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Sermon for Trinity Sunday - Year C
John 16:12-15
"Into All Truth"
- Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett -

READING:  John 16:12-15
SERMON :  "Into All Truth"

Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett

    For many years I have not preached the lectionary for 
    Trinity Sunday, or several of the Sunday's following due 
    to Church Anniversaries and special services.  The following 
    sermon was posted to "Sermon Swap" on  the TELOS system in 
    1995 by the Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett of the St. Andrews By The
    Lake United Church, Kingston, Ontario.  All credit goes to 
    Ross, and all blame to me --- Richard.

    We often don't realize the effects words have on us.  When we read or 
hear a word, emotional reactions go off in us very quickly and that 
changes what we understand.  And our reactions may be very different than 
the person sitting next to us.  It's important to be aware of that as we 
consider our reaction to scripture, so I'd like to begin today with an 
exercise in free association.  I'm going to say a word and then ask you 
what sort of feelings or emotions that stirs up within you.  There are no 
marks given for this so just go with it.  The word is "learning".  Now, 
how many of you had a positive reaction, it caused good feelings?  A 
negative reaction, it made you uncomfortable?  How many of us associate 
"learning" with thoughts of growth, challenge, knowledge?  How many of us 
associate "learning" with ideas of discipline, exams, fear?  It's 
important to pay attention to those feelings so we can understand 
ourselves and our gospel lesson for today.  

     Jesus says: "I have more things to tell you (or teach you) but you 
cannot bear them now.  But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you 
(or guide you) into all truth".  That's a pretty clear statement about 
learning and needing to learn.  If learning sets off positive vibrations 
within us we'll hear that as a reassuring, hopeful, exciting statement - 
there's more to learn.  But if learning sets of negative vibrations in us 
we may well hear that statement as threatening, demanding, judging - 
expecting from us more than we can give.  I'm not saying you should feel 
one way or the other about learning.  Learning has always been a positive 
experience for me so I find it sad when others do not enjoy it.  But my 
point is not to make you think you should like learning.  My point is to 
have us listen, at a very deep level, to what Jesus is saying and to be 
aware of our reaction to his words.

   Jesus clearly indicates that we learn in stages.  He tells the 
disciples that they can handle this much now and there's more later on - 
but they couldn't handle it now even if he told them.  That's quite true.  
We are all at different stages in the journey of faith and life and what 
we can cope with changes.  That's not a judgement, it's a statement of 
fact.  It's not a judgement on humanity to say that we have to crawl 
before we run and that most of us have to develop some proficiency in 
walking before we start to skip.  It's not judgement, it's life.  To blame 
people for being at different stages in the growth of faith makes as much 
sense as blaming my (5 year-old) daughter for not being able to do high 
school math.

      So we develop through stages.  But there is a foundation on which 
all our Christian development is built.  If you like, our growth in faith 
is like a house with many different rooms that we can explore in a variety 
of ways, but the entrance door through which we all must pass is faith.  
St. Paul says "since we are justified by faith let us have peace with 
God."  What does it mean to be "justified"?  This is basic to a true 
understanding of Christian faith and life so, even if you remember nothing 
else from this morning, try and hang onto this.

      We can talk about justification in a couple of ways.  The 
traditional way (and probably what Paul had in mind) is to think of a 
courtroom where someone is tried and acquitted.  In such a scenario we 
would say that God acts as a judge and you and I stand accused of having 
broken God's law.  Whether it's the Ten Commandments or the Great 
Commandment  - you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, 
soul and strength and your neighbour as yourself - most of us are honest 
enough to admit that, at least part of the time, we haven't kept the 
commands.  We enter God's courtroom rightly accused and Jesus provides our 
defense.  We are acquitted, justified, because of our faith in him.  
That's a legal understanding of what Paul is saying.

      But there's another use of justified which may be more congenial and 
accessible to you - and which works just as well.  Many of us are familiar 
with computers and word processors.  Even if you're not don't tune out 
now!  On a computer we often have the option of justifying our work.  Take 
your bulletin and open it up to the front page.  If you look down the left 
hand margin you'll see that everything runs out flush to the edge.  That 
is left-justified.  We could, just as easily, set it up to be 
right-justified (although it would look somewhat odd).  With another 
command it could be fully justified - straight margins on both right- and 
left-hand sides, which is what often happens in magazine columns.  If we 
think of this in terms of our Christian faith, we could say that we when 
are "justified by faith" we are as much like Jesus as possible, without 
ragged edges around the outside of our lives - ragged edges of behaviour 
or language or belief.

    What's the point of all this?  (I'm so glad you asked.)  Recall what 
we said earlier.  God and Jesus want us to grow up, mature, develop into 
all truth.  But the first stage of that journey of growing up is faith.  
Individual faith in Jesus.  The first and most significant stage is to say 
"I believe".  When we say that we don't know what it means.  We have no 
idea where that journey may take us.  But the first step is  crucial.  It 
doesn't matter what good works we've done or what offices we've held; it 
doesn't matter who our parents were or our partner or children might be; 
it doesn't matter whether we're church members or not, whether we give 
huge amounts or nothing; it doesn't matter what we may have been or done.  
All of that important stuff comes second.  All of that is part of growing 
into all truth.  The first step is excepting the gift of faith.  That's 
tough for North Americans because we have been deeply ingrained with the 
notion that if we don't earn it, buy it, deserve it, acquire it by our own 
effort than it's not worth having.  The truth is different - the greatest 
things in life and life eternal come to us only as a gift and we can 
achieve them only if we're willing to receive them as gifts.

      Having established that common foundation of faith we're ready to 
talk about growing into truth.  The Spirit is our guide for that truth.  A 
guide who is attuned to our abilities and moves us along at our own pace.  
Have you ever tried to learn from someone who had a natural talent?  It 
drives me nuts!  It comes so easily to them and they look at me with such 
pity!  I'd far rather learn from someone who had to slog it out like you 
and me, mastering each step as a result of effort.  The Spirit is such a 
considerate guide.

     Jesus had things to say to the disciples.  He has things to say to 
us.  But there is often a limit to what we can take on board.  The 
disciples were coping with the imminent tragedy of his death and what 
would come after.  They couldn't handle much more.  So too with us.  There 
are times and places in our life's journey where it is all we can do to 
stay afloat and tread water in one place, much less consider striking off 
to a distant point of land.  Can you remember a time when you felt like 
you were at your limit?  Maybe you feel that way this morning.  There is a 
sensitivity in the Spirit, an awareness of what we are capable of doing at 
each point in our journey.

    Truth in our lives is built in stages.  The foundations are as 
important as the heights we achieve.  Karl Barth, one of the great 
theological minds of the century, whose books fill shelves in libraries, 
was once asked the greatest truth he ever learned.  "The greatest truth?  
The greatest truth is this:  Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible 
tells me so".  We crawl before we run.  We walk before we skip.  God 
delights in our growth at whatever stage we're at.  When was the last time 
you stopped to realize that - God delights in you?  Roll that around in 
your mind this afternoon - "God delights in me" - and see if it doesn't 
change your day.

    But being sensitive to where we are is combined with the expectation 
that we'll grow.  If there are truths we cannot bear now that clearly 
implies that down the road we will be able to bear them.  The most 
sensitive of teachers also needs a willing student.  God expects us to be 
people who want to grow.

      So I'll ask, point-blank and straight-out, where are you 
consciously, deliberately seeking to grow in your knowledge and love of 
God?  What have you done in the last six months to increase your awareness 
of God?  There are countless resources: hundreds of books and magazines 
and tapes; study groups, prayer groups, topical discussion groups, 
seminars and courses; individual guides and teachers; the growth that 
comes from seriously trying each day to be more attuned to God or to 
consciously serve another.  The list is endless.  One of the saddest sight 
I know is the Christian who has stopped growing, who has denied their 
spiritual birthright, who refuses to let the Spirit guide them into new 
awareness and truth.

    In fun houses and science displays we can sometimes see strange 
mirrors.  Look at one and we appear to be short and fat.  Look at another 
and we appear to be tall, thin giants.  Those mirrors give a distorted 
picture of the truth.  In this world many voices counsel us and many 
things pressure us.  Sometimes evil masquerades as good.  Sometimes good 
appears unreasonably demanding or difficult and we draw away.  We need, we 
all need, to stand before Christ, the true mirror of life and through the 
action of the Spirit in our lives be justified to him.  So that, as far as 
possible, we resemble him, ragged neither to the left nor to the right, 
distorted in neither our speaking or acting, our thinking or being.  So, 
where are you eagerly cooperating as the Spirit guides you into all truth? 
Thanks be to God.  Amen

copyright - sermon by Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett 1995-2004 
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild, 1998, 2001, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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