Last Word: Grace
Rob Gieselmann, Pent. 29B (C. King Sunday), 2015
Just when he was about to die, Voltaire was asked
to renounce Satan. He retorted – and these are Voltaire’s last words – Now is not the time to make enemies.
Groucho Marx wanted these last words written on his tombstone: Excuse me, I can’t stand up. In 2008, when he was dying of cancer, Randy Pausch published his last words in the form of a little book, entitled, The Last Lecture.
He wrote the book as a legacy for his three young sons. One of the chapters is entitled, The truth shall set you free .In it, Pausch tells about the time a Virginia patrolman stopped him for speeding. Pausch had just moved his family to Virginia so his in-laws would be able to help his wife with their boys after he died. He still carried his old Pennsylvania drivers’ license.
I just moved here, Pausch explained. What brought you to Virginia? the officer asked. Pausch thought about obfuscating – rather than state the uncomfortable truth – But he decided not to. I’m dying, he said. The officer didn’t believe him; Pausch looked healthy. So - Pausch pulled up his shirt and showed the officer his surgery scars.
The officer wasn’t sure what to say, but as Pausch wryly noted, I didn’t get the speeding ticket. The Truth Shall Set you Free!
I came to bear witness to truth, Jesus told Pilate. Pilate retorted, What is truth? Well – what is truth? Truth does not equal raw honesty – but it at least starts there, with honesty. In fact, I’d say spirituality starts with honesty. You remember the old television show, House – about the irascible Dr. House? House was fond of saying – ever so cynically – Patients lie. All patients lie. In fact, most of us lie, if not all of us. I just love your haircut. Yes! Those jeans make you look skinny. Often, people actually protect themselves with silence of untruths – they become afraid to speak what they feel. Like, I think you drink too much. Or, You scare me.
Elephants in the living room, and don’t dysfunctional family systems begin and end with lies? I’m dying, Pausch said;
just saying it liberated Pausch. I’ve watched people going through death experience freedom – when they could face it head-on. George Bernard Shaw fell off a ladder when he was 94 years old. His sister tried to save him, but Shaw rejected her, and his last words being, Sister, you’re trying to
keep me alive as an old curiosity. But I’m done, I’m finished,
I’m going to die. Jesus, too, was going to die. Standing before Pontius Pilate, Jesus like Pausch spoke truth. But Pilate wasn’t used to truth - most people, after all, would lie to Pilate. This man deserves to die, the Jewish leaders lied.
Only - Jesus didn’t deserve to die, Pilate instinctively knew better. You can tell from the story. But Pilate engaged Jesus anyway. You must have done something, or you wouldn’t be standing here. Are you a king? My kingdom is not
of this world, Jesus answered – another truth. You’re a king, then? You say so. I came to bear witness to truth. What is truth? Reminds me of the movie, A Few Good men – Jack Nicholson retorts to Tom Cruise’s cross examination, Truth, truth! You can’t handle the truth! *Two criminals hung on crosses, one on each side of Jesus. The first criminal couldn’t handle the truth; the second could. Both were dying cruel deaths; but both had committed crimes. One obfuscated – he was, I would guess, good at it. The other – perhaps for the first time in his life – became honest.
He turned to Jesus, and uttered his last words, Remember me when you come into your kingdom. This man dying on a cross was freed. Today you will be with me in Paradise. Jesus promised. The truth shall set you free. And isn’t that God’s nature? The exercise of unrelenting generosity and grace? *This past week, I had a discussion about our church with some parishioners. I asked them What makes The Ascension different from most other churches in Knoxville? You know, What sets us apart? People threw out some great answers, like the way we encourage broad thinking. Via media. Our beautiful music and liturgy. One person observed, Everyone is welcome at the Ascension. Yes, I thought to myself, that is right, but I wondered: why is everybody so welcome? Why do you feel welcome? Isn’t it because you, too, have experienced the same unrelenting generosity and grace? You, too, have tasted the sweetness of love? I don’t know about you, but I welcome people to church because God accepted me. Most churches speak about welcome - but often you have to do something to earn the welcome. Convert. Agree to a particular dogma. Conform to an unspoken moral code. This community – Knoxville – is chock-full of people who feel disaffected because they couldn’t quite pass some church’s litmus test. When you invite people to Ascension, you are inviting them to do one thing – to receive and one thing only: experience first hand God’s unrelenting generosity and grace.
Today we celebrate. Our life together, and more –our future together. And perhaps you’d like to know what I think that future holds? Very simply – more lovely grace, for you and anyone in Knoxville who will receive it.
Aren’t we the lucky ones?