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Easter 7 May 13, 2018 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
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Sermon for May 13. 2018 \ Easter 7
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
 
They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
 
I don’t think I have been so concerned about what is true and what is false as I have been over the past few years. With a frequency unparalleled in recent American history, we hear daily of “fake news,” “alternative facts,” disinformation, internet trolls spreading lies, and disregard for tested and sound expertise. As a friend said to me recently, “I don’t watch the news on television; I’ve cancelled the paper; and I don’t pay much if any attention to social media given the way in which it can be so easily manipulated.” On the other hand, a recent and sobering study sponsored by MIT suggests that many if not most Americans are attracted to disinformation and exaggerated if not false news simply because of its sensational quality. This is not difficult to understand when we consider that many news organizations, in order to gain greater market share and thus greater profits, look for and broadcast sensational if not inaccurate stories. The more sensational and eccentric, the better – regardless of the truth. Perhaps Stephen Colbert was on to something when he said that many Americans are willing to accept just about anything that sounds “truthy,” kind of truthful, even though it might be an outright lie.
 
On the other hand, it can be difficult to face the truth, to hear the truth. For many of my students who were told growing up, and told repeatedly by the their parents, that they are “special” and “amazing” and “incredibly unique,” it can be difficult to hear that, well, like most of us, you’re pretty ordinary and being ordinary is just fine. It’s what you do with “ordinary” that’s going to count. Garrison Keillor famously concluded a weekly segment of A Prairie Home Companion by claiming that “all the women of Lake Wobegon are strong, all the men good looking, and all the children above average.” Sweet wishful thinking, yes, but also sweet hyperbole.
 
Thus, these words of Jesus – “sanctify them in the truth” – might sound quite odd in a culture filled with hyperbole, “fake news,” and “alternative” facts. Or, or, these words of Jesus might speak to the deep yearning many of us hold to hear a true word, to hear the truth amidst the falsehoods that masquerade as truth in our world. But there is more than a prayer in this speech of Jesus, for he announces where truth can be found when he says, “Your word is truth.” We might quickly jump to the conclusion that he is speaking of the written word, the Bible. That is a common Protestant assumption. But, then, we are not Protestants. For when John writes of the word – as in “word of truth” – he employs the Greek term logos, the very term he uses to describe the living Word of God who brought all things into existence, that same Word who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, that living human Word who is full of grace and truth, that living Word who has brought you and me to a second birth, through water and the Spirit, so that you and I might be agents of the truth, might be people who yearn for, seek out, cherish, and serve the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And what is that truth?
 
Is it not, at least this: that God loves the world, the cosmos, which God continues to bring into existence each and every day, that world which includes you and me and every creature, you and me and every bit of soil, and water, and air? Of course when Jesus says that his disciples, says that you and me do not belong to the world, he is not speaking of the world that comes into existence through God’s love but rather he is speaking of those very forces alive in the world that oppose the comprehensive love of God, those forces that delight in making misery, those forces that are eager to present divisive falsehood as the truth.  
 
It was said of the famous medieval mystic, Catherine of Siena, that her holiness was so pure and her commitment to the Truth of Jesus Christ was so fierce that she could smell sin in the air and that when she walked into the papal court to admonish the pope to repent and reform his corrupt clergy, she passed out cold on the floor so overwhelming was the stench of falsehood and the use of disinformation to maintain his power at the bidding of wealthy benefactors. I don’t envy, for one second, her ability to smell sin: I’d be passing out every day at the scent of my own failings. But I do admire, I stand in awe of her reckless courage to do what no woman had done before in a culture that considered women second class citizens who should remain silent in public and never presume to teach a man anything, and that was, that is, to speak the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ in public not counting the consequences to her personal safety and reputation.
 
What we need to know is that Catherine never spoke alone; she was the spokesperson for a community committed to speaking the truth of God’s love and promoting the justice of God in a society marked by countless ungodly inequities.
 
I am no longer in the world, says Jesus as he prepares to leave this world. But you and I, dear friends, we are in this world.
 
I wonder: shall we be a happy club of like minded people or shall we accept the challenge of this gospel to be loving agents of change and promoters of the truth?