Sermon

Luke 13:1-9

Telling the Truth

By Dr. Heather Entrekin

Ever heard of Britney Spears? How about Anna Nichole Smith? Lisa Nowak? These are two celebrities and an astronaut whose lives these days, I think most would agree, are disasters. In the case of Anna Nichole Smith, we would have to put it in the past tense because her short life ended a couple of weeks ago. Whether you want to know about these people or not, you probably do. The news, the internet, the talk shows are full of the most private, personal and humiliating details of their lives. I discovered a very handy “gossip toolbar” on one of the websites which makes it very easy to join in.

Luke says they were gossiping about a disaster in Jesus’ day too. The celebrity in this case was Pilate, one of the most brutal, egomaniacal despots you would ever not want to meet. He had slaughtered worshipers at the Temple. It was a bloody mess. There was another disaster they all knew about. The Siloam tower in Jerusalem had collapsed and crushed 18 people. Political, natural, personal disaster – Everybody talks, speculates, wonders who was to blame. We know this is what they were doing because Jesus responds to it. He says, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”

Yes, in the back of their minds they do. Just as a nation, we did in response to the disaster of September 11. Within moments of this horror beyond words, TV networks had theme music, logos and oceans of words analyzing, commenting, trying to explain and make sense out of that event. Who was to blame? Fingers pointed everywhere.

It is striking that Jesus does not do that. He does not offer simplistic answers. He does not explain God. He does not point fingers. He does one thing that most of us wish he would not do. He looks straight at the people who have come to him and says, “Examine yourself, friends.” And just in case we miss the flashing yellow light he adds, “Unless you tell the truth about who you are and repent, you’ll perish just like they did.” Great. Last week, Jesus compares the people of God to Herod. This week, we’re in the line-up with Pilate.

Not a very satisfying answer, is it? What happened to sweet baby Jesus, meek and mild who comes because God so loved the world? Love asks something of us. Jesus, Lover of our souls, expects us to tell the truth. In counseling with people about to be married, we always talk about how important this is. You cannot have a marriage, a friendship, any lasting loving relationship without honesty at the core. Why any less with God?

God already knows the truth about us as the Psalmist says: God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you, even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight (Psalm 139, The Message). That assurance may cause your palms to sweat or bring you deep comfort or most likely, some of both. The truth is, we block the flow of God’s grace and power in our lives because we are not honest before God. This world needs people aligned with the heart and purpose of God who can speak God’s hope for the world. God asks us to speak truth about wealth and poverty, war and peace, justice and mercy, but we gossip about Britney Spears’ hair and Anna Nichole’s billions and then we don’t have to look at the world, or ourselves.

The church has not helped much with the practice of confession the last few centuries. It’s become a very private, individual practice if we do it at all. But the early church took confession seriously because John the Baptizer said, “Repent and be baptized.” And James insisted, “Confess your sins.” And Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all perish….” It was done publicly and regularly because telling the truth is the way to transformation, to salvation, to living a life wholly centered in Christ.

We practiced a modest form of confession in our Lenten groups this week, completing the sentence, “I should have confessed…” or “I never should have confessed….” One group, whose members did not know one another well, found it awkward and difficult. The other, whose members were long time friends, answered readily and honestly. We discovered that trusted friends can help us with this core practice of faith. The church can help.

But it does not come easily. My first job after college was in the office of J. Irving Whalley — Congressman from Pennsylvania. Congressman Whalley was about 5’5″ so whenever he had his picture taken with a group of tourists from the district, he stood on his toes. I have one of those pictures taken with the staff. There he is, standing on his toes, his heels floating up in the air, pretending he is taller than he is. But in case you’re thinking he’s the only one, a study done a few years ago at St. Louis University revealed that many people exaggerate their height when asked. We do it because height is equated with power, wealth and even intelligence (Jennifer F. Taylor, a clinical psychologist at Harvard University’s McLean Hospital. (Eric Nagourney, A Verbal Way to Stand Tall, NY Times, June 4, 2000). In general, we walk around telling people we are a little more, a little better than we really are.

That’s because who we really are isn’t always pretty. Telling the truth takes courage because, as Desmond Tutu, retired archbishop of Cape Town in South Africa, said about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which helped heal from apartheid, “[Y]ou were running the risk of opening wounds, but in fact often they were wounds that had been festering and to open them now…had the chance of cleansing them and pouring a balm, an ointment on them.”

The crowd around Jesus wants to talk about Pilate and power and those poor Galileans, and Britney and Anna Nichole. But Jesus wants to talk about them. Life is short. Our choices have consequences. Standing on our toes looking tall, we are in no condition to run into the arms of the one who really stands tall. That is the one, the only one who will love and lead us into eternal life now and forever.

COPYRIGHT 2007 Dr. Heather Entrekin. Used by permission.