The Truth

September 5, 2021

Series: September 2021

Category: So-called Christian Values

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Today's Scripture: Jeremiah 28:1-4, 10-17

Today's Sermon


"The Truth"


Jeremiah 28:1-4, 10-17

          28In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, 2‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 4I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’

          10 Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, and broke it. 11And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: This is how I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.’ At this, the prophet Jeremiah went his way.

          12 Some time after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13Go, tell Hananiah, Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars only to forge iron bars in place of them! 14For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put an iron yoke on the neck of all these nations so that they may serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and they shall indeed serve him; I have even given him the wild animals. 15And the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah, ‘Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie. 16Therefore thus says the Lord: I am going to send you off the face of the earth. Within this year you will be dead, because you have spoken rebellion against the Lord.’

          17 In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

The Truth

            Why do people lie?  Better question, why do otherwise upstanding people lie?  We know there are those who are malicious, even pathological, but they do not have a monopoly on deceit.  Sometimes we deceive to avoid our pain, or even a more generous reading, to avoid causing others’ pain.  I’m sure you can think of a time you told a modest lie, or concealed something because you genuinely didn’t want to hurt someone.  Let’s face it, we’re often rewarded for opting for telling people what they want to hear.  They call it “brutal honesty” for a reason.  People are often looking for permission to live in denial about tough aspects of reality.   

            The problem is, of course, only telling people want they want to hear leads to overlooking serious issues, eventually causing even more pain and damage.  Moreover, valuable time is lost in the process.  It’s a little like giving someone a map filled with a beautiful route that culminates in a stunning view; the only problem is it doesn’t correspond with the actual landscape.  In the end, they’re just as likely to fall off a cliff as to reach the gorgeous vista.

            When you tell someone a difficult truth, you’re providing them with useful, if unwelcome, information.  What if the doctor didn’t tell you about test results because they didn’t want to upset you?  You would lose out on the chance for treatment.  What if nobody told you your child had a particular learning struggle or challenge, and you never had the chance to address it?  Nobody likes criticism, but what if a supervisor at work never gave you the chance to improve and you lost your job?  Whether it’s COVID or climate or any number of issues, we see what happens when we avoid reality.

            This is what’s going on in the Jeremiah reading. A supposed prophet offers the people a very appealing and popular message – that he would restore freedom, that he would return the exiles home again.  It was alluring, but it also wasn’t based in reality.  Jeremiah sees through the false promise and says to Hananaiah, the deliverer of this false optimism, “the Lord has not sent you…you made this people trust in a lie” (Jer. 28:15).  There’s something cruel about playing upon the hopes of a people, especially if you know they are false hopes.  The psalm for today reads, “The arrogant smear me with lies…Their hearts are fat and gross” (Ps. 119:69, 70). 

It’s tempting to pounce upon the liar, the false prophet.  It’s satisfying to sink one’s teeth into a villain.  I’m all for accountability, but the problem is really the lying, and a system or culture that allows it, even applauds it.  If we only locate it in the individual, we deceive ourselves into believing that we can eradicate it simply by eliminating the individual.  A more mature and lasting strategy is by instilling, or restoring, a commitment to facing the truth no matter how unsettling or inconvenient that truth may be, and no matter what our allegiances may be.

            The toughest of topics especially deserve our honesty, for the reason I said earlier; it reveals truthfully what we must navigate.  The best course of action is just to name it, simply and directly.  I don’t remember what I preached at Easter, but I remember Jeff’s children’s time, time of discovery.  It’s a little daunting to do the Easter story with children.  Think about it.  “Jesus is risen!” sounds easy enough, but then come the hard questions,

            “Risen from where?”

            “Risen from the dead” (and I’m not even including the line in the creed about hell).

            “How did he die?”

            “Well, he was killed?”

            “By bad guys?”

            “Well, actually, some of the good guys…”

            “What?! Well, how did they kill him.”

            “Well, they took these nails…Well, enough of that, let’s return to today’s Sunday School lesson..”

            “You mean the one where you tell us to follow Jesus, the one who the good guys killed with nails…”


            But, here’s what Jeff said about the tough truth of Easter, at least in my memory:  Jesus died. It was really sad.  And then he went on to tell the Easter story.  He followed the rule when it comes to talking with young people, really any people if you ask me:  Tell them the truth at a level they can understand.  It was that truth that made space through which possibility and grace enters:  but on the third day, God raised Jesus and his followers began to see him again!

            We embrace the truth to allow for the grace and possibility, and for the same reason we are tempted to embrace the lie, or falseness—because ultimately we care about people and we don’t want to hurt them.  We also tell the truth because it is our calling as people of faith.  Like the prophets before him such as Jeremiah, Jesus was more committed to telling the truth, hard truths often, than he was to his own popularity, even his own security.  As Christian mystic Andrew Harvey, who is quoted on your bulletin, puts it, false security is to be abandoned.  We have to see with what he calls “disillusioned eyes.”  Jesus, who is described in John as “the truth,” knows recognizing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth relies upon first seeing where we are so we know the distance we need to travel.  As Christ’s own, we are called to remember that our own popularity or success is not our highest priority.  Following Christ is.