I’m always glad to hear people are listening to my sermons. One reason I know this is happening is because every now and then my facts need to be corrected. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen all the time, but occasionally in my sermon preparation a name, quote, historical fact, etc. comes to me and I insert it into the sermon. These sometimes glaring mistakes have taught me a few important lessons (the first of which being the importance of fact checking!).
Over the years I’ve been reminded that Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” and not Winston Churchill (I apologize to my High School History teacher for that one). I’ve also been reminded it was General William Tecumseh Sherman that marched to the sea during the Civil War, burning Atlanta in the process, and not Ulysses Grant (I’ve even been to the diorama in Atlanta depicting the battle and heard the boos and hisses whenever Sherman’s name was mentioned!). And most recently, it was pointed out to me Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, not Henry. Oops.
There are a number of things these lapses in memory (and research) has taught me, with humility probably being first among them. But perhaps even more significantly, it has reminded me that even when I’m sure I have the facts (sure enough to stand at the pulpit and speak them before God and everybody), there is always the possibility that I’m either only partially in possession of the truth, or, worse yet, dead wrong.
If you have ever wondered why, when Peter answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” with the answer “The Messiah, the Son of God,” and Jesus told him and the others to “tell no one,” this human tendency to misinterpret and turn things around may have been at the front of Jesus’ mind. Even though Peter had the right answer, neither he nor the other disciples understood fully what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. Just a few verses later, Jesus would explain to them about his suffering and the need for his disciples to pick up their crosses. Needless to say, that was a part of the story the disciples did NOT want to hear. The disciples would not fully understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah until after the passion and the resurrection. Only then, would they be in full possession of the truth.
Likewise, we must also speak the truth we know, or think we know, with humility (as Paul says, “Now, we know only in part…” 1 Cor. 13). Even more importantly, we must remember that suffering and death do not have the last word in this life. As stark a fact as death seems to be, it is resurrection that finishes our story, just as it did for Jesus. And for us sinful, mistake-prone, mortal human beings – that is the promise of Easter.