(Significant Scriptures: Exodus 18:13-26; Galatians 2:8-16; John 14:1-6)
You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk–you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice–you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, “What a country!”
Yakov is talking about transformation and change. And as human beings, we have a need to change. Sometimes we see our need to change on our own, such as when we face a difficult situation that we cannot handle on our own. Sometimes we don’t see that need to change until we get close to God. And as we compare our lives to the life that God calls us to live, we realize how big a gap there is between the life we are actually living now and the rich, full, abundant life that God has in mind for us.
And we cannot seem to make ourselves change. The self-help industry sells millions of dollars of books, CDs and DVDs. But most of the time, people soon slide back into living the same kind of life they were living before.
But God has given us a way for this change to happen and that is through a small group. Now down through the ages, these little communities were not always called small groups. God saw the first man living in paradise by himself and said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (NIV Genesis 2:18) So God made Eve and that first small transformational community is referred to as a marriage and we still have those with us today. And ask anyone who has been married for several years and they will tell you that it has changed them.
Then Adam and Eve had children and formed another kind of transformational community called a family. And we still have those with us today as well. In ancient times, young men would find a wise teacher to follow and learn from and so we could say that the classroom is like a small group. Jesus used this same approach, but with a twist, for in his case, the teacher chose the students instead of the other way around. Teams—whether they are sports teams, teams in the workplace or in the community—when they function at their best are communities of transformation. But as we consider the various kinds of small groups in our lives, we realize that not all of them really bring about change, and when they do, the change is not always good. And when the change is good, it does not always happen in the way that we expect. In the ReGroup video curriculum for small groups, Henry Cloud speaks about the gradual transformational change that occurred in his life over a year through an early small group experience. He had expected that God would “zap” him, but God worked through the people of his small group over time to bring about the change for which he had hoped.
Small Groups can be very messy. But as Henry Cloud, John Townsend and Bill Donahue tell us in the ReGroup video series, the keys to that messiness resulting in positive transformation are grace, truth and time. Next week, I will say more about grace and time, but for today, I invite you to focus with me on the question of truth. And perhaps it will help us to reflect on this very important issue of truth, especially truth in small groups in all their various forms, if we think of truth as being like glasses, a GPS and a wedding ring.
First of all, truth is like glasses. One of the connotations of truth is non-concealment, that is, nothing is hidden. And so truth is like a pair of glasses in that it helps us to see what is real. Truth helps us to see things as they really are.
In our first lesson for today, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro came to him and said, in effect, “Moses, you are burning yourself out! You have to change the way that you are doing things or things will end badly for you! Here’s an idea I have for how you can do things better!” Jethro spoke the truth to Moses and helped him to see how things really were.
Second, we can say that truth is like a GPS. What you do with these units is you program in where you want to go and then you put it on the dash of your car and it gives you directions. And a GPS functions like truth when we go off track, because then it tells you how to get on the right path. This GPS belongs to Brandon, my oldest son, and we call it Olga because she gets a little bossy when you don’t go the way that she wants you to go. She says, “Turn right in 100 meters, turn right, turn right now!” And then, as you drive through the intersection, she gives you a little dig, “Recalculating, recalculating!”
But there are times when we need someone else to speak the truth to us to get us back on the right track. In our second lesson for today, Paul writes “ 11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” (Galatians 2:11) What happened was that Peter had been very clear in what he said and what he did about how the Good News of Jesus was for all people, both Jew and Gentile, and the old ways of special dietary laws no longer applied because Jesus had fulfilled God’s law to the fullest and he was the one to whom those laws pointed. God had told the Jews that they were to live and eat differently so that they could be a light to the rest of the world and now the ultimate light of the world, Jesus, had come.
But Peter was going off track in what he did. He quit eating Gentile food with the Gentile Christians and began eating Jewish food with the Jews. And Paul told him the truth that what he was doing was wrong so that Peter could get back on track.
And finally truth is like a wedding ring. Not because you can’t get rid of it and it turns your finger green. No truth is like a wedding ring in this way… whenever you see a wedding ring, you know that there is a relationship. And it is much the same with truth, whenever you encounter truth, generally speaking, there is a relationship. We tend to have this idea that truth can be boiled down to propositional statements that we must intellectually accept in order for us to “live in the truth.” But truth is really all about relationships. Truth describes the way that relationships are or the way that ideal relationships should be. Even the truth that you find in math is about relationships between numbers. The truth that you find in science is about relationships between plants, animals and matter.
And never is this connection between truth and relationship more important than when it comes to Jesus. For Jesus not only teaches us the truth. Jesus not only modeled the truth for us. Jesus is the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Somehow, someway, God’s truth is in Jesus, and he gives that truth to us as we live in relationship with him.
The reality is that each of us is so inadequate. We cannot live a life that makes a difference in a lasting way using our own resources. We fall short of the expectations of those who know us best. And when compared to God’s standards of perfection, we have no hope at all.
But God does not expect us to be perfect. Instead, God the Father calls us into relationship with his Son, Jesus. And as we follow Jesus, we inevitably come to the foot of the cross. There we are confronted with the truth of our own sin. But there we find the even more powerful truth of the forgiveness of all our sins—forgiveness for living a false and superficial life, forgiveness for hurting those in relationship with us, forgiveness for turning away from God and living our lives our own way. In the past, our sins have brought us to our knees, but the truth is that Jesus has lifted all of that guilt and shame from us. He picks us up, dusts us off, gives us a hug and invites us to take his hand and walk through life with him. And now, when we bend our knee, we do so in worship before Jesus.
And so we have a two-pronged opportunity: with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can bring the truth of Jesus into the small groups of which we are already a part—like our families and our workplaces and our classrooms—and we have the opportunity to join one of the small groups that we have starting up this fall at WGLC, groups of people centred on Jesus and his truth.
At the end of the Battle of Britain, British vice-marshal Alexander Adams was driving to a meeting at his headquarters when he came upon a sign: ROAD CLOSED — UNEXPLODED BOMB. Adams called over the policeman on duty, hoping he might be able to suggest an alternate route.
“Sorry, you can’t go through,” said the policeman as he approached the car. “The bomb is likely to go off at any minute now.” Then he caught sight of Adams’s uniform. “I’m very sorry, sir,” he said, “I didn’t know you were a wing commander. It is quite all right for you to go through.”
Fortunately Adams didn’t follow the policeman’s advice. He chose to live by what was true instead of what was told to him to please him. And that made all the difference in his life.
And as we live in relationship with Jesus, we see how things really are, we get back on track on our journey with God, and we live in life-enhancing relationships with others. Amen.
(This message, or something like it, was shared with the people of Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on 13 September 2009.)
 Dr. Henry Cloud’s story of his own small group experience is in Session 1, Segment 2 of the ReGroup small group video curriculum. In that account, he refers to two pivotal Bible verses that helped him to realize that it was God that was transforming him through the people of his small group: Ephesians 4:16 (From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.) and 1 Peter 4:10 (Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.)