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Knowing the Truth John 10:22-30

So, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow
me.” Well, hmmm…I’m a Christian preacher. I’ve devoted my life to all this.
I doubt that I have ever said anything like, “Jesus was wrong,” about
something or other, but, seriously? There are lots and lots of Christians in
the world, over two billion, the people who do the counting say, making
Christianity the largest religion on the face of the earth. They don’t all seem
to be listening to the same voice, though. A few years ago the World
Christian Encyclopedia reported that there were more than 33,000 different
Christian denominations. We Christians disagree on just about everything –
the ways we believe about important things, the way we think the Bible
says churches should be governed, the ways we worship. And, we are not
gentle and blasé about our differences, either. Many of those Christian
groups are very confident that if others call themselves Christians but
disagree with them, then they are not in fact Christians at all and are
headed to hell. There have been times we Christians have been willing to
kill each other over our differences. Many of us can remember, not that
long ago, when Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland were killing
each other. Wars between Catholics and Protestants after the Reformation
may have killed as many as 30 million people. I could go on with all this.
The point is we Christians are terribly and sometimes violently divided. We
are headed in all kinds of different directions. So, is it possible that all of
Jesus’ sheep hear his voice and follow him? Are only some of those who
call themselves Christians actually Jesus’ sheep and following him? Is
there a particular group that is right and everybody else is wrong? Which
church should we follow if we want to really be Jesus’ sheep?

“My sheep hear my voice and follow me.” Honestly, it doesn’t look like it.
Jesus also said, “You will know the truth.” Again, it really doesn’t look like it.

It looks like we Christians have a problem knowing the truth.

We’re not the only ones. In fact, there is a mighty big problem with the truth
these days. As I’m sure everyone knows and understands, our country is
severely and bitterly divided, and there is great hostility associated with this
division. People on the other side of things than our side are not merely
misguided, we think, they might be mentally ill or, perhaps more likely, we
think they are evil. They are not true Americans. They are actually out to
destroy our country and our way of life.

How did we get so divided? In part we are divided because we have been
divided by forces outside ourselves. Having an enemy is terribly important.
If we don’t have an external enemy we can focus on, then we will have to
turn inward and find the enemy among ourselves. So, enemies have been
created. Other Americans. We have been told those in another political
party, or a different group, or whatever, are our enemies and we have been
all too ready to believe it. We have been manipulated by others seeking to
use us to accomplish their goals.

Also, a large part of our division comes because we have different sources
of information. We are divided because we cannot agree on the truth
because our source of truth tells us one thing and the other side’s source of
truth tells them something else. And they, of course, are wrong. Maybe
they are even evil, agents of the devil.

Many of us have become terribly confused. How are we supposed to know
what is true? Is it even possible to tell which truth source is actually telling
the truth when one source is telling us one thing and the other is telling us
something completely different, each calling what they say “the truth?”
Maybe we have no choice but to decide we can’t tell what is the real truth,
and just we give up. Maybe us giving up is the real point of it all. If we give
up, then they – the manipulators - can do whatever they want.

We can’t give up, though. The whole thing is too important. So much
depends on us knowing the truth and acting on it. The fate of our country
may well depend on it, maybe even our lives themselves.

The good news is there are ways we begin to get at the truth. The study of
truth is the point of a whole branch of philosophy called epistemology, but
we don’t have to become Ph.D. philosophers to begin to sift out the truth. It
begins with our being very hard-nosed about the whole thing, with our
demanding truth, with demanding that something be truth, and then
carefully examining the things that people tell us are true.

Here are a few techniques we can use to help determine whether

something is true.

1.) First of all, what are the sources of what we are being told is true?
Are they reliable and trustworthy? Are they known to have told
truth, or non-truths, in the past? What is their record of truth?

2.) Is what we are being told self-serving to the person doing the
telling? Does it advance a particular agenda, whether making
somebody a profit or getting somebody elected? If we believe it,
will it help them?
3.) Is there any actual proof of what is being said, any documentation,
any video evidence, or any other such thing? When we are being
asked, “Who are you going to believe - what I am telling or what
your own eyes can see?” we need to go with what our own eyes
can see.
4.) Are we likely to believe something because we want it to be true?
Our wanting it to be true does not make something either true or
untrue, but we need to be aware of our own prejudices, our own
subjectivity. Sometimes we can lead ourselves into untruth.
5.) Is it repeatable, as the scientific method teaches us it should be? If
somebody says he put a few substances in a test tube, shook it
up, and a house finch flew out, is that repeatable? Can he do it
again, and then again, over and over? I bring this up because our
whole problem with truth these days comes into focus when it
comes to science. Science has brought us incredible advances
that have improved our standard of living, and medical science
has improved our quality of life. Years ago there were many
diseases for which nothing could be done for which today we have
a variety of options. Yet we think we can pick and choose from
what science tells us. Sure, medicine has brought us much, but,
some say, they just might be lying to us when it comes to
immunizations. Or, sure, science has taught us much about life on
this planet, but, some say, they’re tricking us with their ideas of

evolution. There is no way the earth can be as old as their dating
methods indicate, because, some say, it’s not supported by the
way they interpret the Bible. Science is devoted to uncovering
truth through intense examination and experimentation and
validation. Especially we religious folk must not be too ready to
toss it aside when it doesn’t fit with what we might want to be true,
or fit our preconceived notions. The church has a long history or
resisting the advances of science and being proven wrong. It’s
embarrassing, if nothing else.
6.) Finally, we must be skeptical, even of our own thoughts and ideas.
We must not be too quick to accept something to be true,
regardless of its source. Skepticism is our friend. Are you
surprised to hear a preacher telling you to be skeptical? I think
Jesus advised the same thing. He said, “Be wise as serpents and
innocent as doves.

The terrible reality of the world is that there are many out there who are
trying to manipulate us, in all kinds of ways – buy this, watch this or that tv
show, believe this, vote this way, hate these people. If we give up on
finding and living the truth it is one of the great tragedies of our lives,
because when we do we surrender our own integrity and we turn the world
over to the manipulators, let them have their way. When we refuse to do
that, we maintain the strength of our own minds, our own spirits. We
become our own heroes, unwilling to become the minions who are striving
with all their might to control us as a means of accomplishing their own
purposes, their agendas. That is the place where we know what Jesus was
talking about when he said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make

us free.” The only freedom we will ever know is the freedom of our own
mind and spirit. It is the freedom and beauty of truth.

It even comes full circle back to the church. The church itself has been
home to some of the greatest manipulators in history, and there are still
many, many within the church very willing to use very powerful tools of
manipulation to control us – the threat of expulsion, excommunication, hell.
Jesus warned us against them. He said, “Beware of false prophets, which
come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”
And, of course, the church itself is subject to manipulation. It has been
used and is still being used today to accomplish the purposes of others
besides its own founder. It is a great tragedy because many look at the
mess that is the church and decide they want no part of it and are kept from
living lives of faith.

So, how do we get past the mess and get to the truth that is at the heart of
what the Church is all about? We have become such a mess because we
have taken the easy ways out. We have concentrated on non-essentials –
our rituals, our practices, our theologies. The truth of Christianity turns out
to not be a truth you can write down on paper. The truth of Christianity
cannot be found stated in a creed or expounded upon in a tome of
theology. The truth of Christianity is found in a person, Jesus, in whom we
believe God was at work in a unique and special way. Christ taught us that
truth is found in a life lived in love and compassion.

Our world faces many powerfully threatening crises. Maybe what we need
more than anything else is a force for good in the world, a force of simple

love and compassion – compassion for one another and for the world, the
earth, itself. Yet there are so few voices calling us to that. We are called
instead to take up sides against one another. We are called to hatred and
to war, and those voices calling for hatred will only increase as the forces
that threaten us become more intense. In the face of the rising tide of
hatred, though, if we listen we can still hear the voice of Jesus – “Love one
another; love your enemies; do good even to those who treat you horribly.
Give a morsel of food to the hungry, a cup of water to the thirsty. Take the
side of the oppressed, even when no one else will.” Here is truth, the only
truth that will finally set us free – the words of one who said of himself, “I
am the way, I am the truth, I am the life.”

The poet W. H. Auden spoke of this. He said,

“He is the Way.

Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your union all its occasions shall dance for joy.”