Posted on Oct 28, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
I want to begin by saying that what I am about to say is not what I originally planned for today. Oh, I will talk about the Fake News of this world, as promised, but I have altered my words from what I planned because of the horrific actions of this past week. First of all, our week began with the news that certain political figures and journalists who had different ideologies from our president were being threatened by having pipe bombs sent to them. The FBI quickly went to work and arrested a suspect Friday morning. But, that was not the end, as you know. Then on Saturday, while people gathered for worship at the Tree of Life synagogue in east Pittsburgh, a lone gunman who blamed the “Jews” for his problems shot and killed 11 innocent people. Today, I grieve, not only of those people who lost their lives yesterday and for their loved ones, but I also grieve with all people of the Jewish faith and with all people of faith.
I am greatly disturbed not only because of the lives that were taken, but also because it seems like as a society, we seem to be coming immune to such horrific actions and we seem to somehow think that more guns and more violent actions will stop these senseless acts. Well, that is the fake news of today, and I am tired of being fed these lies. But, these days it is difficult to tell fact from fiction, isn’t it? I was watching a reporter interview someone on Monday morning before all this started and the reporter asked the person why he thought a certain politician lied about so many things. And with a very straight face the person said, “He doesn’t lie, he simply curves the facts to his favor.”
Now, after I heard this interview, I was very puzzled about what it means to tell a lie, so I looked up the definition of the word “lie.” Here is what I found: a lie is “a false statement made with a deliberate intent to deceive, a falsehood intended to convey a false impression, an inaccurate or false statement." So, apparently stating facts these days can, and does oftentimes, include “false statements,” or as this person said, truth today can include “curving the facts.” In other words, we really are living in a world filled with “fake news,” and it is getting harder and harder to tell fact from fiction.
But, to be honest, fake news, or the practice of “curving the facts,” has been around for a long time, and our Gospel story today is about this very issue. It is a story about truth, about freedom, and about where that truth and freedom really start, and to get at the heart of this story and be able to get to what it might mean for us today, I think it would be good to look at it from three different perspectives. First, I think it would be valuable for us to look at this notion of truth from the point of those hearing this story some 2,000 years ago. John tells us that Jesus is speaking to those Jews who “believed in” him. We know from previous stories in John that there were many Jews that did not believe in Jesus’ teachings. Many, especially by the religious authorities, were opposing Jesus. Just prior to our story today in John 7 we are told that the Pharisees and chief priests were arguing about who this man is and what they should do with him. When Jesus speaks here about who he is, he is directly challenging those who would dismiss or arrest him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”(John 8:31-32). If you want the truth about this world, Jesus says, he will provide it, without any curves. His truth, he said, would set them free from the authorities and principalities of this world, even from Satan and his deceitful ways. But many that heard him that day, especially the religious authorities, thought he was crazy. “We are descendants of Abraham,” they said; we “have never been slaves to anyone” (8:33). What these folks failed to see was that instead of placing their identity in God, they continued to ground their identity in their Jewish heritage. First of all, they literally had been slaves many times and were currently “enslaved” to the Roman authorities, but their ultimate freedom would never come because of their Jewish heritage; it would only come from God, because in God’s incredible mercy, God would offer them true freedom.
From this historical perspective the real issue is one’s identity. Is one a follower of Jesus? Is one to find freedom in Jesus or in Abraham? Is one to know that Jesus spoke the truth, or rather the teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees? For the Jews of Jesus’ day what was critical for them to understand was that their freedom, their new life was to be found in “the Son,” even if that meant disagreeing with the scribes and Pharisees. They were experiencing freedom, but it came at a cost, a profound loss for many.
Some 1,600 years later, Martin Luther and many others were experiencing much of the same issues. The religious authorities would have them believe that true freedom, the ultimate truth, was found in the ways of the church. The church had curved the truth to the truth that certain pietistic practices, indulgences, and church authority were the ways to the freedom God was offering, but Luther, and many others, argued against such teachings. For Luther, truth, new life, and real freedom were not found in such practices, but instead were found only in faith in Christ.
Luther argued that true freedom would came from Christ, not the church. Yes, the church is critical in our faith lives, but the church is not the giver of this freedom and truth. The church is the proclaimer of it, and as the church our call is to proclaim God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness for all.
Which brings us to how this text speaks to us today. In both of these historical perspectives we see that the faith communities were challenged to understand that the truths and teachings of both the secular and religious leaderships of their perspective's days had “curved the truth to their favor." Today, we would say that the news they were sharing was “fake news.”
Freedom for the people of Jesus’ day would not to be found in Rome; freedom would not be found in the history and heritage of the Jewish people; no, God’s freedom was coming into this world through Jesus Christ, and if one was going to place their faith in Jesus, then that would mean calling out and denying the “fake news” that was being offered by their leaders. The same was true in Luther’s day. As Luther studied scripture, Luther rediscovered the truth that real freedom — that is freedom from sin, death, and all the evil ways of this world — could only come through Christ, which meant he would have to stand up and deny the ways of the leadership of his day, which he did. And, today, here we are living in times filled with “curved facts,” “fake news,” and we are being challenged to turn to the ways of Jesus and not the ways of this world, even if it means standing up to our leadership both in the church and in the secular world.
For millennia, this church denied rights to women, but a little over 48 years ago the people of that day stood up to religious authorities and said no, and so, on Nov. 22, 1970, Elizabeth Platz became the first woman to be ordained in the Lutheran Church in America. In 1993, in an effort to take a stand against indifferences and racism, in its social statement on race, ethnicity, and culture, the ELCA committed itself “to confront racism, to engage in public leadership, witness and deliberation on these matters, and to advocate for justice and fairness for all people. ”In 2009, to the dismay of many, the ELCA stood up and said, we will no longer be a people who denies rights in the church to people based on their sexuality, and we voted to accept the ordination of people in the LGBT community.
Today, on this day that we hear Jesus speak of truth and freedom, on this day that we remember our heritage as a church, and on this day when we grieve with the world, we are challenged to speak truth and to insist that the real truth only comes from God, and the truth is, if we are going to stand up against violence and hatred, then we we need to take action.
So, what is that action? Well, this morning, when I prayed those words right here in this sanctuary, what I heard back was “your words matter.” Yes, our words do matter! Today, we live in a world where rhetoric that used to be used only by those with extreme viewpoints is now the norm. Our words, and the words of our leaders, are leading people to think and act inappropriately. So, what can we do? Well, we can make sure in our own homes we are using language that does not put others down. We can make sure we do not quietly let racist or other inappropriate comments go when spoken by others. We can demand that our leaders and politicians stop using inflammatory and violent language, and we do this by voting. If the world is going to change, we have to start the change with changing ourselves.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to know his truth — that God is the God of all creation — and as such we are called to stand with and seek justice for the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, the refugee, and all who are deemed unworthy by this world, and to do that, like Jesus, like Martin Luther, and like so many that have come before us, we are to stand up to the authorities of this world, both the secular and the religious, and proclaim the Gospel. That’s not fake news! Amen.