Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
To Tell the Truth
In the late 20thcentury, there was a popular game show called “To Tell the Truth.” Three contestants, all claimed to be the same person, and tried to stump a panel of celebrities. Two contestants were lying and only one was telling the truth. The panel would ask each contestant several questions, and try to guess which one was the real mystery guest. After several minutes, the host ended the questioning, and said, “will the real mystery guest, please stand up.” Each contestant would act like they were going to stand up, and then the real person would rise from their chair, and claim their true identity. It was just a game show, but I wonder if it can serve as an example of how we face the challenges of claiming our true identity as Christians, telling the truth of the Gospel, speaking truth to power. To tell the truth today requires great courage and it may even come with great consequences.
Truth is Costly
In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist was arrested, put in prison, and executed for speaking truth to power, for speaking plain truth. John announced truth throughout his ministry. He preached to the crowds about how they needed to repent, turn from their ways, and return to God. John proclaimed the truth about who Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God. John was a bold, out there, in your face, prophetic voice, and his mission was to tell the truth. I believe he was the forerunner of disciples to come. So, how did his truth telling cost him his head? John publically revealed the scandalous truth about Herod’s sinful behavior, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” John the Baptist spoke truth to power and it cost him his life.
Now for we 21stcentury Christians, telling the truth of the Gospel, claiming your true identity as follower of Jesus may not cost you your physical life, but it may cause you to lose friends and it may cause you to suffer rejection. Claiming Jesus may require you to take a stand on issues that the world finds distasteful, and it will definitely cause you to be transformed. When we are changed, and we begin to live the way of Jesus, the way of mercy, grace, peace, reconciliation and love, truth abounds. Even in a culture where truth can be elusive where “fake news,” false advertising, and alternative facts seem to be all around, the truth of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, reconciliation, and peace is truth, on which, we can rely.
What is truth?
What does it mean to tell the truth as disciples of Jesus? Sometimes truth telling is when we help our sisters and brothers that stray, and we share straight talk with them, even if the truth hurts. Sometimes we must speak truth to power and stand for justice for all. All the time, we must always claim the truth of our identity as followers of Jesus, even if it costs us friends. Truth tellingcomes with great consequences; it did for John the Baptist; it did for Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is costly, because it requires us to leave our old selves behind, in order to find our new identity in Christ.
The early Christians understood this concept and their claim was simple, “Jesus is Lord!” This simple statement meant that the following Jesus was how they lived their lives. They claimed that Jesus ministry, his life, his love would lead, guide, and directs their lives. We Christians today must do the same, claiming Jesus as Lord of our lives. We Episcopalians at General Convention over the past two weeks, spent some time dying to our old selves and then, boldly claiming, “Jesus is Lord” in ways that I have not seen before. Here are a few examples.
Telling the Truth – General Convention
First, we Episcopalians spoke truth to power and stood for justice for the least, lost, and lonely. Hundreds of us stood in solidarity and protested the detention practices of the “T. Don Hutto Residential Center,” where immigrant detainees are being held as captives, and separated from family members. As they stood outside, God’s people inside waved, shed tears of joy, and thanked us for our love and support. Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry shouted, “We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus, and Jesus taught us love.”
Our Episcopal Bishops two weeks ago at Convention spoke truth to power at Austin’s Brush Park Square, and stood in solidarity against gun violence while claiming, “we are disciples of Jesus Christ” and “we reject violence as a way of life.” On Thursday morning last week, the Episcopal Church took a stand for justice and voted to reconcile our sin of over 50 years, by which in the 1960’s we chose to separate from and abandon the Episcopal Church in Cuba. Tears flowed down thousands of faces that day, when we voted to welcome back to the Episcopal family, our sisters and brothers of the Episcopal Church in Cuba as full members of this communion.
The Episcopal Church also took a stand for justice for all and passed resolutions that boldly and loudly proclaimed that all our sisters and brothers (siblings), regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation have an equal place in this church. We claimed that we are family and “together we are disciples of Jesus Christ.” The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement stood boldly together, and claimed our identity as followers of Jesus Christ, and in so doing we spoke truth to power, to each other, and to the world. So, what does all that mean for the local church?
Evangelism and Mission – To Tell the Truth
Imagine the “To Tell the Truth” game show as real life played out in our local neighborhood. Pretend for a moment that we are the contestants, and the observers of the church serve as the celebrity panel. Pretend that each one of us stand up and claim, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.” The panel watches and asks us no questions about theology, church history, scripture, doctrine, or even liturgy. The panel only observes, “how our faith has changed how we serve others, just like Jesus did,” “how our faith has changed how we face tragedy, joys, and challenges,” and “how Jesus’ love has brought healing, reconciliation, and mercy to us.” Every day, our friends, our neighbors, and our family are intrigued by the way of Jesus, and you know, we are the only gospel many of them will ever read. These folks hear our claim that Jesus is Lord, but they are looking for our actions to match our words.
St. Monica’s, we “tell the truth” of Jesus’ love, and we claim our identity as followers of the way of Jesus, but there is so much more we can do. All of us need to expand our local mission work, right here in our neighborhood. All of us need to advocate for, serve, and love our neighbors who are on the margins. All of us need to commit to the Jesus Movement already moving today, by taking a risk to share the Good News of God’s love that each one of us has experienced in Christ. I know we can do this.
Our culture stands in wonder and asks, “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and love one another?” “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus tell the truth of how Jesus Christ has transformed their lives?” “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and care for the least, lost, and lonely?” Religious skeptics of the world are not be interested in our history, doctrine, tradition, and some of the things we hold so dear, but they are interested in whether like Jesus, do our actions speak louder than our words.
Claiming Jesus as Lord requires us to respond to the call for grace, justice, and dignity for all, by loving our neighbors as ourselves. My dear sisters and brothers, we are the Jesus Movement that is already moving throughout the church today. However, we must be willing to tell the truth of the Good News of the love Jesus Christ, by sharing how that love has changed us, and claiming “Jesus is Lord” in all that we do.
So what will you do the next time you meet a friend, maybe a religious skeptic, or a person that God calls you to love? The opportunity “to tell the truth” happens everyday, even though folks around us may deny God’s grace, reconciliation, mercy, peace and love is real. We are the living advertisements of the Good News and the bearers of God’s love. So when the opportunity to tell your our of God’s grace comes, when the opportunity to love our neighbor comes, and when the opportunity to take a stand for injustice comes, “will the real disciples of Jesus Christ, please stand up?”
(1) Thomas, Rodney. “The Seal of the Spirit and the Religious Climate of Ephesus.” Restoration Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 3, 2001, pp. 155-166
(2) Campbell, Charles L. “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 28, no. 2, Lent, pp. 10-18.
(3) Baker, Kevin. “Capital T.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 14, 11 July 2006, p. 20.