Tell. The. Truth.
Yesterday a funeral was held in Tennessee for a woman named Rachel Held
Evans. She was a young woman still in her 30’s who left behind a husband,
two children, and almost 200 thousand Twitter followers. See Rachel was a
Christian writer who wrote with grace and humor. Through her books, blog
and other social media platforms, she wrote about faith beautifully,
curiously and with tenacity. She didn’t shy away from controversial topics
but still held room for nuance. Her voice is already dearly missed for many
in the Christian community.
Even if you’ve never read any of Rachel Held Evans’ work, I can guarantee
that you’ve heard sermons inspired by her work and probably not just from
Rachel’s death is a tragic story. Earlier this week, Rachel’s husband Dan
shared a picture of her desk in her home office with various mementos
strewn about. On the wall just off from her computer screen was a card with
large handwritten simply three words “Tell the truth.”
“Tell the truth.” Maybe it’s a simple directive when we’re asking a toddler
how the lamp got broken or we want to know why our teenager didn’t make
curfew. But to tell the truth about our stories, to tell the truth about how
God has works through us and how God has works despite us, that truth
can be harder to tell.
This morning’s gospel reading tells the story of Jesus praying the night
before his death. And who does he pray for? He prays for his disciples and
all those who will believe in him through their word.
Do you know who that includes? It includes me and you. Here in the gospel
as plain as the nose on your face, Jesus prays for you and me. Did you know
you were special enough to be prayed for by Jesus?
He prays for those who may believe because of his disciples’ words- that’s
me and you he’s referring to. Our faith is built on generations passing
words to each other- words of inspiration and hope. The disciples told
people about their accounts, their stories of Jesus and eventually a few
decades down the line, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John decided to write
down what they’d heard. And what they wrote down in the gospels inspired
more communities and those communities wrestled with what an incarnate
God who resurrected meant to their context and they wrote more words,
some of them inspiring other communities.
All of these words carried throughout many generations- Saints, poets,
preachers and theologians all meticulously crafted words so that others may
believe. Sometimes certain words don’t pass muster to the next generation
and fall out of fashion. Sometimes ancient words are rediscovered and find
a new level of appreciation. Sometimes words were lost and their spirit only
carries a faint echo through the years. But nonetheless, it was all these two
millennia of words that led us to here, Christ Church, New Bern in 2019
where we get to use our words.
“Tell the truth.”
Maybe you don’t have Twitter followers or a book deal, but you have people
to tell the truth to. You’ve heard words that are the reason you believe- be it
from a faithful grandmother, a book on faith you stumbled upon, or
perhaps from a particularly well-spoken associate Rector. What are the
words you can speak or write or convey so that others may believe?
Jesus’ prayer doesn’t end there. Like the African proverb says “If you want
to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Jesus goes on to
pray for one-ness. Jesus prays for unity for wholeness and Integrity. Do you
know what Jesus doesn’t pray for? He doesn’t pray for uniformity or
sameness. Jesus doesn’t pray for us to be in lock step with each other. He
doesn’t even pray for his followers to gain control and power so we can call
all the shots. Jesus calls for togetherness, in whatever messy beauty that
Saint Catherine of Siena wrote about a conversation she had with God
where she says she asked God why he couldn’t have just made us all the
same and God responded that he made us all different so that we’d know we
need each other. It’s one of the beauties of showing up at a church on
Sunday morning to meet God -- Brene Brown talks about her faith practice
and she describes church as the place where she can sing and share the
peace and break bread with people she’d otherwise never interact with.
“Tell the truth.” This story is not over and there’s room in this story for you.
There’s room in this story for all of us. What is your truth?
Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans funeral was livestreamed so that anyone with
an internet connection could watch the liturgy. At the closing, Nadia Bolz
Weber shared her benediction:
“Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those
who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at
communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus
Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at
middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex
workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who
have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the
meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall
apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are
those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn. You are of
heaven and Jesus blesses you.
I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature.
This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave
those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude— God’s blessing to
the weak in a world that admires only the strong.
Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet
we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment
and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in
the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we
never lose our love for telling the story. Amen”