Sunday, April 29, 2018

nothing but the truth

May my words be in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I had a phone call from a doctor the other day, a consultant obstetrician. He wanted to talk with me about something that was on his mind, the essence of which is that Ireland has become a very dark place and is becoming darker. It wasn't exactly a random call – he and I had met couple of times – once at a funeral and once as I was leaving the hospital he works in after visiting someone there. From these two brief encounters he had formed the opinion that I was someone who would understand where he was coming from.

I guess he was right because I tend to agree with him. In many ways Ireland is a bright, shiny, modern country – after all we have motorways and smart-phones and broadband … if you live somewhere you can get broadband … but for all the material advances and the trappings of affluence in most lives there is indeed a great darkness hanging over the land … many, I imagine, can't see it … but that would be because it is a spiritual darkness … the kind of darkness that comes when large numbers of people start to think that there really is no such thing as objective truth when it comes to moral and ethical questions and all that really matters is how they feel about the decisions they make …

Theologians have a special name for this way of thinking, this philosophy if you will. Of course they do! They call it relativism. Essentially it consists of the idea that in such matters different people can have different truths. One is not better than the other, each is equally good, equally valid.

But such relativism is not the Christian way. 'I am the true vine,' we hear Jesus say in our reading from St John today. He did not mean by that that he was the true vine for some but not for others. He is the true vine for all. Some, of course, may refuse to accept him as the true vine. That is their choice. God gave us all free will. But their rejection does not lessen the truth of what he says. That is what objective truth is all about. It remains the truth, no matter who rejects it … even if the vast majority reject it.

We, of course, are Christians. This means that we accept the truth of what he told us, the teachings he has passed on to us through the Sacred Scriptures and Traditions of his Church. But even we need to be reminded sometimes that when it comes to the truth, this kind of Truth, you must accept it all. For if you say, either openly or in your heart, that you believe A and B of what Christ taught, but not C, that A and B are necessary for the salvation of souls, but not C, that God surely could not care about C, then you are letting the spiritual darkness of the age enter your own soul; for Christ himself gave that teaching to us as of the truth he taught …

Such a person is surely on dangerous ground indeed, for how can such a one, someone who says I will obey this teaching and that teaching but this other one, this I do not like! This teaching I will not obey and it does not matter because I do not believe in it, even though it is part of the Truth that Christ gave his Church. Can such a one be said to abide in Christ? It is not for me to say; but I would worry for them, and think of our Lord's words in our Gospel reading today – if a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown in the fire, and burned.

Sobering words. Sobering words indeed. But it is important here to remember that there is a difference between someone who rejects Christ's words and being someone who accepts them and occasionally fails to live up to them … or even fails to live up to them often! The first, the one who rejects our Lord's teachings and refuses to believe that he has done anything wrong, they will never ask God's forgiveness and his Grace to do better in the future. The other, they do indeed sin, but they know they sin; they have fallen prey to the many temptations that surround us … but they understand that they have done wrong and ask God's pardon … they repent and ask his strength to do better in the future.

And that strength that they pray for when asking God's forgiveness will be given. For weak and frail though they are, they are the branches that abide in Christ, the branches that, as he tells us also in our reading today, bear much fruit … branches that his Father, the vine-dresser, will prune so that they may bear even more fruit.

This is good news indeed. Good news for us, for we are all sinners; and good news for the world … good news for the world because of something that Christ said elsewhere … that his followers are the light of the world. It is a reflected light, of course, because Christ is the one who is truly the light of the world; but those who follow him faithfully help shine his light into the world.

And this is something that the world desperately needs, threatened as it is by so much darkness. God sent his Son into the world that all might be saved; and the Son sends us and all his followers that his saving word might be known to all. We must pray that all who hear it will choose to be branches that are part of the true vine … and that they will continue always to abide in the vine which is Christ so that they will bear much fruit … just as I pray that all here will abide always in Christ and bear much fruit all through their lives so that at the last they will abide with God forever in heaven - Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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