Sermon for Sunday, May 14, 2023 || Easter 6B || John 14:15-21
This sermon is about truth and lies. Specifically, this sermon is about the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves and the truth that helps us confront those lies. Every one of us constructs and reconstructs our personal narratives again and again. And the closer we come to the truth of those narratives, the more we will live authentically, resonating with the Spirit of Truth that is within us.
Jesus uses this term, “Spirit of truth,” in today’s Gospel lesson. He says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know [the Spirit], because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
According to Jesus, we have this Spirit of Truth inside us, a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, who connects us deeper in relationship with God. To describe this Spirit, Jesus also uses the term “Advocate,” which can be translated as “Companion” or “Comforter.” In the original Greek, the word means “one called alongside,” and was also used to talk about lawyers in courtrooms. This courtroom analogy is helpful for us this morning because the court is the place where we are supposed to be seeking the truth. Witnesses swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” In the climactic scene of A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson says, “You want answers?” And Tom Cruise says, “I want the truth!” And how does Nicholson respond? “You can’t handle the truth.”
The Truth. That’s what we’re after. So why is it so hard to find? Well, for many reasons – historical narratives that resist critique, cultural views about what is normative, the list goes on. But the reason we’re going to focus on this morning hits a little closer to home, within the interior life of each of us.
The week before my ordination, I took part in the sacrament of Confession with my spiritual director, Margot. I had never done a private confession before, so it seemed like a good thing to do right before I vowed my life to a certain way of serving God. Margot encouraged me to write down on a sheet of paper all the ways I had separated myself from God and other people (also known as my “sins”). I spent a good long while compiling this list and brought it with me to her church, along with a box of clothes to donate to the church’s clothes closet – a physical way of embodying the lifting of burdens that the sacrament of Confession can bring. We went up to the empty church, I knelt at the altar rail, and Margot sat beside me. We began the service, and when it came time to list my sins, I unfolded my paper and read them off. If I recall correctly, I had listed somewhere between 18 and 20 things, including cheating on a math quiz in fifth grade, which, for some reason, was still burdening my heart fifteen years later.
But you know the one thing I did not confess? I didn’t confess the absolute biggest way that I was separating myself from God at that time. I didn’t confess my addiction to the video game World of Warcraft, which I played every waking minute I could, even when I didn’t really want to be playing it. Why didn’t I add this to my list on that folded sheet of yellow legal paper? The answer’s pretty obvious. I did not want to stop playing, and if I confessed how much of my life the game had taken over, I would have had to stop. So I lied. I lied to my confessor. I lied to God. But most of all, I lied to myself. I lied to myself that my playing of this game wasn’t that big a deal. It was what I did for fun, for relaxation, to blow off steam. It was my biggest hobby, yes – it was just that, a hobby. But that was a lie. Playing that game was a full-blown addiction, and I did not want to confront that truth. So I left it out of my confession.
In the years since, I’ve lied to myself about many, many things: about relationships that I wanted to be lasting but weren’t, about my own competence during new challenges, and especially about my capacity to keep going in the face of burnout. I’m sure I’m lying to myself about something right now, but if I knew what it was, then I’d be able to face it.
And that’s where the Spirit of truth comes in. I am convinced that God’s Spirit within us is always and forever attuned to the truth – the truth in all its shapes in sizes – societal, cultural, personal. Each of us has a tuning fork inside us that resonates with the Spirit of Truth.
If that analogy doesn’t work for you, then here’s another one. Back in seminary (before my World of Warcraft days), I was dating a woman, and I was absolutely certain we were going to get married. Whenever I thought about her I felt this warm glow in the center of my chest. At least for the first year of our relationship. During the second year, things weren’t going quite as well, but instead of feeling around inside and seeing that glow dim, I sort of manufactured the glow. I lied to myself that it was still there, still strong. So when we broke up at the end of my junior year of seminary, it was news to me. But it shouldn’t’ve been. That glow of rightness was there for a time. And then it wasn’t. If I had been truthful with myself, I could have spared us a painful, slow downward spiral.
So you may conceive of this search for interior truth as the tuning fork resonating with the sound of the Spirit of Truth or as a warm glow reflecting the brilliance of the Truth. I suspect many of you have other ways to describe it. The important thing is building a practice of intentional and prayerful self-examination, using whatever imagery makes sense to you that will help you locate the Spirit of Truth inside yourself. That Spirit is there; I fully believe this. The Spirit calls us to live as our truest selves, shedding the lies we tell ourselves and the lies others have told us about ourselves. This is hard, soul-level work, and that’s why Jesus sends the Advocate, the Companion, the Spirit of Truth to come alongside us and help us.
I invite you this week to consider the story you tell yourselves about yourselves. How much of that story rings true? And where are the (sometimes ancient) lies that seem true because of their longevity. Recognizing those parts of your personal story is not a cause for shame or beating yourself up. Rather, uncovering those lies is an opportunity to bask in the glow of the Spirit, who helps us shine the light of truth into those often cramped and cobwebbed spaces within. As you do this work, be gentle with yourself and trust that God has always loved you, lies and all, no matter what. And the more we resonate with the truth within ourselves, the more we will be able to embrace the eternal Truth of God’s eternal love.