The Truth Will Set You Free

            Last month we witnessed a visit by Pope Francis to the United States.  It created all kinds of buzz across the media, both good and bad.  But one of the things that I couldn’t ignore was the politicizing of his message.  I heard the pundants from each side of the political spectrum attempt to manipulate the Pope’s words to fit their agendas.  And where it didn’t fit, he was branded as a traitor to the so-called truth.

            Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  The ‘truth’ is that we don’t have the authority to pick and choose what part of Christ’s message we will accept based on political agendas.  Let me say that again.  [Repeat].  Because in doing so, we have made our political agendas more important than Christ and his message. 

And this is an example of what I have stated before.  Our society is so unfamiliar with Scripture, with the Word, that our cultural norms have beenconfused withBiblical teachings.  So when Pope Francis is sharing Gospel truths in his speeches, those who are unfamiliar with Jesus’ teachings attempt to connect the Pope to a political agenda instead of recognizing that his statements are not based on politics, but Scripture.

            We live in a false perception that if the message doesn’t agree with our political alignment, we have the ability to reject it.  Therefore, the Word of God can be rejected based on our political views.  If the Word falls under the microscope of politics, then does God fall under the authority of our agendas?

It’s somewhat ironic that on Reformation Sunday, the day that we remember the split of the Protestants from the Catholic Church, I am invoking the voice of the Pope.  But it isn’t his role or his denomination that I am lifting up, rather his message that sounds incredibly similar to that of Jesus found in the Gospel texts.  The same Gospel message was rejected 2,000 years ago just as it is rejected today...by all of us.

On Reformation Sunday, we celebrate Martin Luther’s strength and courage to stand up to the Pope and the institutional church, pleading with the leadership to put more emphasis on Scripture than on traditions and historical practices.  Luther’s life was put on the line when he was told to recant his ‘heretical’ challenge that forgiveness could not be bought or earned.  Submitting completely to God in his faith, he said “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.”  He would not reject his understanding of faith based on threats to his life or excommunication from the church.

Thanks to Luther, he transcribed the Bible from Latin into German and used the new invention of a printing press to print Bibles for all people.  It was his mission to make sure that people had the opportunity to read the Word on their own rather than simply hear it read by the Priests, the common practice of the Catholic Church.  Today we are two years away from the 500’th anniversary of the Reformation and the majority of households have Bibles on their shelves.  But are they being read?

How can we know the truth and be set free if we aren’t reading and studying the Word?  We are all guilty of cherry-picking Scripture to validate our own beliefs.  But if we actually studied the Bible, we would find that while God is complicated beyond our understanding, there is an underlying theme that connects all of the Scriptures.  It is a theme in which God relentlessly pursues us, no matter how stiff-necked we are, and though he usually let’s us experience the consequences of our sins and bad decisions, he never leaves us and continually pours out his grace.

In Jeremiah God said, “In those days, they shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”  In Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore I will not fear…”  In Romans Paul writes, “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”  And lastly in our Gospel reading from John, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

            What is the truth?  The truth is that the message of God through Christ has authority over any political agenda.  Instead of attempting to politicize the Gospel message, we could become familiar with it and study it; so that instead of our faith being formed by politics, politics can be molded by the Christian message. A message of Christ’s love and mercy that provides freedom beyond understanding. Amen.