June 5, 2006
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Psalm 1
Happy are those who do not follow
the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of God,
and on God's law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for God watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

John 17:6-19
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

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Sermon: Trust in the Truth

What is the value of truth? To some, it seems, truth is a soft, supple, malleable commodity – flexible in meaning, adaptable according to circumstance, more a tactical consideration than a moral responsibility. In other words, truth is great when it gets me what I want, but it is easily sacrificed if it only gets in the way.

For others, however, the truth is sacred – it is the cornerstone of wisdom, justice, fairness, and righteousness. Truth has its own life and its own power, and one can trust in the truth. Let me illustrate with a short story.

Raffik the merchant was a very wealthy shopkeeper. His long robe was trimmed with fur and on his fingers glittered rings of gold with rubies and sapphires. After returning one day from a trip to buy some copper trays to sell in his store, he realized that his money pouch was missing. He quickly retraced his steps, but could not find his money anywhere. He was sure some dishonest thief had run off with it.

Later that day he posted signs all over town: A gold coin to anyone who finds and returns my money pouch!

Ivo was a poor farmer who had come to town to have a harness repaired. He wanted to buy a gift for his wife to take home, but he didn’t have the money. He saw the posters Raffik had put up offering a reward, and continuing to walk along looking in shop windows he suddenly tripped over a loose cobble stone and fell flat on the ground.

Then he saw Raffik’s money pouch under the loose stone. He picked it up and being an honest man when straight to Raffik’s shop.

My name is Ivo, he said to Raffik, and this pouch is probably yours.

Marvelous, said the merchant, but his joy turned to sorrow when he remembered his promise of a reward. So while Ivo was looking at the goods in the shop, Raffik took one gold coin out of the pouch and slipped it in his pocket.

Ho, ho, he said to Ivo, there were ten gold coins in my pouch when I lost it and now there are only nine. So you have already taken your reward of one gold coin.

Ivo was astounded. “I never opened the pouch” he swore to the merchant.

“Are you calling me a liar” said Raffik, “Then I will take you to court.”

Ivo had never been to court before and felt awed and out of place by the impressive court room and by the judge who was dressed in a long robe and was wearing a white curled wig. He had a large legal volume under his arm and a very stern expression on his face. Ivo’s knees began to shake.

Raffik stood up and declared, “Your honor, my wallet had ten gold coins in it when I lost it. I promised a reward of one gold coin if it were returned to me. When this farmer brought it to me, there were only nice gold coins. He has already taken his reward.”

Ivo told his side of the story. “Sir,” he said humbly, “I returned the pouch as I found it. I did not even open it, let alone take out a coin. My honest reputation is as stake.”

The stern and frightening judge was a kindly soul at heart and wise in the ways of all kinds of people. For a moment he was silent, and then delivered his verdict.

You, Raffik, tell me that you lost a pouch containing ten gold coins. So this wallet with only nine gold coins cannot be yours. Go back to your shop and wait for your wallet to be returned to you.

The judge winked at Ivo. “And you, Ivo, have found a wallet containing nine gold coins. Go home and with for the owner of it to come by and claim it. If no one can claim it in three months, it is yours to spend the money or save it as you wish.”

Raffik was filled with rage, but dared not show it for fear of being arrested. He stormed out of the courtroom. Ivo, clutching the pouch handed to him by the judge, was so surprised that he could hardly move.

“An honest man is a rich man,” said the judge to Ivo, “even if he is poor.”

From The Greedy Shopkeeper by Irene Mirkovic

There is a fundamental kind of truth-telling in that story that might seem obvious, but is hardly something to be taken for granted given some of the headlines in the newspapers over the past year: pensions that have disappeared, bookkeeping schemes that defrauded hard working people of their life-savings, corrupt business practices that resulted in millions and even billions of dollars in fines and settlements. Oh, could we use a battalion of stern but fair judges who have a kindly soul and are wise in the ways of all kinds of people.

And that battle is just over the truth of one plus one equals two. What happens when you ask about the truth of events, motivations, philosophies, loyalties, values, and trustworthiness.

There has been a lot of discussion about the truth or lack of truth in the book and now the movie The DaVinci Code. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems that there are many other challenges to faith in the world that deserve headlines before a book of fiction and a Hollywood movie. Take the war in Iraq, or any war, for that matter.

I don’t want to get into a political discussion about the truth or lack of truth-telling that brought us to where we are today. Everyone is free to follow the arguments and daily revelations in the news. But I do worry a bit about the spin that is put on the truth of war in general – I want to honor our veterans and support our troops - but I don’t want someone who is less than truthful using that honor and support to send more men and women off to war.

I just finished reading a biography of Grantland Rice, who was the dean of American sportswriters between World War I and World War II. Rice knew everybody, and was a personal friend of George M. Cohan who wrote the famous song “Over There” in 1917 just after the U. S. declared war against Germany.

Over There
Johnnie, get your gun,
Get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run,
On the run, on the run.
Hear them calling, you and me,
Every son of liberty.
Hurry right away,
No delay, go today,
Make your daddy glad
To have had such a lad.
Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy's in line.
Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there -
That the Yanks are coming,
The Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming
So prepare, say a pray'r,
Send the word, send the word to beware.
We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over
Over there.

Grantland Rice and many others responded to this call to war – it was quite different then as professional athletes and many famous people from all walks of life felt it was their patriotic duty to sign up and serve. But the truth of war was not what they had imagined. And although Rice was always proud of his service and a bit distrustful of any athlete who had avoided going “over there,” he returned home to express quite a different truth about war than his friend George M. Cohan had expressed. Here is Rice’s poem,
Two Sides of War

All wars are planned by old men
In council rooms apart,
Who plan for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

But out along the shattered fields
Where golden dreams turned gray,
How very young their faces were
Where all the dead men lay.

Portly and solemn, in their pride
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the warlike note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life’s vanished joys,
I’ve noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.

There are many truths that defy easy expression in words – hard truths and beautiful truths – the truth of war, the truth of a starlit night – the truth of suffering and loss, the truth of a child’s loving embrace. None of these are one plus one equals two kinds of truth, but they are all the more important for that. These are the truths we express in the stories of faith, a truth we can trust because it has a living power of its own.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus prays for the disciples because he is sanctifying them in truth and sending them out into a world that will not welcome them. Jesus prays that God will protect them because when they challenge the world with truth, many will turn away, many will chose darkness over the light. In John’s Gospel the job of the disciples is not to change the world but to confront it so that people judge themselves by their response. John teaches that in every generation there are men and women given by God to Jesus, and the task of preaching the truth is to draw those people together so they can be in the world but not of the world, so they may be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.

The truth may not always be welcome in this world, but it is precious in the sight of God and sanctified by the sacrifice of our Lord. Never turn from the truth, but trust in it, for it binds you close to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and numbers you among the faithful witnesses who have walked the path to life eternal.

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