Abiding in Jesus, Discerning Truth

John 8:31-36

Have you ever had a harder time discerning ‘truth’ than you are having today?

Whether it is because leaders appear to no longer have a commitment to speaking anything near unbiased ‘truth’ or ‘truth’ itself is simply so difficult to discern against the seemingly constantly changing landscape which makes up our world, ‘truth’ seems to me to be more elusive than ever before.

Indeed, spend some time in a conversation with anyone who holds a different position on the Covid-19 Vaccine than your own, or one whose understanding of our country’s racial history was clearly sourced from a different textbook, or simply one who has witnessed the same events you have but has come to an opposite conclusion, and you, too, perhaps cannot help but wonder what is ‘truth’ and what is ‘not truth’ or at least how we can ever possibly find any common ‘truth’ where we might ground ourselves.

At times, it seems like this is relatively new in our collective experience, and yet if we listen in on entire exchange between  Jesus and his listeners as heard in John’s Gospel now, particularly as it continues beyond the short verses which are before us now, we recognize that perhaps it was not so very different then as they tried to sort out who Jesus was and where he came from and who they were in relationship to Jesus and those who had come before. (Take some time to read through all that follows in John 8 and I expect you will see what I mean…) It was an entirely different subject matter, yes, but the struggle was the same. Which is why I find myself wondering now if perhaps the ‘truth’ of which Jesus speaks today is never something which we discern outside of ourselves, but always between us:

Between you and me, yes, but most of all, between us and Jesus as his first words in this section of John’s Gospel have to do with ‘continuing,’ or as I understand it more correctly, ‘abiding’ in him.

Indeed, as Jesus speaks today it seems important to note that this is not an ‘individual’ abiding we are called to participate in. For all of his words today are addressed to a ‘plural you.’  I take this to mean that this is something we are to do together: this abiding, and yes, this listening, this discerning, which followed then and follows now today.

And so I would offer now a couple of instances when I have found myself considering the meaning and impact of this abiding and abiding in Jesus and discernment of ‘truth’ together of late:

  • For the past couple of years I have had the privilege of convening a group which has gone deep into the racial history of our country. We began in person and when the pandemic forced us to distance, we came together on Zoom, Wednesday after Wednesday after Wednesday. Early on, much of what we learned was entirely new to us and so again and again we heard ourselves repeating the phrase, “I had no idea.” Lately, though, it seems we have found ourselves less and less surprised and more and more compelled to wonder at what all of this means and what we are called to be and do as ‘abiding in Jesus,’ we take these ‘truths,’ and carry their meaning beyond ourselves. Last week as we began a conversation about such next steps, the group reflected on why they had embarked on and why the continue on this hard journey of examining ‘truth,’ and they spoke of the safe place they had been able to provide one another. Places without judgment, places of grace, places where hard truths could be acknowledged always against the backdrop of forgiveness, redemption, hope: all of which are known in our together ‘abiding in Jesus.’
  • Among the leaders of the congregation I serve, we are starting to share in some conversations which get at ‘truth’ — at least as much as we can comprehend it now at this stage in a global pandemic. In particular, we are beginning to be able to articulate the some of the ‘truth’ about what has been revealed during the time we have been apart and during this time of coming back together. We are grappling with questions about what the church is, and what our call is, and what has changed and what has not. All of this is being done in an anxious time. All of this is being done as together we cannot quite yet see what the whole ‘truth’ is of the what and where and why of this time and what it may mean. We did this at a council meeting last week and as you can imagine, the conversation was heavy and hard.  I asked then what gave us ‘hope’ as we moved forward, and one among us said, “This.  This conversation now.”  Because truth was being grappled with and it was being grappled with together. And, yes, it was being grappled with among those whose first and last hope is Jesus. In whom we seek to abide.
  • A few days ago I had lunch with a colleague. We are not especially friends, we have just found ourselves associating with one another around shared ministry interests and commitments over the years. He had asked that we might meet, it turns out simply to touch base. We spent an hour ‘abiding with Jesus’ together as without judgment we simply explored out loud with one another the particular challenge of these times. Now if you have been in ministry for any length of time, you may also know that sad to say, pastoral colleagues don’t always do this well as we bring our own too much comparing ourselves to one another’s apparent successes to the table. Too much, we find it hard to be this honest, this vulnerable. And yet, the truth is, I have had this conversation more honestly and on more occasions in these last months than maybe ever before.  Indeed, maybe this particular hard time has opened something up in us so that we can begin our encounters with one another by knowing that we are simply ‘abiding in Jesus’ together. And the promise we hear today is that this will surely one day lead us to a truer truth than we have known before.

No, there is no ‘truth,’ without abiding in Jesus, our Gospel from John would have us know today. And while it surely is our hope that such ‘abiding’ might somehow lead to some objective truths which might help us understand and ground our past and present and future, maybe in all of the examples I offer now, the first ‘truth’ that matters is this:

Together we are disciples, followers of Jesus.

We are all children of God with a permanent place in the household, as Jesus points out now.

And if we can simply acknowledge these truths together, doesn’t it become all the more possible to grapple with all the hard truths with which we struggle now?

Indeed, as we abide in Jesus, are we not also abiding in ‘spaces of grace’ which allow us to see one another and all the world as always beloved by God?

And isn’t that at least the first step to living into God’s truth for the world as God intends?

  • If you have read this far, I expect you are also celebrating Reformation Sunday this week. I wonder what all this talk of abiding and truth and finally, freedom, has to say to a church which is being more surely called to reform or to change than ever before. What might it mean for us to begin with ‘abiding with Jesus,’ to our shared discipleship, as we pay attention to the change that is called for now?
  • How do you sort through the meaning and importance of ‘truth’ as we hear about it in this Gospel? How does this speak in a world where ‘ truth’ so often seems elusive?
  • I have offered a couple of examples of where seeking ‘truth’ together in community is best grounded by an understanding of ourselves as ‘abiding in Jesus.’  Where have you witnessed or been a part of something like this lately? How are you understanding its meaning?

2 comments

  1. Beth Olson says:

    Thanks for the insights from your tough, necessary conversations and for the courage to engage in them, too. Hard work, for sure, but valuable, too, for what may arise from the seeds planted. Continued blessings. Not quite sure which way I’m going yet this weekend, except that the church must always be reforming. Not a “one and done.”

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