Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter based on John 17:11b-19
Dear children of truth: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“What is truth?” Pilate asks Jesus this question during His trial (Jn. 18:38). What is truth? This question continues to be asked even today in the same cynical, indifferent way as Pilate spoke the words. The question is asked intending to say that any discussion of religious truth is pure speculation, as if we cannot know truth no matter what. What is truth?
The world and the devil would have you believe that there is no such thing as truth. Look at all the religions out there. Look at all the “Christian” denominations out there. Look at the fact that even the Lutheran church is split into different denominations, holding to completely different beliefs. Doesn’t everyone think that they’re right? How is it possible to know truth?
Jesus says in His prayer to God the Father, “Your Word is truth” (v. 17). The Word of God is truth. So if you want to learn the truth of God, you know where to find it – in His Word. His Word is truth. If you want to know God’s will for you, you know where to find it – in His Word. His Word is truth.
What would happen to Lutheran Church-Canada if we lost the truth of God’s Word? Then we could join the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). They, as a synod, do not believe that God’s Word is truth. They say that the Bible contains human opinion, cultural limitation and bias, as well as contradictory views of God’s word, ways, and will. Thus the ELCIC teaches that you can reject the Triune God and still be saved; you don’t need to believe in creation as taught in Genesis; you don’t need to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead or that Jesus was actually born of a virgin; you can abort babies, practice homosexuality, and ordain women to be pastors. See, when God’s Word is not truth, you can invent your own truth.
There may well be Christians within the ELCIC, but the teaching of that church body is unscriptural. The teaching of that church body is Satanic. They do not teach God’s Word so they do not teach the truth.
Herein lies the problem then when a visitor from the ELCIC visits our congregation and why they cannot commune. Over the last few decades, their church body has completely forsaken the truth.
Today our confirmands will confess their faith. They will confess that they believe God’s Word is truth. They will confess that they believe in the one and only true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They will confess that what the Bible says about creation, Jesus’ birth and resurrection, abortion, homosexuality, women pastors, and any other matter is true because God’s Word is truth. Our confirmands will confess what we confess, what our church confesses, and what Scripture teaches: God’s Word is truth. And our church believes that until our children have been taught the truth and confessed that they believe it, they should not be communed so that they do not eat and drink judgment on themselves or sin against the body and blood of Christ (I Cor. 11:27-29). We want what is best for our children because we love them and don’t want any harm, especially spiritual harm, to come to them.
Should we not then out of Christian love show this same concern for our visitors as we do for our children? Should we not seek to avoid any spiritual harm from coming to them?
Since we cannot judge hearts and we cannot see into anyone’s heart to see what they believe, we must go by what they confess. For our confirmands, we will take their confession today to be the declaration of what they believe. Those who belong to the ELCIC confess their agreement with the teachings of that church through their membership in that church body. Their membership makes a confession of what they believe. Yes, it is true, not every member in the ELCIC believes the false teachings of that church. But by their membership in such a heterodox church body, they confess that they believe what that church body believes. Those who are in such a false church yet believe that God’s Word is truth should abandon that false church and openly confess the truth. Scripture requires that only those who confess the truth are communed at the Lord’s Table.
Yes, we practise closed communion. Sometimes what this means is misunderstood. Closed communion just means that communion is open to everyone who has been taught in the truth of what Scripture teaches and has confessed that they believe it. That doesn’t sound so cold and unloving, does it? That’s what we do for our own children because we love them and want what’s best for them. We are following God’s Word on the Lord’s Supper, because God’s Word is truth. We do not want to lose the truth of God’s Word.
Lest this sermon comes across as nothing more than bashing the ELCIC, I should say that’s really not the point. The point is to be a warning and example to us. A warning and example for us to take heed lest we fall (I Cor. 10:12); a warning and example for us to not fall away from the truth. The second we give up one iota of truth, we are heading into trouble. The second we start to say, “Yes, that’s what God’s Word says, but it’s going to hurt feelings so we won’t do it”, then we are heading into trouble.
For the most part, ELCIC congregations didn’t start out in full-blown heresy on day one. They didn’t start out with homosexual pastors – first came the appeal for tolerance. They didn’t start out with women pastors – first came women readers in the Divine Service. They didn’t start out denying the Trinity – first came the denial of the Word of God being the truth. We need to take heed lest we fall from the truth. We need to cling to the truth of God’s Word even in matters that hit close to home; even in matters that oppose the view of our culture. We need to cling to the truth of God’s Word even in matters that cause the world to hate us (Jn. 7:14).
Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32) Abiding in God’s Word is abiding in the truth, and the truth will set us free. We do not want to lose the truth, because the truth sets us free.
That’s what Jesus prays in today’s passage from the High Priestly prayer. Jesus prays for His disciples but He also prays for the entire Church throughout all time. He prays for us. He prays to God the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (v. 17) Jesus prays that we would be sanctified, that is, made holy; set apart for God in the truth; set apart for God in His Word.
This has already happened. Just as Jesus in His prayer says that the disciples were already given to Him by the Father (v. 6), that they already belong to God (v. 9), and that He has kept them in the Father’s name (v. 12), so we also already have been given to Jesus, already belong to Him, and are also kept in His name.
The truth of God’s Word has set us free. It has set us free from the lies of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. The truth of God’s Word has set us free from the punishment we deserve for our sins because in His Word He tells us that Jesus took our punishment in our place, suffering and dying on the cross for us. God’s Word is truth. It is God’s Word of truth that keeps us in the Father’s name. It is God’s Word of truth that has brought us to faith and keeps us in the faith.
What is truth? God’s Word is truth. And you have been sanctified, that is, made holy; set apart for God in the truth; set apart for God in His Word. And Jesus prays for you that you would be kept in the Father’s name through His Word of truth: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.