Holy Trinity C: Can We Handle the Truth?

The readings for Holy Trinity Sunday are:

Old Testament      Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31

Psalm                    Psalm 8

New Testament     Romans 5:1–5

Gospel                   John 16:12–15

The scene we remember from “A Few Good Men” is when the Marine base commander, Colonel Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, is being pressed in court to tell the truth about the suspicious death of a private. He goes into a rage and says to his interrogator, “The truth? You can ‘t handle the truth!”

This has become such a famous quote because thinking people everywhere are haunted by the questions, “Am I hiding from the truth?” and “What does it take to handle the truth?”

The Gospel of John makes it quite clear that Jesus’ disciples needed things to happen to them before they could understand or respond to Jesus as God in the flesh. In 16:12 he says he has much more to teach, but, for now, they can’t bear them. It goes beyond a lack of understanding. The truth hurts, and they don’t yet have the spiritual strength to stand that hurt.They would have to look back after the sacrificial death on the cross, followed by the Resurrection. Even then, they would need the help of the Holy Spirit as Master Teacher to truly be reborn, truly know, truly see, truly live the abundant life God wants to give them.

All through this Gospel character after character encounter Jesus in long dialogs. Each encounter is a crisis moment—a moment of shaking out, and judgment.  Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, Mary and Martha—sisters of Lazarus. They come blind, they leave seeing. But neither these characters nor the disciples see it all quite yet. It takes more experiences of the Christ shaking them up—making them capable of repenting and learning and moving on with God’s help.

Current events can be illuminated by this gospel drama. For years many Americans hoped Donald J. Trump would be the new Messiah. He would be big and strong, and tell it like it is, and make America great again. He would do beautiful things to put the Christian religion back in the center of Western civilization, put an end to abortion, close the borders to the bad hombres, etc, etc. They believed and hoped that what he promised he would deliver.

And all those years Donald J. Trump demonstrated in living color what kind of man he truly is. He is not a man who delivers on promises. He lied constantly about how much money he made, how big his audiences were, and how many sexual affairs he had. Whenever he was critiqued in the press, he called all who reported the facts “fake news.” When he was critiqued by his own staff or political allies, he instantly turned on them, tried to destroy them with his insults and by getting rid of them. He undermined the integrity of many of our branches of government by his undisciplined and child-like tweets.

And on and on.

But the tragedy of our day is that millions of us could not handle the truth. Instead, millions of us found ourselves in a hole of our own making. We hid our heads in that hole, and chose to make excuses, rejoice that he fought dirty, and believe the lies that Trump was the greatest champion America or Christianity ever had.

Starting this past Thursday,our Congress has been telling and showing the unvarnished truth. In full, detailed, video, audio, and print eye-witness testimony, we have the truth laid out. Of course Trump has the benefit of plausible deniability about whether he expressly called for the January 6 attack on congress. But there is absolutely no doubt at all about the two key truths: He is the first president in history not to concede and step aside when he lost an election; and his mouth alone was the font from which the BIG LIE about election fraud flowed out to trigger insurrection.

Can we handle these truths? It’s hard when if it contradicts our biases, and when it shakes up our comfortable self delusions.

This Holy Trinity Sunday we would do well to thank God that we have much more of the ultimate Truth of life to learn, and that the Holy Spirit is there by our side to teach us that dying and rising is a good thing. We can die to our old illusions and rise to new life in the Truth. Repentance is good for the soul. And it will be, Lord willing, very good for the Republican Party, the Christian church, and our suffering nation.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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