May 13

May 13
by Pastor Jim
“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:32

Such a simple statement — often secularized and applied on the walls of academia.  But it took our going overseas for me really to understand what Jesus is saying here.

Note that, almost precisely ten chapters after Jesus’ statement, Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).  Ahead of his time, perhaps, Pilate asks a cynical but insightful question.  It could well be addressed to our own postmodern generation which, with its claim that “You have your truth and I have mine,” merely documents an erosion of linguistic meaning.

Today, the word “truth” is, all too often, being used in the way the word “opinion” has always been used.  “You have your opinion and I have mine”?  Indeed.  I can get on board with that one.  But truth?  In spite of the ways some leaders today seek to erode any concept of truth, truth is still truth.

But back to Jesus.  Even when I was very young, I realized that, when Jesus spoke of truth setting free, he was speaking of more than secular knowledge and science and medicine setting us free of prejudice, onerous labor and disease.  Jesus, through his Cross and Resurrection, set us free from the curse of the Fall — from the bonds of sin, death and the power of Satan.

Yet there is more.  And that’s what it took our going overseas to make clear.  In Tanzania, the church is now well over a century old.  The elderly are the grandchildren of those who first heard the Gospel.  The leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania are all African today — bishops, pastors, heads of universities and seminaries.  But they still remember.

They remember stories told them by their parents and grandparents of a time when their ancestors lived in fear — fear of spirits who inhabited certain streams or groves of trees (and thus they feared going there), and fear of “the ancestors” (who, if you didn’t honor them with sacrifices of food or beer, would stunt your crops and kill your children).  Oh, they remember.  And today, they give thanks to God for the truth of the Gospel which has, indeed, set them free from all of this.

And, truth be told, it’s not just Africa.  I remember speaking with Dr Knut Holter, a Norwegian Old Testament scholar on one of his many visits to Tanzania.  We were talking about how the Gospel sets free in so many ways, and I said, “Don’t you think our own ancestors in Norway went through this same freeing experience a thousand years ago when the Gospel first arrived in the country?”

“Oh, no,” he said quickly.  “It’s not nearly that far behind us.  Why, it has been less than a century since a Norwegian pastor was out walking in the woods and came across an old man pouring beer on a stele erected to his ancestors.  These things are not as far behind us as we may wish to think.”  Wow.  And, with horoscopes, seances and Ouiji boards still around us, one wonders how close we are at times to a “recession” of a very different nature.

So I continue to give thanks to God for — and cling to — and put my hope and trust in — that truth which indeed sets free.

Let’s join in prayer.

Gracious God, we pride ourselves in our modernity and wisdom and sophistication and yet, in so many ways, are only a surface scratch away from those things which entrap and bind.  Especially today, when many live on the fragile edge of fear and doubt, renew within us the knowledge and conviction of that truth which, in Christ, indeed offers us hope and sets us free.  For we pray in Jesus name.  Amen.

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