Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, October 31, 2010:
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm: Psalm 46
Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
Gospel: John 8:31-36
Today's Gospel promises that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. For some of us, this comes as welcome news, perhaps even as we feel a bit doubtful. After all, the Gospel doesn't tell us how we'll know the truth: will we just recognize it? Will consensus dictate what the truth is? If a majority of people believe, is that how we'll know we're in the campsite of truth?
The Gospel doesn't tell us those details. The Gospel writer John was more mystical than practical. But it's interesting to think about the issue of truth as we approach Reformation Sunday.
Think about how many of our spiritual ancestors were in a minority, before they were in a majority. If we're looking for majority rule to tell us whether or not we're looking at the truth, we will miss a lot of the truth.
Think of Martin Luther (or rent the film, Luther) and what he was up against. The Catholic church had a stranglehold on the spiritual life of Europe when Luther came along and suggested that they'd gotten off track. He didn't intend to start a new branch of Christianity. But his life shows what might happen when we start pointing out the truth. We might overturn a whole social order and begin several hundred years of new denominations. If I wanted to, I could spread many of the most exciting social movements of the twentieth century (for example, the movement to secure human rights for everyone) to the ideas that Luther put into motion. Or think about the worldwide push towards literacy. Luther might not have envisioned the changes he put into motion when he translated the Bible into common German, but he understood the importance of enlarged access. Where would we be if we still had scriptures in a language that we couldn't understand? Will we know the truth if it's in a language that's foreign to us?
Think of a revolution closer to our own time. One of the biggest spiritual stories of the twentieth century has to be the rise of the Pentecostal movement, which we can trace back to Azusa Street in Los Angeles in the early part of the twentieth century. Even those of us outside of the movement can admire the ways in which Pentecostal ideas have enriched all of us believers (the idea that there are different gifts of the spirit, for example; even if my gift is not speaking in tongues, I might have a different gift to offer, one that is equally valuable; the trick is to know my gift and commit to it). Even those of us who are fearful of the spread of Pentecostal and Evangelical ideas have to admit that our siblings in those churches understand mission in ways that many of the rest of us don't.
Those of us who feel like we're part of a dying tradition would do well to remember that even times of death can lead to times of renewal. We may be planting seeds. Those seeds might grow into plants that we can't even visualize right now.
We're in a time of tremendous renewal, even if we find ourselves part of a mainline tradition that seems determined to ignore these developments. Google the words Emergent Church and see what you find; many Christian groups who wouldn't have even spoken to each other in the 1950's are rethinking ways to do church and working on social justice movements together. Research the New Monasticism to see the ways that people are radically committing to the life of faith.
Consider the Internet, and how the Internet is revolutionizing our faith lives. We can tithe or redistribute our wealth much more easily with the Internet as a tool. We can read or listen to stories of faith to inspire us. We can go to sites to pray the Daily Office.
Will we one day look back and realize that the Internet fueled a Reformation in our own time, just as the printing press helped to speed Martin Luther's Reformation? We can't know. And again, the Gospel should echo in our ears, as we spend more and more time in virtual communities and less time with actual humans: we will know the truth (but one suspects we'll only know the truth if we're on the lookout for it). And what a promise: the truth shall set us free.