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You Know The Way

  • May 14, 2017
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for May 14, 2017 (Pascha 5, Year A – Mother’s Day)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             1 Peter 2:2-10; Psalm 31:1-5,15-16; John 14:1-14

Title:               You Know The Way

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:5-6).

My friends: how do you and I know the way, the truth and the life?  How can we have a deeper understanding than Thomas and Philip? In particular, how can we know the truth as it is in Jesus?

There can be no doubt that we live in an age in which the very idea of truth is questioned. How can we – or anyone else – know truth in a way that is more than mere opinion?

Is truth determined by those who speak the loudest? Or by those who repeat their words over and over again? Is there actually any way to get beyond arguments and debates and culture wars? Can we ever actually touch TRUTH with a capital T?

The Gospel of John speaks of truth far more than any other book in the Bible.

At the very beginning, when introducing the Incarnate One, the Fourth Gospel states that “the law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17).

In the eighth chapter, Jesus says these words: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (jn 8:31-32).

When Jesus stands at his trial before Pilate, he says, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” To which Pilate responds with the question that rings throughout all of human history: “What is truth?”

What is truth? Is that not the question of our day? What is truth?

This is a quandary considered at length by a man named George Herbert. Somewhere around the year 1630, he penned a remarkable reflection on our Gospel reading this morning.

We sang it just a few minutes ago. If it skipped past without connecting with your consciousness, let me suggest that you re-open the Hymnal and look again at Hymn 487.

Herbert’s prayerful reflection goes like this:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life: Such a way as gives us breath;

Such a truth as ends all strife, Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength: Such a light as shows a feast,

Such a feast as mends in length, Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart: Such a joy as none can move,

Such a love as none can part, Such a heart as joys in love.

Herbert was born into a distinguished English family at the end of the 16th century. He was born with evident natural intelligence and abilities which were well-nurtured by his environment.

Consequently, by the age of 27, Herbert was appointed as the Public Orator of Cambridge University and he had become a favorite in the court of King James I.

Everything was perfectly laid out for Herbert to become a man of influence and power, wealth and prestige. And yet, after a brief taste of life in Parliament, he left it all behind to serve as a parish priest in a small, rural parish outside of Salisbury.

He was renowned as perhaps the best public speaker in all of England at that moment in time, and yet most of his 200 or so parishioners in Wiltshire were illiterate country laborers.

Why did George Herbert leave behind his life of power and fame to serve these people? This is what all his friends and family were asking! And everyone in the King’s court!

And here is how we answered: “It hath been formerly judged that the domestic servants of the King of Heaven should be of the noblest families on earth. And though the iniquity of the late times have made clergymen meanly valued, and the sacred name of priest contemptible; yet I will labour to make it honourable, by consecrating all my learning, and all my poor abilities to advance the glory of that God that gave them. . . . And I will labour to be like my Saviour, by making humility lovely in the eyes of all men, and by following the merciful and meek example of my dear Jesus.”

(http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/George_Herbert_Come_My_Way.shtml)

Our Lord Jesus looked around at his friends, his dearest companions, bewildered and confused, and he reassured them by saying, “You know the way to the place where I am going.”

You already know the way, because you have been with me all this time. You already know the truth, because you have tasted that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:2).

My friends: could it be that you and I know the truth in the same way that they did? Just like those apostles gathered together, could it be that our best and most reliable approach to truth is through the experience of Christ alive and present in our midst?

“If you KNOW me, you will know my Father also. From now on you DO know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:7).

I feel quite certain that this was the approach of George Herbert. This is how he discerned the path of truth from the way of falsehood. Because he knew the Lord.

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life: Such a way as gives us breath;

Such a truth as ends all strife, Such a life as killeth death.

Did you hear those words? Such a truth as ends all strife. THAT is how Herbert described the Lord.

Truth that ends all strife. Is there anyone here this morning who would like to see an end to strife in society? In our nation? In the world? Anyone?

Well, some of you may be thinking, “Oh George Herbert did not know the kind of strife that we have to live with!”

Rubbish! The 1630s saw the pilgrims leave for the Plymouth colony and the first stirrings of England’s Civil War. In those days, people were killing each other over different understandings of how the church should make decisions – what we know today in polite circles as “church polity.”

For instance, in 1630 – the same year that Herbert probably wrote our hymn text – one man named Alexander Leighton was punished for publishing a pamphlet that called for a different order of church government.

And what was his punishment? Leighton was tied to a post and whipped, his ears were cut off, one side of his nose was split with a knife, his forehead was branded with the letters SS – for “Sower of Sedition”, and then he was thrown into prison for life just for good measure!

In those days, people were literally killing each other over how to understand truth. And yet Herbert could look at the Lord Jesus and said, “HERE is truth that ends all strife.”

How can that be? Do you remember his words explaining his decision to serve that country parish?

He said, “I will labour to be like my Saviour, by making humility lovely in the eyes of all men, and by following the merciful and meek example of my dear Jesus.”

By doing the works of Jesus, he tasted truth. Because the truth of God is known through experience. You cannot contain it in your thoughts. You cannot own it or possess it like a tangible product.

You know it in the same way that you know the love of your mother. Yes, it is Mother’s Day, after all.  And even in the case of a mother’s love, a child comes to know this first of all through experience.

“Like newborn infants,” our reading from Peter tells us, “long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2).

First of all, the baby tastes the good, pure mother’s milk. And then the child longs for more! And the same is true for us! First of all, we taste the goodness of the Lord. We experience the overwhelming goodness of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to deny the revelation of Scripture or the important of Tradition or any other source of authority.

But the taste must come first! Once you know that your mother cares for you, then that relationship can grow and blossom. Once you know that God cares for you, then you will want more – and you will grow into salvation.

So how can we know truth that is beyond mere opinion, beyond shouting matches, and popularity contests? How can we distinguish between claims that are true and those that are fake?

There is a way. By comparing them to the words and actions of Jesus.

My friends: take his life, his teachings, his cross, his living presence today in the Holy Spirit – take these and let them stand as the ruler by which you identify truth from falsehood.

And then put his way into practice. Do his works. Labor to be like your Savior. And you will know the truth. And you will understand this way that gives us breath, this life that kills death, this truth that ends all strife.

May it always be so among us. Amen.

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