Hard truth

Scriptures: Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:41-51

There is, I think, in our society today, a real problem that exists and it’s called observable truth. People even talk about having “your truth” and “my truth.” But the fact is, there is only “truth.” The question is whether or not it’s acceptable to you. Because that doesn’t make it untrue.

Donald Trump, no matter what you think of him, positive or negative, said something that I found profound the other day. That was, he said he doesn’t have time for political correctness. I have to agree with him.

I think that political correctness is a problem. It has overtaken this country, redefining words and trying to redefine truth, and aggressively prosecuting anyone who disagrees.

Now, Jesus had some sayings that are called “hard sayings.” He also had something that I would call “hard truth.”

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, refers to some of these. I’m going to go through a few truths and then we’re going to look at them more in depth, utilizing Scriptures we have.

First of all, hard truth #1 is that we’re family, not just friends. Secondly, relationships take hard work, take honesty, and take authenticity. Thirdly, no relationship is perfect for humans.

Fourthly, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Hard truth #5: there is forgiveness from God, but there is only one way to that forgiveness, and that is in Jesus Christ and through his sacrifice.

Now when we look at Ephesians 4 (and I’m using the New American Standard version), he says, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”

We are to speak the truth to one another. If there’s anywhere that you should be able to speak the truth, it’s in church, or with the church family. But you do need to speak that truth in love.

It amazes me that we have so many problems doing that today. It amazes me how many times I see people who leave the church, even temporarily, because somebody said something that they didn’t want to hear, even if it was the truth.

Now, you all don’t seem to have any problems telling me the truth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You know, Pastor, it would be so wonderful if you lost some weight.”

And it’s true. I don’t disagree, not in the slightest, in my 20-year-career. I admit up front that I have a problem with food. I have a diagnosed eating disorder.

That does not excuse the sin of gluttony, when it triggers, and it’s something I need to repent of. It’s something I need forgiveness for, and it’s something that I need encouragement for dealing with.

Those of you that speak the truth in love, and want to help me, then that is appreciated. Sometimes it may not seem like it, because grace doesn’t always manage to sink in completely. But I do appreciate it.

We need to be able to speak the truth in love with one another. If someone says something or does something and makes you angry, Paul notes, “Be angry, and yet do not sin.” I love that phrase.

You see, the same advice was given to Cain. When God was speaking to Cain after He rejected Cain’s offering, He said, “Why are your eyes downcast?” (That’s another way of saying, “Why are you so angry?”) He tells Cain to beware, that sin is crouching at the door.

There is the possibility of being angry. You can be angry, as a Christian. You will be angry, as a Christian. Some people seem to think that if you’re a Christian, everything has to be happy, happy, joy, joy, and you can never have anger, you can never express conflict, you can never have any of those kinds of things.

But there is healthy anger, righteous indignation. Not self-righteous indignation, but righteous indignation. The fact is that there is anger. As long as the anger is treated properly and it’s expressed properly.

That’s where we get tangled up sometimes, because our mouth runs before our brain, and we say things in anger that we never, ever, should have said, or that we would certainly say differently if we just took the time to think about it. But you can be angry and not sin.

That speaks of the idea that we’re not all going to be the same here. We’re not all going to be in lockstep, we’re not all going to be in unison. And that’s a good thing.

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment.”

Now, ““Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth,” but it still must be the truth. False compliments and sucking up never get anybody anywhere.

But what it should be is a word that is good for edification. That’s a fancy word meaning encouragement. That’s a fancy word that means “lifting up,” literally.

You want to speak a word that lifts the other person up. It helps them in their faith walk. It helps them in their living a life of Christ. It helps them in their witness. “So that it will give grace to those who hear.”

You are being a channel for grace. Sometimes it’s hard to hear truth. Sometimes it’s a fearful thing to give one. Both require grace, and both need to be done.

You see, Paul assumes, of the Ephesians, when he says in the end, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you,” he assumes love, not just association.

Family, not just organization. We are much more than simply a gathering of people for the heck of it. These relationships that we have with one another, as family, take work, honesty, and authenticity.

Paul recognizes and admonishes the church at Ephesus, because he recognizes no relationship is perfect with humans. We do get angry, and we do sin. We do speak unwholesome words.

This is not the only place that Paul recognizes this, nor is he the only one to do so. In Romans 3, where Paul says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he actually echoes the psalm that was read today. In verse 3: “If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

You see, everyone of us sins. That’s a hard for us to deal with. Nobody likes to think that they fall short. Nobody likes to think that they don’t measure up. Nobody likes to think that they can’t handle it, on their own.

Especially here, I think, in the United States with Western culture. We are so resistant, I think, to the idea of grace. But the hard truth is that we all need it.

The psalmist notes also there is forgiveness in God, from God. In the Johannine passage, Jesus gives the Jews a number of hard truths.

Not only do we all sin, not only is our relationship with God and others messed up by our sins, but there is only one way to forgiveness from God and salvation that brings eternal life.

There is only one way for the debt we incurred to be paid. That is Jesus’ blood, shed for you, in his death on the cross for each one of us. His body broken for you as his righteousness purifies us.

This is probably the hardest truth to deal with, and many people cannot wrap their minds around it. Certainly the Jews he was speaking of had problems grasping it.

I’ll get into that in a moment, but you know, even today – it says in 1 Corinthians that the cross is a stumbling block, and there are lots of people out there, people that I know, that I’ve talked to, that simply cannot deal with the idea that they couldn’t earn their way to salvation.

That they don’t, of their own goodness and good works, merit heaven and eternity with God. That Jesus had to actually die and shed blood to save us from ourselves. That we couldn’t do it on our own. The idea that somebody else died for our sins, that he paid the price instead of us, is something they simply cannot come to grips with.

It’s a really hard truth. It’s one that takes grace and the Holy Spirit’s power to open our hearts to accept. It is one that takes perseverance and courage to share with others.

The Jews, you know, the first thing they did, when Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” – which, by the way, is telling people he’s not just a prophet but he’s God – they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”

They could not come to grips with the message that Christ gave, so they tried to discredit the messenger, or to try. And so often we do that, as we speak unwholesome words.

But Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” (He means “he who believes in me.”) “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” He’s referring back to the time when Moses was their leader, the greatest prophet that the Jews recognized, and the manna sustained them.

He says that he himself is the bread that came down from heaven, “that one may eat of it and not die.” “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven.” Further on, he says, in the next passage, that “as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will also live because of me.”

They were taking him literally and they began to argue with each other about that, in terms of what he meant when he said that he was the living bread. They tried to take it as cannibalism of some sort.

But Jesus was speaking of the fact that he is the only way to salvation and heaven. It is his Spirit that sustains us. You know, when we have Communion, which we’re going to have in a couple of minutes, we recognize that.

I’ve said before that there are two parts to Communion, that I think we need to recognize, as a Sacrament. The first part is the breaking of the bread. It’s symbolic and we recognize, in the bread, the broken body of Christ. That is our need for God, and salvation. We remember and recognize our own failing.

But then there’s more. Because if that was all Communion was, it would be really depressing after a while. We have the cup, which I call “the cup of salvation,” Jesus Christ’s blood shed for us.

You see, in that blood shed, there was a cleansing. His righteousness was poured over us. In his resurrection, which is represented as the new covenant, we are given new life.

We are made new creatures. So the cup is a sign of victory, the sign and seal of the new covenant that God gave us in His love and His grace. We can therefore celebrate our forgiveness, our salvation, and our joy.

We have to recognize the hard truth of our own humanness. But we also recognize the joyful truth of God’s grace and love.

My prayer for you is that you wouldn’t be like so much of the world. That you wouldn’t dismiss the hard truths, of both our need and God’s love through Jesus Christ. That you would be able to accept with grace that love and that salvation and that good word. And that you would begin to live that out in your life, showing others the same love and grace and mercy.

But particularly within this church family, that you would speak words of truth, edifying one another and lifting one another up, so that their lives might reflect the love of God in better ways as well. And we can all witness to the love and grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

And when we worship together, as we partake of Communion, as we have a baptism, as we celebrate any kind of fellowship together, and worship, that you would sense and feel the presence of God, that you would ask the Spirit of God to rest upon you and to express Himself through you, that you too might give praise and glory to God the Father in heaven above.

Together, then, we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever. May God get the glory for what you do, and for what we all do together. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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