A Sermon for Covenant
“I Am the Truth”
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
May 18, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
The way I want to get at the text today is to begin by telling some truth about my own life. When I was a kid, they called this sort of talk, testimony. I’d call it, baring my soul. You might call it, one of Kyndall’s longer sermons. Stick with me for a few minutes while I hold back the curtain and give you a peek into my own journey with the truth . . .
In August of 2012, I had a spiritual awakening that swept through me. When I returned from my private retreat I was writing so much I decided to start a blog just to have a place to put some of my words. I wasn’t as secretive with my blogging as Gordon—naming your site kyndallrae hardly lends itself to the same anonymity as the mysterious Real Live Preacher. Still, I was private with my blog at first. I didn’t much share it via social media; I didn’t talk about it. I wanted people to read it and resonate, of course, but I also didn’t want people to read it.
What if my mom saw me using curse words in public? What if people found out I was a feminist? What if folks didn’t like my theology, what if they didn’t like me? What if I sometimes wrote about the stuff that makes me angry, when nobody’s ever seen me get angry? What if people found out that calm and quiet on the outside doesn’t always mean things are calm and quiet on the inside? What if?
It’s a risky business to be a writer, particularly if you have an interest in writing the truth. The first blog post I ever wrote was a list of hopes I had for my future, and one of them was: “I hope I will have grown more honest.” I felt compelled to include honesty in my list, but even as I wrote it, the impulse to say that bewildered me a bit. I’ve never been one to lie or intentionally deceive people. Just the thought of lying has always made me severely uncomfortable. Even as a teenager, unlike the rest of the human race, I never lied to my parents. Now, I’m not saying I never selectively withheld certain information. But I don’t recall lying. So why, in 2012, did I feel the need to grow more honest?
I have always been a highly private individual. I am quiet, reserved, careful, withdrawn. I do not wear my heart on my sleeve. I do not wear my heart at all. I keep it tucked in a little box inside my chest with a combination lock and a force field of protection around it. It used to be the case that if I told you how I really felt, you were hearing something rare indeed. My whole inner life was a recluse nearly no one ever met.
For me, the opposite of honesty wasn’t deception but hidden-ness. I would never purposefully tell you an untruth or lead you to believe something false. But I will always be afraid of letting you all the way in.
When I wrote that ambition regarding honesty in 2012, I had no idea how real things were about to get, how exposed my life would become, or how unapologetically vulnerable my writing would turn out to be. I had no idea I was about to face the truth of a failing marriage, or that facing the truth would lead to the end of the marriage. I had no idea it was possible for your private life to explode, and for people to witness it with respect, integrity, and love.
There are some things I have learned about truth-telling in the past year and a half:
Number One: It is hard. Telling the truth is not easy. Arguing the truth of a philosophical idea or a theological stance or a political position—that is easy. What is hard is telling the truth of your experience.
When you begin to tell the truth, if it’s an uncomfortable truth, some people will shut their ears to you—not just to your words, but to your life and to your heart. They will no longer hear you, because people prefer their fantasies over what is true. While this hurts when you are the speaker, I have utmost sympathy for denial because for some time I drowned myself in it.
It was like this: In the privacy of my own home, when things in my life were at their very worst, I would secretly search the internet, researching abusive relationships to find out if I was in one. Every once in awhile things got just bad enough for me almost to open my eyes. But I could always find an escape route back to denial. There was always a story out there far worse than mine. Besides, I am a smart girl—I would know if I were in an abusive relationship. I wouldn’t need to be googling it, for heaven’s sake. Also, I’m a freaking feminist and a devoted egalitarian—stuff like this doesn’t happen to women like me. And so I fabricated all sorts of layers to keep myself feeling happy and whole. When I first began to tell the truth to myself, it felt like I was dying. When I first began to tell the truth out loud, it felt like I was dying. When I first told the truth to someone who didn’t listen, it felt like I might as well be dead.
So: the first thing I learned about truth-telling is that it is hard. The second thing I learned about truth-telling is that it is necessary. If you aren’t growing towards greater honesty, you aren’t growing. All souls shrivel if they aren’t allowed to speak the truth. There is much debate about the truth wars in our culture today, but that is child’s play. The truth you are meant to tell is your own and it is the truth that will take you your entire life to figure out how to say. Truth-telling is your soul blossoming, and it is why the church has valued confession as a spiritual practice. Confession isn’t a way to feel bad about yourself. It’s a way to take the fig leaves off and dance naked, basking in the glow of God’s unending mercy.
When the disciples beg Jesus that they want to know God, Jesus tells them, “I am the truth.” Now, Jesus wasn’t much of one for self-talk or self-promotion, but when asked about God, he told them: I Am. I am God. I am the truth about God. Jesus came to earth to tell the truth about God, and it was so hard for people to hear that they killed him. He was so determined to be the truth about God for us that he died for it. Being truth was hard and it was necessary and Jesus chose that path unflinchingly.
When Jesus says “I am the truth,” we are not talking about some abstract theory of justification. We are talking about the person, the human being, Jesus, and that it is his life that tells us who God is and what God is like. Jesus was a truth-teller by the way he lived. He never talked about doctrine, because defending doctrine is easy. The difficult thing to do is to be yourself, and to be you to the fullest. The difficult thing is to live, to fully embody the truth about who you are, to embody it so powerfully that people could kill you and you’d come back to life.
Perhaps there is no other truth more central to our Christianity than this notion that Jesus is God. I don’t know about you, but I am very much like Philip, and slow to grasp its meaning. I may hear it said, “If you know Jesus, you know God,” but I keep on begging the heavens, “If you just show me God, I will be satisfied!” Notice how Philip just rushes past Jesus’ words, as if hadn’t heard them. Jesus had just said, “If you know me, you will know the Father” but Philip insists, “Lord! Show us the Father and we will be satisfied!” He is desperate to see God. Like so many of us, he is antsy to get a handle on who God really is. Jesus has to interject, “Whoa, Philip, slow down. I just told you: If you are looking at me, you are seeing the Father. Do you not believe? I and my father are one.”
If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. This is true and also incredible. The Jesus-ness of God astounds me. For all my stumbling around in the dark, trying to figure God out, I’ve got this truth-teller right in front of my eyes, showing me the way. This is a God all compassion and healer and storyteller. This is the God who alleviates long-lived ailments, the God who gets down on the ground to play with children. This is God. You know the truth of a person by watching the way they live, and if you watch Jesus’ life, you’ve seen God. God took away some of the mystery of Godness by taking on human flesh and living a tangible life that we could follow. So to know God is to get intimately acquainted with Jesus and his way of living, and the way you get intimately acquainted with his way is to follow it.
What if to follow Jesus means we become way, truth, life? Is it too presumptuous to hope that we also become a way that people know God? Not The Way, but a way. A smaller-than-Jesus, but still authentic way that people encounter the divine? Can we do the difficult, courageous work of becoming truth? To think of becoming the truth about God in the world—that sounds big and abstract and impossible. But what if it just starts with being truthful, if being our truest selves with ever increasing honesty will tell the world more about the God who created us and loves us unwaveringly than anything else we could possibly do? What if it really were so painfully clear cut: that becoming life, that embodying a fully lived life, is the way? The way to know Jesus, the way to God, is to live.
I am becoming more and more convinced there are only two kinds of people: awake and not awake. Most of us are shuffling somewhere along the spectrum between awakened and comatose. Is religion helping you tell the truth or helping you cover up? Helping you come out into the light about who you are or helping you stay hidden? In my experience, it can do either. Religion is the tool for helping us encounter God and wake up, but like all tools it can be misused.
Religion as truth serum, as honest confession, as humble but brave testimony, as truth-telling—that is a practice of religion that helps us find God. All good religion must be practiced; it isn’t enough to look at Jesus, you must do his works. His primary work? Being way, being truth, being life. Being love, being light, being.
Practice knowing God by being truth. It will not always be immediately obvious how fessing up about the small truth of your own life will lead you into the bigger truth of God, but it will. Truth does that. It sets you free. It sets you on a path. It expands your soul. So start small if you have to, but tell us the truth.
Tell the truth about you.
Tell the truth about your story.
Tell the truth about your sorrow.
Tell the truth.
Tell the truth about your past.
Tell the truth about your dreams.
Tell the truth about your children.
Tell the truth about your adventures.
Tell the truth about your mistakes.
Tell the truth.
Tell the truth about your sins.
Tell the truth about your virtues
that other people may have called your sin.
Tell the truth about your giftedness.
Tell the truth about your worth.
Tell the truth about your shadow
and the truth about your light.
Tell the truth.
Some of your self-delusions and avoidance fantasies may die off when you do, but that is fine because it will enable the rest of you to live. There is a tenacious hope that emerges when you begin to tell the truth. It is a hope far stronger than any comfort denial provides, a hope of resurrection proportions.
May we be a people who incarnate authenticity. May we be truth, may we be life, in Jesus’ name, amen.