The Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)
“Truth Be Told”
May 14, 2017
Sermon Text: Acts 6:1–9; 7:2a, 51–60
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from our victorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dearly Beloved of the Lord,
It is refreshing, isn’t it? In this, God’s House… in this, God’s Word… to hear the truth for a change. The truth and nothing but the truth.
And we have the joy of singing, saying and chanting these eternal truths in sacred liturgy and hymnody taken from God’s Word and based upon that Word.
Ah! The joy of not having to sort fact from fiction… what is and what is not… which is what we otherwise spend a good part of our waking hours doing, is it not? Sifting for the truth and many times wondering if we really found it… have it… the truth, that is, about this or that.
We live in a world filled with lies and so-called “half-truths” oftentimes forgetting or not really caring that as such, they are also consequently “half-lies.” A half-lie, by any other name though, is a lie, plain and simple. There is no middle ground. It is either true or false. It is either the truth or it is a lie. There is no in between… no blending. Look at it this way… a drop of poison in a glass of otherwise pure water, poisons the entire glass.
In the first reading appointed for this Sunday, St. Luke, in the Book of Acts, records how the refreshing truth of the Gospel was well received by those to whom it was preached and how many came to faith in Jesus Christ in those early days, believing and confessing Him to be their triumphant Redeemer-King. And this included many Jewish priests it says from various synagogues located in and around Jerusalem at this time.
We are talking about the effect of hearing the truth of our salvation. The truth of the complete forgiveness of all our sins. The truth that death had been conquered and evil vanquished. Yes, the truth that we witnessed this morning that baptism now saves us and God claims us as His precious children and heirs of His eternal kingdom.
All this by what the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus, once did for us on the cross. All that He endured for us… His deep love for us… His mercy and grace. What joy and peace these eternal truths gave to the people then as they do today… to us and all believers… to all who have “tasted that the Lord is good” as we heard in our epistle lesson. (1 Peter 2:2)
For sure, God’s Word and the truth it contains is like honey in our mouths. And how sweet also the bread and wine of which we partake in the Holy Sacrament and the truth that it is the very Body and Blood of our Lord given and shed for us… given into death for us that we may have a glorious life that never ends… a life that soon will be spent in the mansions… in the magnificent and divine rooms our Lord has gone to prepare for us. (John 14:2)
Indeed, Christ… He who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)… spoke the truth about what awaits us… what awaits all who remain faithful unto death… faithful to Him… faithful to His Word.
In light of this, how could our “hearts be troubled” (John 14:1) in Jesus Christ and the truth, nothing but the truth, that He shares?
And yet, my friends, we know all too well that the truth is not always refreshing in this broken and sin-filled world of ours. It is now always welcomed or wanted. It is not always accepted. Not by a long shot.
In fact, people will sometimes do anything and everything, including murder and other evil deeds to try and hide it… to try and silence it. And we have the perfect case in point in our first reading this morning.
It is Stephen who speaks the truth in love to his fellow Jews… who he affectionately refers to as “brothers and fathers.” (Acts 7:2a) But what this servant of the Lord said was not received in love. It was not received in a brotherly or fatherly way. The words Stephen spoke… words given to him by the Holy Spirit… were words that went to the heart of the matter… to the hearts and minds of those who heard it. The truth of it all most certainly cut deep into their consciences.
No surprise here in that the writer to the Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
It certainly did then and it does now… to us. When we hear God’s Word preached to us. When we read God’s Word. When God’s called servants faithfully speak His Word to us. Like a surgeon’s scalpel, that Word, His Word, cuts through all the garbage… through all of our pathetic defenses, through our self-righteousness, our excuses, our inflated view of ourselves, our faulty reasoning and rationalizing and lays bare the ugliness of our sinful nature and ways. It is never a pretty sight… one that we nevertheless need to behold and come to terms with. Otherwise, we are living a lie which sadly is the case with quite a few individuals.
In reality, there are two things we can do. By the Holy Spirit (and only by the Spirit working in us) we can willingly receive it… the Sacred Word spoken to us, that is… resulting in our acceptance of the truth contained therein and remorse over our sinful ways followed by true repentance on our part… our heartfelt confession of the same. And this followed by the sweet words of absolution… that all is forgiven… our sins are no more.
Or… we can reject it… God’s Word… God’s truth… in whole or in part which most people do… including many who call themselves “Christians.” I’d almost take a true atheist over this because at least they are genuine in rejecting it all… as opposed to those who pick and choose what part of God’s Word… what part of Christ, His Church, His divine truths they like and choose to hold to, discarding all of the rest… that which puts them in the best light and makes them look good and feel good… that which fits the way they live and think, how they view things.
The Jews who were part of this “synagogue of the Freedmen” mentioned in our text (Acts 6:9) along with Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia categorically REJECTED…… and here I am not pausing for effect (ok, actually I am) but only to emphasize exactly who and what was being rejected.
Yes, they were rejecting God’s servant, Stephen… but more importantly they were directly rejecting God, rejecting the Son of God, rejecting His Word, rejecting His truth, God’s divine truth being spoken to them.
And we see here firsthand the viciousness and ferocity vented against God, His Word and those who speak it… those who speak the truth, declare the truth in love out of concern for people’s eternal lives.
Look at the reaction. Those who heard it “were enraged.” They “ground their teeth at” the one speaking the truth. They “cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him” … at Stephen… seizing him. Then they proceeded to “cast him out of the city and stoned him” it says. (Acts 7:54-58)
Consider… ponder… the brutality of all this. To pelt… to pound… to heave one stone after another upon another human being, mercilessly crushing him… all because of what was said… not just any words, but God’s Words… God’s truth being told.
Does all of this sound familiar? In regard to what was done to all of God’s servants of old… to all the prophets. Which ones didn’t they persecute? (Acts 7:52) And then culminating in what was done to our Lord. As with the Master, so with all who faithfully follow Him… those who came before and after Him… maybe not to the point of being stoned, but certainly being persecuted and mistreated in one way or another.
Make no mistake about it as to what and who was fueling the rage. It was sin and Satan. These Jews could have just bounced Stephen out on his ear for what he said, but that was not enough. Distancing themselves from the truth was not enough. They wanted to permanently silence the truth by permanently silencing the one speaking it.
Silly people. Yes, they silenced Stephen, but not the truth he spoke. Never. Not ever will the truth be silenced or otherwise stopped. Why? Because truth be told, the truth of God’s Word will always be told, always be declared and shared, preached and taught. The Lord Almighty will see to that.
By whom? The called and ordained? Yes, but also by the faithful laity… the faithful man and woman… the faithful father and mother… the faithful teenager and child from whose lips will come the truth of God’s Word even though that Word… that truth… is unpopular, rejected and banned… punishable if spoken, even to the point of death.
Which to us really means nothing… not now… not ever… not since our Lord conquered death. Not since Jesus Christ opened heaven to us and all believers… the very sight that Stephen beholds before entering into glory and the rooms which His Lord prepared for him and for us, truth be told.
How wonderful all of this is, my friends. Our joy to speak the truth in love throughout our sojourn here below in a vast array of situations and opportunities divinely put before us, placed before us each and every day… making the most of every day, including today.
To speak the whole Word of God, both Law and Gospel, to people who desperately need to hear the same. And all this with the help of the Holy Spirit at work in us as He was in Stephen… truth be told. Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
“Truth Be Told”
5/14/17 The Rev. Mark H. Hein
St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL