying to get across in this text.
Because here is what Christ says: The truth that sets you free puts you in community with your fellow man and woman. The truth that builds a wall between us enslaves us to sin.
So, what about that sentence. The truth will…
The truth will…test our courage,
The truth will… challenge society’s norms
The truth will…. test the mettle of the people in our lives.
The truth will set you free… to love and be loved unburdened by fear and falsehood.
Christ offered us that kind of love, unburdened by fear or falsehood. And he offered us a roadmap to its source:
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you know the truth and the truth will make you free… So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”