Call to Worship:
"What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer."
Today's sermon is based on John 1:14-17
"14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
15John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
16And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
17For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
Today we will discuss the law, grace, and truth, though not necessarily in that order. Since we have been dealing for the past several weeks with the "Word", it seems appropriate to begin with truth--expressed by and/or contained within the Word. There are many scriptures dealing with truth--too many to include in a single sermon, or, indeed, in twenty sermons. The phrase “I tell you the truth,” appears 79 times in Scripture, 78 times spoken by Jesus. He is the truth, and he tells the truth, so we can fully trust everything He says, although we may not always understand everything He says. Thus, the question is what is truth, and how must we wait for an answer?
John 17:17 says this:
"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."
Clearly, the Word and Truth are equivalent, in some sense, but not in another. Just as, in the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God, we have no doubt (Luther certainly has no doubt) that God came first, if anything outside time can be thought of as coming first. Likewise, the Word precedes the Truth, just as at the essence precedes the application. Thus Truth is a quality of the Word; like perfection, it is both constantly aspired to, AND it is ultimately unattainable by the human mind. However, it has a resonance that the devotee trained in spiritual sensitivities can recognize and partially apprehend. Steiner would say we experience the Truth of divine reality with our spiritual organs, as it is imprinted, for instance, on the astral body. This idea harmonizes with the idea that the Truth sanctifies the devotee with its heightened reality; the impact of spiritual energy on our physical bodies exalts the physical body and raises if from mere flesh to true humanity--a transcendent form of material reality; you might say that human reality is spiritual reality in transit. All these ideas are part and parcel to the concept of the Word becoming flesh.
John 3:21 says this:
"But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."
In this text, we encounter the familiar equation of the "Word" with "Creation"--the power of the True Word manifests divine reality in physical form. Divine Light motivates earthly deeds that radiate Heavenly Truth.
John 16:13 says this:
"Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come."
Here Jesus is described as the "Spirit of Truth"; as such He merely Listens to the cosmic vibrations of the Eternal and speaks the Word echoing in the Mind of God. This channeling of the Word into material reality not only conveys reliable truth about the essence of existence, the Eternal now, It prophesies "things to come". As we have mentioned many times, the Truth of Eternity spoken by Jesus comes from outside time, from a place where everything happens at once, where everything has already happened and will always happen. It should then be no surprise that prophecy is part of the package. My personal experience of the counsels of Jesus, that come to me in prayer, includes subtle, and sometimes not so subtle hints about my future. Indeed, lost in the personality of Jesus, I can see vast terrains of sequential time spreading out and away from me in both directions, past and future. This is part of the Truth spoken by the Father, through the Son, to me.
Now, how are Truth and Grace connected?
The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary provides a wonderful substitution for the word "Grace" which is very meaningful to me:
"Full of grace and truth-So it should read: "He dwelt among us full of grace and truth"; or, in Old Testament phrase, "Mercy and truth," denoting the whole fruit of God's purposes of love towards sinners of mankind, which until now existed only in promise, and the fulfillment at length of that promise in Christ; in one great word, "the SURE MERCIES of David".
"Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David."
"And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, [now] no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David."
"In His Person all that Grace and Truth which had been floating so long in shadowy forms, and darting into the souls of the poor and needy its broken beams, took everlasting possession of human flesh and filled it full. By this Incarnation of Grace and Truth, the teaching of thousands of years was at once transcended and beggared, and the family of God sprang into Manhood."
The word "Grace" always implies, to me, an indulgence, a free gift; but the term "Mercy" seems to include the idea of deliverance from a horrible fate. Indeed, "deliver us from evil" is one of the key phrases in the Lord's Prayer, and brings with it the hope that we sinners will not get what we deserve.
The expression "sure mercies" is interesting as well; the word "sure" seems to imply some kind of guarantee, a promise. God's covenant with David gives the devotee absolute confidence in his own ultimate redemption, regardless of his current physical state in time. Such a deal.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible expands on the idea of mercy, or gifts of the spirit:
"Full of grace and truth; that is, he dwelt among men, and appeared to have a fulness of each of these: for this clause is not to be joined with the glory of the only begotten, as if this was a branch of that; but regards him as incarnate, and in his office, as Mediator; who, as such, was full of "grace"; the Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit; of all the blessings of grace, of justifying, pardoning, adopting, sanctifying, and persevering grace; of all the promises of grace; of all light, life, strength, comfort, peace, and joy: and also of truth, of all Gospel truths; and as he had the truth, the sum, and substance of all the types and prophecies concerning him in him; and as he fulfilled all his own engagements, and his Father's promises; and as possessed of sincerity towards men, and faithfulness and integrity to God. . ."
From the Geneva Study Bible we get yet another interesting slant on the Incarnate Word:
"This word as does not indicate here a likeness, but rather the truth of the matter, for his meaning is this, that we saw such a glory which suited and was proper for the true and only begotten Son of God, who is Lord and King over all the world.
He was not only a partaker of grace and truth, but was full of the very substance of grace and truth."
I find the expression "substance of grace and truth" to be provocative; how, indeed can spiritual reality obtain "substance" other than by being made flesh? Thus, once again, we encounter an equivalency between the lower and the upper vibratory material of Creation. We have encountered this concept several times in the recent discussions of the Word made flesh.
Deepak Chopra takes the idea even further in his Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul:
"Every spiritual tradition invokes our so-called higher self, the side of human nature that the soul stands for. We recognize ourselves in the love Jesus preached, and in the compassion espoused by Buddha. Every spiritual tradition also makes it clear that our so-called lower nature, identified with sin and ignorance, must be transformed. Unfortunately, the choice is presented in a way that is unhelpful. How can you adopt love when you are told at the same time that your lower nature is sinful? Condemning the lower self is the opposite of love. How can you adopt peace when you are told at the same time to fight against temptation? You wind up being trapped in your divided nature instead of healing it. . . The whole business of making a stark contrast between the lower and higher self is futile to begin with. There is no separate, all good, all wise part of you that you must either win or lose. Life is one flow of awareness."
Thus, Chopra proclaims, in a way, the same equality of the lower and higher aspects of Man's multi-dimensional being we saw in several readings from the past few sermons:
"Besides, from the flesh, as from Eve, came the beginning of transgression, longing after the forbidden fruit, refused the Word quite; . . . But there is a kind of necessity to use the term flesh. If He had said man, man might be taken for a person. He took no person, but our nature He took. Flesh is no person but nature only, and so best expresseth it. And if soul, it might have been taken, as if He took not the flesh but mediante anima (by means of the soul); but so He did not but as immediately and as soon the flesh as the soul, in one instant both."
From the Requiem Mass:
"Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the cause of thy way:
lest thou lose me in that day."
[Sidebar: I need to provide a little context for this quote. The Requiem text is all about the Day of Judgment; it is kind of like a courtroom drama, where the soul on trial is making a case for his salvation. As he asks for mercy, one of the arguments he makes, in his defense, is the idea that without his sin, Jesus would have no reason for being there at all. Hence, "I am the cause of thy way" means that, without us, Jesus would have no purpose. Thus, once again, the inter-relatedness of the Word and the flesh is suggested.]
And from The Confession of Chalcedon, also known as the Doctrine of the Hypostatic Union or the Two-Nature Doctrine:
"The Definition defines that Christ is 'acknowledged in two natures', which 'come together into one person and hypostasis'. The formal definition of 'two natures' in Christ was understood by the critics of the council at the time, and is understood by many historians and theologians today, to side with western and Antiochene Christology and to diverge from the teaching of Cyril of Alexandria, who always stressed that Christ is 'one'."
This subject always reminds me of the story of the guru who disappeared one day from the ashram; his disciples looked for him for several weeks only to find him, eventually, sitting on a dung heap with a big fat smile on his face. They asked him why he was sitting so contentedly in cow poop, and he replied, "If God is everywhere in all things, why not here as well as anywhere else?"
The following quotation from Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary develops the connection between the dual nature of the Word and Grace:
"John the Baptist came to bear witness concerning Jesus. Nothing more fully shows the darkness of men's minds, than that when the Light had appeared, there needed a witness to call attention to it. Christ was the true Light; that great Light which deserves to be called so. By his Spirit and grace he enlightens all that are enlightened to salvation; and those that are not enlightened by him, perish in darkness.
Christ was in the world when he took our nature upon him, and dwelt among us. The Son of the Highest was here in this lower world. He was in the world, but not of it. He came to save a lost world, because it was a world of his own making. Yet the world knew him not. When he comes as a Judge, the world shall know him. Many say that they are Christ's own, yet do not receive him, because they will not part with their sins, nor have him to reign over them.
All the children of God are born again. This new birth is through the word of God as the means, and by the Spirit of God as the Author.
1st Peter 1:23"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever."
By his Divine presence Christ always was in the world. But now that the fulness of time was come, he was, after another manner, God manifested in the flesh. But observe the beams of his Divine glory, which darted through this veil of flesh. Men discover their weaknesses to those most familiar with them, but it was not so with Christ; those most intimate with him saw most of his glory. Although he was in the form of a servant, as to outward circumstances, yet, in respect of graces, his form was like the Son of God His Divine glory appeared in the holiness of his doctrine, and in his miracles. He was full of grace, fully acceptable to his Father, therefore qualified to plead for us; and full of truth, fully aware of the things he was to reveal."
I repeat: "He was full of grace, fully acceptable to his Father, therefore qualified to plead for us; and full of truth, fully aware of the things he was to reveal." This sentence says it all in a nutshell: coming from the Father, Jesus was the Father's gift of mercy to humanity, able both to forgive our lower nature its weaknesses and exalt our lower nature with revelations of eternal truth tailor-made for each specific individual in Creation. Next week we will go deeper into the role of Jesus as the channel of Divine Truth in Its various forms, and how He functions as intercessor between us and the Father.
The following is from The Concepts of Original Sin and Grace
A Lecture By Rudolf Steiner, Munich, 3rd May, 1911.
"Man cannot rise again to the Spiritual by merely talking about the Spirit but only by taking the Spirit into himself in the living, personal form presented to him in the Events of Palestine, in the Mystery of Golgotha. Thus does man rise upwards again under the influence of the Christ Impulse. In no other way can abstract ideals be invested with the force of personality than by allowing the Christ Impulse to permeate the whole of our spiritual life. If on the one side, through guilt incurred before the development of the ego, we have burdened ourselves with what is called Original Sin, if there we have something for which we cannot be held wholly responsible, neither are we ourselves responsible for the fact that it is possible to draw the Christ to ourselves. Our ego plays a part in what we do or endeavour to do in order to come near to Christ, and there we can truly speak of merit.
But the fact that Christ is present, that we are living on a planet where He once dwelt and in times after this actually happened — this is not due to any merit of our own. Therefore what flows from the Living Christ in order to bring us upwards again into the spiritual world, comes from beyond the sphere of the ego and draws us upwards as irresistibly as we incurred guilt without ourselves being guilty. Through Christ's existence on earth we have the strength to rise again into the spiritual world without merit of our own, just as we incurred guilt without sin of our own. Neither fact has to do with the element of personality in which the ego lives, but both are connected with happenings that precede and follow the coming of the ego. Man has evolved from a state of existence when he had only physical body, etheric body and astral body, and he evolves further through transforming his astral body into Manas (Spirit-Self). Just as man has worsened his astral body through incurring Original Sin, so he heals it again through the Christ Impulse. An inflowing power repairs the astral body to the same extent to which it has deteriorated. That is the Atonement, that is what in the true sense is called ‘Grace’. Grace is the concept that is complementary to that of Original Sin. So the Christ Impulse has made it possible for man to become one with Christ, to say with St. Paul: ‘Not I, but Christ in me’, thus giving expression to everything that is designated by the concept of Grace."
This selection draws a connection between the lower nature of the flesh and original sin. Perhaps original sin and the Word are not so far apart. Steiner speaks, above, of the personal form of the Word--the fleshy form, the ego form--and is not the descent of spirit into flesh very much the definition of original sin? In fact Steiner, indicates that it is the ego that is empowered with the ability to apprehend and absorb the Christ Consciousness into itself. The ego is the manifestation of the Christ Consciousness in the flesh, just as Truth is the manifestation of the Word in material reality. There is no material consciousness without the ego--this is what we gained from our expulsion from Paradise. Thus, the source of Man's separation from Paradise and the medium through which he may regain access to Paradise are the exact same entity. Furthermore, the complicated processes of losing and regaining Paradise are all made available to us through the power of Grace to transform the justice of the law into the justice of the heart. Everybody is familiar with the truism, "life is not fair". Many things point to this. However, perhaps in terms of the big picture, life is fair, and more fair than fair.
Continuing on with the subject of truth, I think it is not inappropriate to review the concept of parable as the conveyor of truth. As we have concluded before, the parable allows teensy little bits of literal truth to seep into the corners of the human mind, whose powers of apprehension are too limited to take in the vastness of eternal truth. We have concluded many times that the imagery of parables, with their various levels of meaning, make various levels of truth accessible to devotees of various levels of mental capacity.
In the following excerpts I am attempting to draw a connection between the truth of the parable and the truth of the myth. Remember, in our discussions of the Parable from some weeks ago, we suggested the possibility that the multi-dimensional structure of the Parable is what allows it to speak universally to all the various consciousness levels of the multi-dimensional structure of Man --that every level of meaning to be found in the parables resonates with some different level of consciousness in different men.
"When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart."
Here, Jesus is recapitulating one of the main themes of the parable: that seeds ungerminated in the heart, easily fall prey to the tempter. I think Jesus is saying that: the plain truth spoken in the ear of those not ready to receive it, makes them more vulnerable to Satan's power to twist and corrupt, than when there is just a vague understanding glimmering on the edge of their consciousness. When there is a grain of truth in what we hear, the lies of Satan, snaking around the sense of it, can misdirect it more easily than if we give him nothing to work with. Jesus is telling us to take care what we think, because Satan's towering intellect can insinuate its way into our heads in the most subtle and damning ways. Furthermore, He is telling us that He Himself is being careful not to open His congregation's mind to the whispering seductions of Satan's minions, by feeding it with dimly perceived half truths, which demons can falsify and grotesquely vulgarize. Indeed, it is clear that Jesus does not have a very high opinion of the common man's ability to get what He is saying, and is giving this warning therefore, not from a superior attitude, but, rather, from a quite protective one, shielding the folk, as it were, from too much truth, too soon.
So, let us hasten to remind you that there is no question of whether a parable or a myth is true. We KNOW it is true. The question is, rather, what is the quality of that truth? Which level of Man's multi-dimensional personality does it speak to?
This quotation from the internet article Movies, Myth and Preaching, by Dwight Longenecker, quotes, in turn, Freud, Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Joseph Campbell:
"Sigmund Freud wrote, "The truths contained in religious doctrines are after all so distorted and systematically disguised that the mass of humanity cannot recognise them as truth." Joseph Campbell realised that "the old teachers...told the Truth not in obtuse religious jargon, but in the exciting and mysterious language of myth.
[Sidebar: Substitute the word "parable" for "myth", and we are firmly on the same page.]
Myth and Truth
J.R.R.Tolkien--a devout Catholic--understood the power of myth as well. In his biography of Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter relates Tolkien's conversation with C.S.Lewis which led to the great man's conversion.
Lewis had come to believe in God, but could not relate to Jesus' 2,000 year-old death. Lewis shared Tolkien's excitement with myth, and understood how myth interests and involves the audience in a vicarious way. Tolkien asked Lewis why he couldn't transfer his appreciation of sacrifice from the myth to the true story.
"But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through with silver."
"No." said Tolkien "They are not. You call a tree a tree, and you think nothing more of the word, but it was not a tree until you gave it a name. You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about Truth."
Tolkien went on to explain that although the myths were woven through with error, they also reflected a fragment of the true light as well. The light began to dawn for Lewis: "Then the story of Christ," he said,"is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened."
For Lewis, the myths were testimony of the 'true light that enlightens every man.' (Jn.1.9) They looked forward to the 'true myth' of the gospel. The stories of incarnate gods, annual deaths and risings all echoed forward the story of Christ.
The Old Testament stories with their typology of Christ looked forward in a different way. Here the stories had a symbolic, legendary and mythic quality, but they were locked into history--pointing in a way no pagan myth could--to the myth become fact in Jesus Christ."
Here are some more quotes on the subject of myth by several famous writers:
"MYTHOLOGY, n. The body of a primitive people's beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later."
"Myths which are believed in tend to become true."
(Or, truth, that transcends the language and time of its origin, becomes myth.-RFT)
"The role of the artist I now understood as that of revealing through the world-surfaces the implicit forms of the soul, and the great agent to assist the artist was the myth."
"What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires -- desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way."
Thus, the belief in myth is grounded not in the logical mind of the ego, which is always screwing up its facts anyway, but in the instincts of Man's higher self, his higher desires, his intuition of the truth that is more true than the literal truth.
On the subject of LITERAL TRUTH we must return to something we mentioned quite briefly in passing, at the beginning of this sermon, and which has not been referred to since: THE LAW.
Considering Martin Luther's obsession with the pre-eminence of Grace as the primal cosmic power, it is no surprise that he makes the following disparaging comment about the law in his sermon on the Parable of the Sower, found in THE SERMONS OF MARTIN LUTHER, VOL. II., SECTION I. THE NATURE OF THE WORD SPOKEN HERE.
"This Gospel treats of the disciples and the fruits, which the Word of God develops in the world. It does not speak of the law nor of human institutions; but, as Christ himself says, of the Word of God, which he himself the sower preaches, for the law bears no fruit, just as little as do the institutions of men."
It is a clarifying thought that the law bears no fruit. When you put it like that, that law can be seen as some kind of sustaining or stabilizing force whose function is to keep things in balance without actually adding anything to the mix--it takes Grace to do that--it takes the Messiah to do that. While the law is static, inflexible, Grace moves us outside time to a place where the heart can make up its own rules whenever it is moved (I say MOVED) to do so.
"For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
Another way of saying this might be, "For the law came from Adam, but Mercy came from Jesus." The original sin of flesh came from the creation of Man by the Word, but Man's deliverance from the flesh also came from the Word.
Thus, we seem to have run full circle: the law, the flesh, the truth, and the deliverance from the flesh--they all come from the Word. We are all participating in a continuously revolving cosmic flow, a revolving door, or, better, a revolving escalator that is constantly moving between, and stopping off at, different floors--different stages on a continuum that extends from the higher to the lower and back again, in a unending circular modulation. Which floor we stop at is a function of some over-arching cosmic rhythm, similar, I'm sure, on a macrocosmic level, to the rhythm involved in the the re-centering epiphanic experience. But irregardless of the rhythm, and the level on which we find ourselves at any particular moment, (in the sequential series of time), we must remember that Jacob's vision at Bethel involves angels going up AND down the divine escalator to heaven. Truth is given to us through Grace, as a mercy, a way of dealing with material reality; the Truth is an articulation, a limitation, of the Word; Truth takes the mind-boggling vastness of the Eternal and breaks it down into terms that our human minds can sort of comprehend. In terms of the purpose for Truth, its reason for being, I can think of no more important function than its ability to push us onto the escalator: it is an instruction manual for jumping onto the escalator. Thus, the best Truth is not a single, static, constant entity, like the law, but is, rather, an ever-changing and evolving kaleidoscope of forms; it is shaped by the inconstant, anomalous rhythm of the heart, just like every other aspect of our multi-dimensional existence.
Let us pray: Jesus, open our eyes that we may see glimpses of truth Thou hast for us; open our eyes illumine us, Spirit Divine. Amen.