Most Sundays, at around 11:30 am, I get up behind a sturdy wooden pulpit, take a deep breath, and speak the first of the two thousand words or so that comprise my sermon. Every time I do this, the irony that a big part of my vocation involves speaking—out loud!—strikes me. As someone who has always been shy, always struggled with stuttering and speaking too quickly, it is a strange and exhilarating and terrifying indeed to speak in front of other human beings on a regular basis. Jeremiah’s words of protest to God have always rung true for me: “Ah Lord God! Truly, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (Jer 1:6). And yet, I speak.
So, what do I speak? Well, I suppose in some sense, I aim to speak the truth. The truth about God, about human beings, about the world. At least the truth as I see it, the truth according to the tradition I am a part of—the truth that I believe the Spirit of God has helped me/us to understand or see or process or synthesize or uncover or transmit or whatever. The truth. Yes, this is what I am pleased to think that I speak when I stand behind this pulpit. Two thousand words of truth.
And yet who could ever claim to even know, much less speak, “the truth” about such immense and mysterious things as God and faith and the spiritual realm and meaning and hope and beauty and pain and suffering and forgiveness and grace? Even if we believe the truth has been revealed and written down by others, who could claim to understand and interpret “the truth” correctly or comprehensively enough? It’s one thing to talk about “the truth” of the matter when it comes to automotive parts or engineering or architecture or agriculture or mathematics, but God? Or what God wants from us? Or what, if anything, human life is for? “The truth” about these things? God help me.
Lately, I have been struck by how noisy the world is. So many words flying around, so many different opinions, so much disagreement, so many ideas, so much sloganeering, so many sales pitches, all masquerading as, in some sense, “the truth.” The truth about what I need, what I ought to need, what I should support or donate to, whom I should correct or rebuke, what I should watch or buy or sell, what my kids will be incomplete without, what I should invest in, what I should listen to or read, how I should pray, etc, etc. So many “truths” jostling for position, for airtime, for space on the screen, for even the smallest of inroads into our hearts and minds and wallets.
This morning, I was reading a passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:9-10, it says that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things, things in heaven and things on earth.
Yes, if ever there was something our cacophonous and cluttered and distracted and deceived world was in desperate need of it would be this: for all of our untruths, partial-truths, and almost-truths to be gathered up—collected and lifted—into the will and the pleasure and the fullness of God. For the truth to swallow up and incorporate and judge and relativize all of our little truths—the fruit of all of our mixed motives, best intentions, honest mistakes, grandest hopes, most misguided ambitions, and flat-out lies. A kind of grand sorting and sifting process. Yes, this is what we need. For truth to make way for Truth.
Most Sundays, at around 8:30 am, on my drive to church, I pray. I pray that the Author of truth, the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, will take my two thousand words and use them—even a few of them, a sentence or two—for good. Or, at the very least, that they wouldn’t get in the way. I pray that there will be a few words worth gathering up into “the truth” that will make all of our words, all of our ideas and slogans and sales pitches look shabby and partial, certainly, but perhaps beautiful nonetheless because of what they were, at their best, straining towards.