Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Isnít that the truth!"

Message preached June 6, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  John 16:12-15

Order of Worship

We only hear what we want to hear. Isnít that the truth!

            An attractive, young woman commissioned a photographer to do an expensive portrait once every ten years. Over time, everything went well. But when she was 50, she was very disappointed with the proofs, and more than a little indignant. Charging down to the photographerís studio, she plopped the proofs on his desk. "This picture is not nearly as good as the one you made 10 years ago!" The photographer looked at the proofs, shook his head thoughtfully for a few seconds, and then nodded sadly, "Weíll, maíam, Iím not the man I was 10 years ago..." (from Habitations of Dragons, by Keith Miller, p.73)

            Now, had he said, "Weíll, maíam, youíre not exactly the woman you were 10 years ago," she probably wouldíve shut her mind, and ended their business relationship. You see, we only hear what we want to hear. Isnít that the truth!

            "I still have many things to say to you," Jesus told his disciples in those last few hours before his arrest. "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth..." To really listen is a burden, isnít it? To really hear what is being communicated, past all the inner and outer voices that vie for our attention, isnít this a difficult - if not impossible - goal. If it was hard for the disciples to really listen to Jesus when he was there with them in flesh and blood, how much more difficult is it for us, who have but his words in a book?

            How many times I sit down with Bible in hand to read, but the words are just words, and there are a thousand other things to be done. I sometimes think I have a spiritual form of "attention deficit disorder." Are you like me? We only hear what we want to hear. Just like the disciples before us. Thatís sort of one of the reasons why there is a Holy Spirit.

            Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the church, remembering that time when the Holy Spirit came in earnest and set the followers of Jesus on fire to spread the news of Godís salvation. It was this Spirit which opened up some ears on that day. I really donít think it was the eloquence of an un-educated fisherman named Peter which convinced so many of the truth of Jesus Christ. After all, people hear only what they want to hear. Isnít that the truth!

            In this Presidential election year, we have been and will be bombarded by all sorts of words trying to convince us how to vote. When it comes down to it, however, we are most often fed what pollsters say we want to hear. When do we hear what we need to hear? Probably never, because that would be political suicide. Thatís not how you get elected. After all, people hear only what they want to hear. Isnít that the truth!

            Now, I donít pretend to know the truth about the presidential candidates. I hear what I want to hear, also. But I do believe that Godís Spirit is with us now as a guide in the process of discerning the truth. Thatís one of the functions of the Spirit. It reveals Godís truth. It helps open up our eyes and ears to what God has to say. Sometimes thatís a comfort. Other times itís a threat. Even with the Spirit, a person wonít hear what they really donít want to hear. Iím as guilty of it as the next person.

            Over the course of years, the Spirit has guided the church in itís understanding of the truth. Take this very passage from Johnís gospel that was read earlier. In it, Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit, mentioning God, the Father. All the elements of the Trinity are there: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Itís highly doubtful, though, that the person who wrote this account down on paper had in mind a doctrine of the Trinity. Nowhere in the Bible does it actually speak of the Trinity as such. We canít say that Jesus didnít talk about the Trinity, but neither can we say that he really did. The doctrine of the Trinity is sort of there in the cracks.

            The early church sought some answers to important questions about God. In the Old Testament it says that God is a unity, one. How, then, do Jesus and the Holy Spirit fit into this? Well, the answer they came up with was that Godís oneness, Godís unity, is expressed in three ways, a Trinity: God in three persons. Traditionally, we have spoken of these as God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.

            Today, when we look at this passage from Johnís gospel we see the Trinity, even though it may not have been the original intention of the writer, who recorded these words of Jesus in this way. I believe it was the Holy Spirit which guided the early church into this truth. But, donít think for a minute that it was a smooth process, like a light bulb which suddenly turns on. The road from Jerusalem to Nicaea, where this doctrine was officially accepted by the church, took 300 years to travel. And it was a rough journey. Our most difficult Annual Conferences as a denomination were nothing compared to the struggle of that decision.

            Now, Iíve told this story about the doctrine of the Trinity to lift up an important role the Holy Spirit plays in the church. Yes, it comforts us, and it strengthens us, and it gives to us a variety of gifts. But, it also reveals to us Godís truth. There are moments in history, as well as times in our personal lives, when we are ripe to hear what we need to hear. The Holy Spirit is there especially for such moments as these. The Spirit guides us into the truth. But donít believe for a minute thatís itís an easy process.

            There are some folks who think that it happens in a snap. Then, when the truth continues to be cloudy, they question either the receptiveness of the listener, or the reality of Godís Spirit. Needless to say, listening is essential. We hear what we want to hear. But the timing of the Holy Spirit is not our timing. "Ask and you shall receive," yes! However, Jesus didnít tell us when we would receive that for which we ask. There are truths which can only be learned by struggle. Let me lift up another example.

            We take for granted today that slavery is not a part of Godís will. But this truth has not always been self-evident. In fact, nowhere in the Bible does it say that slavery is wrong. The New Testament assumes the reality of slavery. It was a fact of life in those days. However, the church came to the place, guided by the Holy Spirit, where it saw that slavery was wrong. This was not an easy process. Some heard the truth sooner than others, the Quakers and the Brethren among the first The Quakers, for all their silence, shouted the message to all, once they came to agreement. The Brethren just quietly lived the truth, refraining from owning slaves. Eventually, others accepted the truth, but not without struggle. What denomination today would even think of believing that slavery is right? Though the Bible does not explicitly say that slavery is wrong, the Spirit has led us to see that it is contrary to Godís will.

            In Dunker-talk, we refer to this as "seeking the mind of Christ." We turn, again and again, to the words of Jesus, believing that the Spirit will guide us into all truth. Do note, however, that we donít just stand around with our hands in our pockets, thinking that God is going to be revealed out of the blue, as if our present-day experience is the only judge of truth. Yes, God speaks to us now - but as we listen, we hold in one hand the Bible and in the other todayís newspaper. The Spirit illumines both, together, not apart.

            In the last century, Brethren were not adverse to alcohol, or to tobacco. After all, the Bible doesnít say, "Thou shalt not drink" or "Thou shalt not smoke." But as the harmful effects of both became known, we sought the mind of Christ. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we came to the place where we saw both as contrary to Godís will. We gathered together around the Bible, and the Holy Spirit guided us to a truth that is hard to miss today, in this age of addiction and cancer. But, coming to this place was a rough journey.

            Itís still not easy. Our culture speaks with two tongues, one enticing us to "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die," and the other graphically showing us death. The truth is there all-too-clearly, but we see only what we want to see, we hear only what we want to hear. And all-too-often we only really hear after we become addicted to a destructive way of life. Then we need the Spiritís strength, day by day, to stop.

            Another example of a Spirit-led process of coming to clarity, is how we treat our environment. As it says in Psalm 8, "You have made humankind a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet" (vs. 5-6). This scripture and others have been used to justify a heavy-handed approach to nature. For centuries we have believed, then, that these boots were made for walkiní, and thatís just what we did, all over Godís creation. To the point where the earth is in danger. In so doing, we have placed ourselves in jeopardy.

            I grew up with the threat of nuclear annihilation. My children are coming of age with the possibility of environmental disaster. Higher gas prices are a wake-up call to a rapidly diminishing resource. All our talk of fighting terrorism mustnít keep us from hearing the truth. Liberals and conservatives alike are beginning to realize something needs to be done. Now, like many Brethren before me, Iím not one to jump onto bandwagons. Maybe Iím wrong about that. But I do believe we are in the midst of seeking out the mind of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this concern, to discover the truth for today.

            It is the Holy Spirit which guides us into the truth, but only if we want to hear. Isnít that the whole point? We only hear what we want to hear. When it comes right down to it, weíve got to want to hear. Thatís one thing I donít believe the Holy Spirit can do. God doesnít force us to listen. But, as we open our minds, together, to the mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit is there to lead us down the road into the truth. Such is Godís promise for those who are willing to hear. Isnít that the truth!

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Ephesians.


©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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