Grace and Truth (Funeral Sermon of Suicide)
GRACE AND TRUTH
There is a tension in the church and among its people that is not new. The first-century church wrestled with this question as well. There’s a lot to learn from the way they managed that tension. Perhaps the most important lesson is to acknowledge that this is in fact a tension to manage and not a problem to solve or really even a question to answer. When you slow down long enough in your reading of Paul’s epistles to consider the kinds of issues the early church wrestled with, you begin to realize just that life is messy. It’s the messy middle ground that makes some of us uncomfortable. There is something in us that would like a definitive answer on every nuance of every issue. But based on my experience, I would argue that when we attempt to eliminate all the gray, all the messy middle ground, we end up with multiple definitions of the church and even who is Jesus. And then we argue with each other over whose differences is the truth. We stand on opposite sides of the street responding in completely opposite ways.
Transparency and honesty are dangerous in a church that was created for Christ followers only. Consequently, the casualty in a church for church people only is grace. It’s hard to extend grace to people who don’t seem to need it. And it’s hard to admit you need it when you aren’t sure you will receive it.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who declare that the church is for everyone, regardless of belief or behavior. These are the churches that value openness, tolerance, and acceptance. Truth has such an absolute tone about it. Our culture has grown increasingly uneasy with the idea of absolute truth. If there is a right way of doing things, then there’s a wrong way as well. Nobody wants to be wrong. So along with truth, sin becomes a casualty as well. But the New Testament is clear. We are not mistakers in need of correction. We are sinners in need of a Savior. We need more than a second chance. We need a second birth.
Not surprisingly, Jesus modeled the way forward. He left us with a remarkable approach for navigating the aforementioned tension. As an eyewitness of all Jesus said, the apostle John summarized Jesus’ approach this way:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth, (John 1:14)
Three verses later he repeats this same idea.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
I love that. “Full of grace and truth”: Not the balance between, but the full embodiment of each. Jesus did not come to strike a balance between grace and truth. He brought the full measure of both. John had watched Jesus apply the full measure of grace and truth to each individual they encountered. He was in the crowd when Jesus said to a woman caught in adultery, “I don’t condemn you, now leave your life of sin.” Translated: “You’re a sinner. What you did is a sin. It was wrong. But I don’t condemn you. I’m not going to give you what you deserve. I’m extending to you exactly what you don’t deserve: grace.” Jesus didn’t try to balance grace and truth. He didn’t water down the law. He didn’t put a condition on grace. He gave her a full dose of both.
In Jesus, we get as clear and close a look as we will ever get of what grace and truth look like in an otherwise graceless world that has turned its back on truth. It is our misunderstanding of the grace Jesus modeled and taught that leaves us feeling as if grace allows people to “get by” with things. It is often our misapplication of truth that leaves people feeling condemned and isolated. But in Jesus, we discover that it doesn’t have to be that way. Grace doesn’t dumb down sin to make it more palatable. The purpose of truth isn’t to isolate people from God or from his people. As we follow Jesus through the Gospels, we find him acknowledging the full implications of sin and yet not condemning sinners. The only group he consistently condemned were graceless religious people—those who misused truth to control through guilt, fear, and condemnation. It’s much like today, for those who are stuck in the truth and cannot go to grace, you can go to the place where you think (Name) is.
If we are to reflect Jesus’ approach to life, it would be characterized by a full dose of truth along with a full dose of grace. This is challenging for us. There is tension with law and grace, justice and grace, truth and grace.
Where they meet, it gets messy. But to let go of either is to abandon what Jesus had in mind when he announced the call of his followers.
Consistency and fairness virtually vanish from the discussion once we determine to embrace grace and truth. Jesus chose twelve apostles from among, hundreds of candidates. He gave preferential treatment to three of the twelve. He didn’t heal everyone. He didn’t feed every hungry crowd. He stopped in the middle of a virtual parade and invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house. Why him? He ensured that strangers would live and allowed his best friend, Lazarus, to die. And there was that incident at the pool of Bethesda. John tells us that Jesus singled out one man among “a great number of disabled people … the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.” Talk about unfair. How about this one: He tells the fellow known as the rich young ruler that in order to gain eternal life, he has to sell everything and join his entourage. Then, a few months later he whispers to the criminal crucified next to him that on that very day they will meet in paradise! Without a full immersion, or any baptism, seriously?
People committed to embodying grace and truth will be forced to navigate yet a third sea of complexity. The grace-and-truth approach is messy. It’s gloriously messy.
At this point, you may have more questions than answers. I understand that. Sometimes we hide behind grace or truth. It’s easier. The answer is plain, it’s simple. But to wallow in this glorious mess, brings us to who we are. A better understanding of how to learn from the way we managed that tension. Perhaps the most important lesson is to acknowledge that this is in fact a tension to manage and not a problem to solve. For one day we will know when we are reunited with one another and meet the God that is full of Truth and Grace.