Sermon: September 27, 2015 – The Other Sheep

Text: John 10: 14-16

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Quite a number of years ago I was finishing up my under-graduate work at Northern Michigan University and while I was in school there I also worked for Dominos Pizza to help pay the bills. Most of the time at Dominos I did deliveries, but every so often I had to jump on the line and help make pizzas as well. When we made pizza there was a cool contraption that put the cheese on the pizza for us. The main part of this contraption was this upside down colander looking thing. Once assembled, there was a cheese hopper on top that you would fill up and then push a button and the cheese would fall down through the colander thing and spread out over the pizza. At first, this doesn’t seem like much until you fully understand what is going on-there are two very important things this contraption accomplished for the Dominos where I worked. First it monitored portion control and second it made things faster.

To fill the hopper with cheese you always used the same cup, it didn’t matter if it was a small, medium, large, or extra-large pizza-always the same cup. That saved time. The way the cheese spread out because of the colander thing, only the right amount of cheese would land on a small pizza for example, even though you dropped enough for an extra – large. The cheese that missed the pizza was collected in a bin and used again so there wasn’t any waste.

The manager of the Dominos told me that this device saved him enough in cheese costs the first month to pay for itself and he knows it has increased the speed and efficiency of how fast they can make pizzas when they get really busy.

Now that is management. His name was Jeff and he was a good manager of that Dominos. He also owned it, so that made a difference as well.

When I read this text again a few days ago, it struck me that we don’t have shepherds anymore here in the United States, we have managers. There are managers that know how to save a little bit of cheese on each pizza and make their store more profitable; managers that monitor labor costs and constantly watch the bottom line. There are risk analysis managers and foreign asset managers and all kinds of managers that constantly watch and monitor to make certain spending and expenses stay within certain guidelines. They are managers, but they are not shepherds.

In this text, Jesus says that he is the good shepherd and a good shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep. A good risk analysis manager wouldn’t allow that to happen. You see one or two sheep are acceptable losses, Jesus is too important to lose over just a couple of sheep. The good risk analysis manager would never suggest to Jesus that he leave the 99 sheep to go look for the one that is lost. The one lost sheep can be considered collateral damage or acceptable loss, but you don’t put the other 99 at risk for the one. You don’t if you are a good manager…but a good shepherd looks at things differently. At least that is what the text says.

I understand that a business must make a profit to stay in business and good management is the way it stays in business. But it seems to me that a good shepherd has a commitment that goes well beyond that of a manager. For the good shepherd that one lost sheep is the most important thing, for the good shepherd there isn’t any such thing as acceptable losses or collateral damage. Every single sheep is important and every single sheep is worth laying down So that raises an interesting question for the church. I believe the church is called to be a good shepherd to the lost sheep; we are called to reach out to those who have no flock; we are called to reach out to those who wander and are not connected to community. We are called to be good shepherds to those sheep.

While we are called to be good shepherds, we also have to stay in business and be able to pay the bills. We have to be good managers while we are being good shepherds and that can be a tricky business.

While you are thinking about that particular dilemma let me call your attention to the second half of this text. This is the part where Jesus says that he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold and he must bring them in also. In a historical context, most Bible scholars would interpret this scripture as a reference to the ministry of Jesus expanding from just the Jews to include the Gentiles as well. But part of good Bible scholarship is not only knowing the historical, but finding ways to bring the Gospel forward into the 21st century and find meaning in today’s society and today’s culture.

One of the ways I look at this scripture is that those sheep that do not belong to this fold are those persons we have been talking about so much over the last few months. Sometimes I call them the unaffiliated or you may have heard me describe them as those who say they are spiritual but not religious. They are the demographic that the Pew research has identified as the fastest growing group of people in the United States.

I think it is important for us to recognize that these are real people and they are in many ways lost sheep. These are good people, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, children and grandchildren. They have names and faces and families. It is not some abstract demographic or some statistic on a page of research. They are human beings and they are looking for a spiritual connection that will help them cope with everyday life. But they have not found that comfort in the traditional church; they have not found that comfort in a traditional approach to Christianity. They have been driven away from the church by messages of hostility, messages of judgment, messages of hypocrisy and narrow thinking and now they are lost. They are sheep that no longer belong to this fold, but Jesus says that he must bring them in as well.

As the church called to be a good shepherd I believe it is our responsibility to provide a space for these lost sheep. It is our responsibility to find them, to inform them and to offer them a place to connect, a place to ask questions, a place where we can challenge stereotypes and break free of creeds and dogma. These sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles are longing for a place of spiritual development, they are seeking a place that resonates with what they think and feel. They are looking for such a place, but not many exist. All across this country and even around the world, there are millions of people with names and faces and spiritual needs, who wander but would rather connect, but they don’t know how and they don’t know where.

If you think I am overstating the numbers, consider for a moment how the Pope has been received this week. I believe Pope Francis is saying things and demonstrating things that resonate with these lost sheep. He is open and inclusive, he is non-judgmental, he believes in honoring all faith traditions, he believes we are called to care for the environment, he believes the poor are people of worth-and his message resonates with many who have not been to church in decades.

We have the opportunity to be the place where these other sheep can find a home. We have the opportunity to minister to the needs of many people here in the valley that have not found comfort anywhere else. We are that church. We are the good shepherd. We can do this.

We can do it, but we also need to be good managers. That is the tricky part because almost anything we want to do costs something and right now we don’t have a lot of disposable income in the church budget. As a matter of fact, we don’t have any disposable income in the church budget.

But we have a plan. This plan is a compilation of ideas, research and brainstorming on the part of much of your leadership in this church. It is still in formation and nothing has been officially set, but it is beginning to take shape. It has taken enough shape for us to share a few ideas with you and to give you a glimpse of what we see for the future of this church.

The plan is really very simple. We will become a place of comfort and safety for those other sheep who currently wander. But we need to let them know we are here. Part of that has already started to happen if you have noticed our ads in the Tribune over the past few weeks. As people are encouraged to visit and they experience a different kind of church, some will stay and connect. As they come, we will grow and some of our financial instability will be relieved, but more importantly, we will be ministering to a greater number of people and meeting needs that are not currently being met.

How many of you remember the movie “Field of Dreams” that was popular a number of years ago? In that movie there was a line that kept getting repeated…do you remember? “If you build it, they will come” – remember that?

The same is true for us. But we need you. Each and every one of you knows someone who is currently unaffiliated. Maybe it is someone as close as a son or daughter; perhaps it is the person who mows your lawn or fixes your hair. One person told me they have been talking to a particular server who works in a restaurant they frequently go to. Maybe it is someone at the office or someone in another group that you belong to. But everybody here knows someone. This plan will not work without you; we can advertise and hold events and put up billboards and be on the radio, but nothing can take the place of a personal invitation and a personal recommendation.

The time is now and the person to do it is you. We are called to be good shepherds, every one of us; we become good shepherds by looking for and finding those lost sheep. The plan is a framework; but we need you to fill in the blanks. We need you to spread the Good News. We need you to be excited and enthusiastic about what your church is doing and why it stands apart from any other church in the Valley.

The plan needs you, the church needs you and the lost sheep need you. Will you answer the call?

Amen.

Sermon: September 20, 2015 – Nothing is Lost

Text: John 6: 35-40

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

I would have to admit to spending a little time on Facebook; I’m sure there may be others who spend a lot more time looking and reading and posting than I do. But even what little I am on Facebook, I have noticed a couple of things that I think are interesting. The first thing is that I hardly ever post anything-I guess my life isn’t that interesting, or else I figure that not everbody needs to know that I’m on my way to the DMV to get a driver’s license or standing in line at Starbucks. I’m amazed at what some people post-I keep thinking about the relative importance of any particular post. Of course there are the photos of the grandchildren and some information about what our own kids have been up to, but there are a lot of posts from the grocery store or some restaurant or traffic jam some place. I don’t want to appear completely heartless, but I don’t really care if you are stuck in traffic or not, it is what it is, so deal with it-you don’t have to put it on Facebook.

I have also noticed that most people only put the highlight reel on Facebook; in other words you might see a picture of a report card with all A’s, or a special performance at the piano recital, or even the declaration that 10 pounds has been lost. To the best of my recollection, I don’t recall ever seeing Facebook posts about how I really lost my temper today and I should apologize to that person. Or maybe the post about how I manipulated things in such a way to get my own way, or maybe there was that little white lie that one time, or I didn’t tip my waitress or waiter as much as I probably should have and I could go on, but you get the idea. I wonder what it would look like if in an alternative universe somewhere there was a Facebook equivalent that was only for the “B” reel. You know, the stuff we would prefer never saw the light of day…wouldn’t that be interesting reading? I might have to confess to spending even more time of that kind of a Facebook – it would make for much more interesting reading.

Interestingly enough, today’s scripture made me think of this. I know what you’re probably thinking about now…”he’s been on the edge for a while now, but he finally went over.”

But I don’t think so. Let me explain.

If we look at the scripture again, there are a couple of things I would like to point out. The first, which is obvious, is that this text comes to us from the Gospel according to John. I know I have said this before, but it is worth repeating, the Gospel of John is 100% metaphor-the entire thing-and that is not just my opinion, it is upheld by many of the world’s greatest theologians. So when Jesus is saying that we will never hunger or thirst again, how are we to interpret that exactly? We know we can’t see a literal interpretation here, so what comes next? Are we talking about a spiritual hunger or a spiritual thirst? I don’t think so, because everyone I know who currently has a powerful and dynamic relationship with Jesus is always hungry for more. They want more knowledge, they want more understanding, and they want more personal experiences of the Divine in their lives. We all want more all the time. So I don’t really think that is an accurate interpretation; although it is a very common one.

So I will ask the question again, what does it mean to never be hungry or thirsty again when we have a relationship with Jesus? I don’t think we are talking about money or material blessings; there are people who walk with Jesus daily that represent both ends of a broad economic spectrum; it can’t be wealth or material possessions. So what else? It’s not spiritual, it’s not material, could it be emotional?

Let me say that again. Could it be emotional?

Now what do I mean by that; to never be emotionally hungry or thirsty again? I can tell you what I don’t mean-I’m not suggesting that we will never feel bad again, I’m not suggesting we won’t ever experience loneliness or heartbreak or frustration ever again-these things are all a part of life and they continue pretty much regardless of your relationship with Jesus. As a matter of fact, I am suggesting that this scripture basically promises us that those things will continue.

You see, I think most people read this portion of the text as a good thing. They read it like those of us who have a relationship with Jesus will somehow be better off than those who do not have such a relationship; and in a way I suppose that is accurate. But the accuracy is not what you think.

Remember when I suggested how interesting it might be if in an alternative universe somewhere there was a Facebook for all the “B” reel stuff? All of the things you would rather not talk about or admit to; all of the things that emotionally you keep hidden behind your back? All of that stuff? I know we all have some.

What if Jesus is that alternative universe I keep talking about and simple prayer is the Facebook?

Could it be that when Jesus said that we will never be hungry or thirsty what he really was saying is that we will never run out of things that qualify for the “B” reel. We will never run out of things that are less than stellar to post on the Jesus Facebook where all of our truth comes to the light of day whether we want it to or not. Maybe, just maybe, never being hungry or thirsty again means we will continue to have lots of material in our lives that isn’t fit for the highlight reel. We are not exactly at our best moment or the top of our game as they say; in other words, we will always have plenty to post on the alternative Facebook. And we post on the alternative Facebook when we pray-and that of course is what makes us better off. We have not escaped the suffering, but at least we have a place to put it and share it and maybe even get a few likes from the community at large.

But that isn’t all the text says. If we look closely at verse 39 it says that Jesus will not lose any of what has been given him. In other words, nothing is lost, so everything is used and everything is important. Can you get your mind around this? It is all useful, it is all good, and when we post to the Jesus Facebook, we don’t have to worry whether or not our post is part of a highlight reel or part of a lesser reel. It is all used and it is all good. Because the good is so good and the bad is so useful.

Can you begin to see that in Jesus? Look who he spent time with; Jesus didn’t exactly hang out with the “A” team all the time, as a matter of fact, Jesus didn’t even hang out with the junior varsity, Jesus hung out with those who had been thrown off the team altogether. Jesus hung out with the outcasts and the ridiculed; he hung with the sick and the lonely and those who had not one good thing to post on Facebook. Why did Jesus spend his time with such people? Was it because he just had bad taste in people? Was it because he was a poor judge of character? I don’t think so.

I think Jesus hung out with those people because nothing is lost. Everything is of value and every person is of value, and what better way to demonstrate that than to validate the outcasts and ridiculed than with his presence and with his compassion?

I think this scripture is also saying that God wants all of us. Sure God will take the highlight reel of the straight A report card and the son or daughter scoring a goal in the soccer game, but God also wants what we have hiding in the closets or our minds right now. God wants the “B” reel and everything that has fallen on the editing room floor. God wants it all because nothing is lost and nothing is wasted. The good is so good and the bad is so useful, God wouldn’t have it any other way.

So we can continue to cherry pick our regular Facebook posts and create this illusion of perfection for all of our friends and family. We all live Pollyanna lives on Facebook with the exception of the occasional traffic jam or flat tire; but the Jesus Facebook is looking for something else. The Jesus Facebook wants it all, the good the bad and the ugly, all of it. And don’t worry, you will never run out, because we are promised that when posting the realities of our lives on the Jesus Facebook, we will never hunger for material and we will never thirst for another post. There will be plenty.

And that is food for thought. Go in peace and go with God.

Amen.

Sermon: September 13, 2015 – Thinking Beyond the Obvious

Text: Luke 4: 16-21

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I don’t think I ever really believed in a tooth fairy and to the best of my memory I don’t remember putting a lost tooth under a pillow. But we did have a tradition in my house as I was growing up, that we could put a lost tooth in a glass of water and then in the morning there may be a coin or two in the water and the tooth would be gone. Somehow I always knew it was a parental act, but it was fun just the same; perhaps being the youngest of five and subject to the views and opinions of older sisters and an older brother made me less naïve. However it happened, that is what we did when I lost a tooth.

So as a very young boy I have a memory of losing a tooth and placing it in the glass of water. The next morning with great anticipation I rushed to the counter above the sink to retrieve the glass of water. The tooth was gone, but I must admit to a certain level of disappointment; there in the bottom of the glass was just a single coin, a nickel.

I had lost other teeth and I was pretty sure I normally did better than just a nickel; even a few more pennies would have helped, but a nickel? Really? Oh, well, I thought-at least it will get five penny candies at the corner store. Like I said, this was a long time ago.

When I poured out the water to retrieve my nickel a miracle took place. The nickel shifted sideways just a little bit and hidden under the nickel was a shiny new dime! Fifteen cents! Whoa baby! How things can change in just a few seconds; my reward had just tripled in size and I was ecstatic! Part of the thrill was the discovery, thinking at first I might have been short-changed, so to speak, and then to discover in just a moment my take had tripled. It was great.

I think it is also significant to realize the treasure of the dime was hidden under the nickel-it wasn’t until the nickel was removed, that I realized there was more underneath. I think that is also true of this scripture. There is an interpretation on the surface, which is valid, but I think there is another that lies beneath the first interpretation, that many people miss. You have to look for it if you are going to find it, because it is easily obscured by the first.

Let me explain what I mean by this. When Jesus told the people in the synagogue that the scripture had been fulfilled that day, right in front of them, with their hearing, Jesus was defining his ministry. He was sending notice about what he was here to do, and what he was going to be paying attention to. If we look again at the text, we can see that Jesus said he would bring good news to the poor, he said he would proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. He also said he would let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

So on the surface, we can see many of these things being brought out in later episodes of Jesus’ ministry. He did heal some that were blind, he did perhaps bring good news to the poor. If you were held captive by your past, as was the woman at the well for example, Jesus offered release from that captivity. If you were oppressed by disease or physical problems, Jesus also brought release from those ailments. We can see the fulfillment of this scripture in the stories and the descriptions of Jesus’ ministry all throughout the four Gospels. This is the surface interpretation; it is the interpretation which is the most obvious. It is also the point where many people quit looking for anything more…but there is more, a lot more. And we should talk about it, because it is very relevant to the situation we find ourselves in right now, here in the 21st century.

If you look closely at the text in Luke, you might discover that the same basic story appears in Matthew and Mark as well, except those two other Gospels leave out the specific scripture that Jesus quoted. The main idea of all three stories is not the scripture being fulfilled, but rather the idea that Jesus was not welcome even in the synagogue of his home town. The story is referenced in all three Gospels as “Jesus is rejected at Nazareth”-it is not labeled as “the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled”. So we need to think beyond the obvious here and look under the first interpretation and see if there is something more for us that is hidden by our original instincts. Just like the dime was hidden by the nickel.

I think many people would agree that one of the things that Jesus wanted to accomplish with his ministry was to reform Judaism. Jesus also wanted to challenge some of the ways Judaism had gotten bogged down or stuck in the mud with too many rules, too many regulations, too much tradition and too much authority in the hands of too few individuals. If we look at the text again, with reforming Judaism in our minds, it becomes very interesting.

For example, in what ways was ancient Judaism poor and what good news was Jesus offering that would offset that particular poverty? How were people blind in ancient Judaism or how were they oppressed or held captive by the laws and tradition? If you begin to think about Jesus’ ministry as a reformer of Judaism, each of these items mentioned in the Isaiah text has a direct correlation to the conditions found in ancient Judaism. They were blind, they were oppressed, they were held captive and Jesus wanted to change all of that. Jesus could see that the common experience of God for the common Jew was quite poor, it could be much richer; Jesus wanted to change that as well. Jesus wanted to bring the good news of a dynamic personal relationship with God to the common person, even to the peasant, even to women, even to Gentiles and Samaritans, prostitutes, tax collectors and thieves. Jesus wanted everyone to experience what he experienced; a personal, close encounter with the Divine.

But the real message here, the message that we have to dig for a little bit, the message that is hidden under all the others is this: we have come full circle. We no longer need Jesus to reform ancient Judaism; we need Jesus to reform Christianity. Let me say that again; we need Jesus to reform Christianity.

Now there’s a thought. Jesus the reformer, Jesus the rebel, Jesus the troublemaker is the Jesus that can reform Christianity if we let him. Christianity has become poor. We are a poor example to the rest of the world if we profess to be a Christian nation. We are poor when people feel judged or outcast or belittled; when Christianity is willing to divide a nation, or split a church or oppress certain groups of people, we are poor. But the message of Good News that Jesus brought to reform ancient Judaism is the same message that can make us rich again.

We are held captive in so many ways. But Jesus promised release from that captivity. We practice oppression on a regular basis, but Jesus can free us from that oppression. We often are blind to some of these things, but through a new lens, and a new vision of what Jesus really said and what Jesus really taught, we can see again. Our sight can be restored!

We are about to embark on a new journey as a church. We will be ministering in new ways, we will have new spiritual experiences and we will see Jesus in new ways. As we move forward, we must understand that reform is not easy; change is hard. But the freedom and the rich rewards are worth the effort.

I am certainly not Jesus; but I am your Spiritual leader. Listen to this text again with new ears. Listen again to the proclamation of where your Spiritual leader is leading, listen again for what our purpose as a church really is and what our ministry will be about. Listen-

18”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
Bring good news to the spiritually poor, those who are starved for a meaningful spiritual experience.

He sent me to proclaim release to the captives
Release to the captives; held captive by tradition, held captive by denominational barriers, held captive by antiquated creeds and customs.

and recovery of sight to the blind.
Recovery of sight to the blind; those blinded by the bright glare of exclusiveness, those blinded by feelings of superiority, those blinded by their own self-absorption.

to let the oppressed go free,
To let the oppressed go free; those groups of individuals held in oppression because of gender or belief systems, held in oppression because of race or nationality, held in oppression because of gender orientation or even faith tradition.

19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Today, we begin a new chapter. Today we begin to really move forward. Today we are taking the first few steps toward a revitalization of our church. And yes, today-here in the 21st century-this scripture has been fulfilled by your hearing.

Amen.

Sermon: September 6, 2015 – “The Language of Truth”

Text: John 8: 31-32

Then Jesus said; “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Language is such an interesting thing. A few years ago Heidi and I traveled to Italy and other parts of the UK and noticed again there is a bit of a language gap among many of the people in Europe and people here in the US. While we were there, we learned a few new words to add to our limited UK vocabulary. We already knew a few words that were different from having traveled in England before; for example we knew they called an elevator a lift and when you stand in line for something you que up. I also knew that if you had to use a rest room you went to the lieu and they called a flashlight a torch.  While we were visiting we learned a few more words that were fun; we learned that often they called a truck a lorry that I would call a semi. One day we were talking with some locals about traveling overseas and the subject of Japan came up; I said I had never been, but would maybe like to go someday. Then they asked if you had to have any special jabs to go to Japan; that was their word for shots – jabs; pretty descriptive, if you ask me. They also spoke of swimming in the hotel pools and how the chlorine was hard on their costumes – what we would call swim suits or bathing suits. Even though we all spoke English, at times there was still a communication gap.

Imagine then, how difficult it is to translate something from an ancient text into modern English and have the meaning of the text come through. I would suspect it is very difficult and not always very successful. I’m thinking this may be true for the text that I just read a few minutes ago. Jesus speaks of the truth – like it is an object or a physical item that can be held in your hand and studied. This word truth can be very slippery and I’m not certain what Jesus or John meant when they spoke or wrote about truth.

In almost every case, I think the word truth would be better when prefaced with a personal pronoun like my truth, or your truth, or even the collective our truth. Truth is very personal and depends entirely upon your experience and perception of the world. But even what our eyes tell us sometimes can be incorrect; at least from a certain point of view.

Consider this perspective of truth that comes from the best selling author, Neale Donald Walsch in his book “Home With God.” THE truth does not exist as an objective reality. Perspective creates perception, and perception creates experience. The experience that perception creates for you is what you call ‘truth.’

What this is saying, I think, is that our truth is what we experience it to be. In many cases the experience is collective, that is it is experienced by all of us all of the time and becomes what some would consider being an absolute truth. Gravity, for example, could be an absolute truth because we all experience it all the time. At least until we invented space travel; once we discovered areas in the universe where gravity is not, our perspective and understanding of this truth had to change.

Truth is also subject to what our brains can comprehend. Our brains are limited to what we have been exposed to or told about or things that make sense to us. If something happens that goes beyond what our brains can process, the truth will be altered to fit what we are able to perceive.

One example of this, which I experienced personally still doesn’t make sense to me today. But I know what my truth is, and the truth of those who were with me when it happened, so we have a collective truth, but our comprehension of what that truth actually was is limited. I believe we only have a partial truth and the balance of the truth is left for our brains to fill in.

So, here is what took place; this is my literal truth. When I was growing up in Iowa, one of the toys we had around the house for many years was an old 1946 Willys Jeep. This Jeep burned equal parts of oil and gasoline, but stayed functional for many years. One of our favorite pastimes when there was a raging snowstorm was to go cruising around town in the Jeep. This was an open air event, so you had to be bundled up, and the later in the night it was, the better it was.

On this particular evening, the snowstorm was a pretty good one and they had already called off school for the next day, so I was free to stay up as late as I wanted. Around midnight or perhaps a little later, a group of 4 of us decided to go cruising around town in the Jeep. I was there, my brother was there and two cousins that were about the same age as my older brother, Bruce – which made me the youngest of the group. I’m thinking I was in my early teens, probably 13 or 14, but not any older than that.

So we all piled into the Jeep and took off. When it is late in a small town and there is a raging blizzard going on, you generally have the streets to yourself-and of course, that is half the fun. We went in search of giant snowdrifts and steep hills and cruised around town for an hour or so. By then we were cold and wet and ready to come home. We parked the Jeep in the backyard and headed for our back door, but we paused for a minute to throw a few snowballs. It was now about 1:30 AM or close to that time.

As we were throwing our snowballs, the sky lit up from horizon to horizon; not just a bright light, but the whole sky lit up. It was red and then it went out, and then it was green and then it went out, and then it was blue and then it went out. It did that three times, in the same order-illuminating the sky from horizon to horizon and then it was gone. To this day, none of us know what it was that lit the sky up that night in that weird way.

Can you begin to appreciate how elusive this thing we call truth is? Neale Donald Walsch told us that truth depends on perception and experience.   So what was our truth? What was the source of the lights? Had we experienced something ordinary made special by the snowstorm, or had we experienced something extraordinary? These are the kinds of questions that will drive you crazy – and in my case it is a pretty short drive. The truth is there somewhere, but our experience and perceptions only yield a partial truth.

You see, our world is full of false positives. We experience things that are not true all the time and we learn to compensate through language, through understanding and through experience. Let me give you some examples of what I mean. We talk all the time about a sunrise and a sunset; even though we all know that is not true-the sun never moves-we experience the sun moving and so this false experience becomes a truth that everyone accepts and talks about. When you say sunrise or sunset everyone knows what you are talking about, even though it is not true. There are other examples where our perception and our experience deceive us. Consider a table for example; we all know that a table top surface is solid and will hold something up if we place it there. This table has no problem supporting my Bible, for example. That is our perception and our experience and it becomes truth.

Except that it isn’t true. This table is mostly empty space and if it were not for the alignment of the molecules and the opposite polarity of the charges of the electrons of the table and my Bible, the Bible would fall right through this table. But it doesn’t, and we can’t see the molecular structure, and our perception is that the table is solid so we accept the solid table as truth; even though it is not truth.

Consider the creation stories that are recorded in the first two chapters of Genesis. Yes, I said stories in the plural, there is more than one and they are quite different if you read them both and compare notes; something that Creationists don’t like to talk about. But I digress-in the creation stories you find reference to some things we now understand to be very different, but you can clearly see how the truth of the story was created from perception and experience, rather than from some higher absolute truth.

For example, the story tells us that God created a great dome and placed it over the earth. Well if you have ever been on the plains during a very clear day and have gazed from horizon to horizon, the idea of a dome is very evident – it is understandable-but it isn’t true. But for generations it was considered true or truth. The creation story also tells us that God placed two great lights in the sky, one to rule by day and the other to rule by night; this may be splitting hairs, but the moon is not a light, it only reflects light. We experience the moon as a light, people talk about moonlight all the time like it really exists, but it doesn’t. Moonlight is reflected sunlight. But it doesn’t matter what it is – when we poetically speak of the grandeur of the Snake River bathed in moonlight, everyone knows what we mean and can conjure up a mental image of what we are talking about. So is the truth of that description of the Snake River the mental image or the facts regarding the light? I prefer to think of the truth as being the mental image.

Which brings me back to our scripture this morning; far too often this scripture is lifted up as a reason to oppress and confine people to a particular set of beliefs. Truth is what I tell you it is and nothing more and nothing less – is how some approach this text. Consider your personal experience of God as truth; there was a time in your life, I’m quite certain that you felt close to or felt the presence of a creator or higher power; you felt close to God. That experience may have been at church camp, it may have been in church, it may have been fishing on the Snake River bathed in moonlight. Your experience of God is your truth about God and it is a mistake to pursue a truth that does not match your experience. It only leads to resentment, confusion and ultimately a loss of faith. And so when you discover the truth; when you discover your truth – that truth will set you free. There is great freedom in believing what matches your experience and your perception and allowing others to believe what matches their experience. That is the truth that will set you free.

This is our great asset as United Methodists, we offer each individual the opportunity to create a truth which matches their unique perspective and their unique experience. Some believe that a truth must be the same for everyone or else it isn’t true-but a truth that must be the same for everyone, at least in my mind, is not setting you free, it is confining you to only a single perspective. So from a certain perspective, in order for this scripture to be true, you must retain the ability to have individual truths and individual realities, if the truth is indeed going to set you free.

And that, I believe, is food for thought.

Go in peace, go with God and go find your truth. Amen.